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DISCO CHIC

In 1977, the New York Times called Stephen Burrows the “brightest star of American fashion,” and, even today, his clothes are still turning heads (Michelle Obama was spotted in one of his jersey pantsuits). The first African-American designer to achieve international acclaim, Burrows rose to prominence during the groovy days of disco, the focus of the exhibit “Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced” at the Museum of the City of New York. Through photos, sketches, and original garments, the show looks back on his innovative cuts and liberal use of bright colors and metallic fabrics that drew a starry clientele (Cher, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross) who wanted to shine brighter than the mirror ball at Studio 54.

Mondays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: July 2. Continues through July 28, 2013

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Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution

On a snowy night in late November in 1973, Paris was burning, as first-time filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper shows in her rough-hewn, repetitive, yet still lively documentary on the “Battle of Versailles,” in which five top French couturiers faced off against an equal number of American ready-to-wear designers at the royal château. Team USA consisted of Halston, Anne Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, and Stephen Burrows, one of the many veterans of the event Draper interviews. Behind mirrored sunglasses, Burrows speaks nonchalantly about the chilly reception the Yanks got; more animated recollections issue forth from the models, several of them African-American, who recall the absence of toilet paper, heat, and food. Despite these privations, the New World destroyed the ancien régime. A tacky, creaky, and bloated variety show, the French presentation included pumpkin coaches, waltzes, and a mechanical rhino pulling a Gypsy cart with 10 Ungaro models. The U.S. segment, in the words of model Alva Chinn, favored simplicity: “Beautiful clothes on good-looking people just moving across the stage” to the sounds of Barry White and Al Green. “It was the presence of these African-American models that really animated the stage,” notes Harold Koda of the Met’s Costume Institute—a sentiment that fashion historian Barbara Summers expresses more memorably: The crowd was “peeing in their seats because these girls were so fabulous.”

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Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston

There’s a good film to be made about Halston, the dashing man who went from Iowa-born milliner to revered fashion designer to self-popularizing entrepreneur to AIDS-era casualty, but dear Lord, Ultrasuede is not it. The doc comes on like a bio but is really just a ghastly vanity affair for one Whitney Smith, the son of a socialite who, despite minimal credits to his name, feels entitled to make Halston’s story his own. With zero knowledge of fashion and proudly informed by only a vague notion of the designer’s jet-setting coolness, Smith can’t get beyond his own hard-on for the ’70s—get ready for more tired, grimy stories of Studio 54—to engage with what’s compelling about his subject. It’s only in passing and in between self-parodic shots of Smith cruising around in an old Trans Am that we learn anything about the designer’s biography, his professional trajectory, even his first name. Granted access to such fashion luminaries as Stephen Burrows, Naeem Khan, and Diane von Fürstenberg, Smith is more interested in peacocking his own dismal sartorial sense—he’s on camera for every interview, often sporting his own sub-Spurlockian ‘stache—than finding out how Halston recalibrated American glamour and why he tried, well before top designers targeted Target, to bring high fashion to the masses. Sitting across from Halston’s dear friend and muse, Smith makes even Liza Minnelli seem less delusional by comparison.