underdogs. The Americans had a lot of black
women to walk in the show—the final count was
11—but you had to have three designers select
you in order to go. I’d been picked by Stephen
Burrows and Mr de la Renta, but I needed a third.
Then Anne Klein chose me. At the show, Liza
Minnelli was there, Grace Kelly, Andy Warhol.
Kay Thompson choreographed. I walked out
onto the runway, threw my train down—and all
of a sudden, people started stomping their feet
and throwing their programmes up in the air.
We had won. It was a turning point: The fashion
world started to take U. S. designers seriously,
and with so many black models contributing to
this success, that opened up a lot of doors as well.
After that, in the late ’70s and going into the
’80s, we had wonderful black models like Alva
Chinn, Katoucha Niane, Mounia and, of course,
my friend Iman. When I opened my own modelling agency, Bethann Management, in 1984,
there were more incredible girls: Gail O’Neill,
Roshumba Williams, Karen Alexander, Louise
Vyent, Veronica Webb, Kersti Bowser, Kara
Young, Lana Ogilvie. Then in the ’90s, of course,
we had Naomi Campbell, but also Lorraine
Pascale, Tyra Banks, Cynthia Bailey, Beverly
Peele, Maureen Gallagher and Waris Dirie.
Despite the challenges we’ve had in ensuring
a wide variety of faces on runways, some designers are really committed to that goal. One who
has always embraced diversity is Zac Posen. He’s
called me a few times and said, “I want to do an
all-black show.” I always tell him, “Please don’t
do that. An all-black show, or an all-models-of-colour show, doesn’t tell the proper story. You
have to diversify. You have to integrate.” The
audience should see the balance of models of
colour and models who aren’t of colour. If the
runways are all black or all white, the audiences
don’t see each model as an individual. If there’s
a blend, it’s easier to see every model for herself.
Zac understands that. Recently—the same
season news outlets were reporting on a lack of
diversity—he called me and said, “I want you to
see something.” He had hired a great team, and
they wound up getting models they had never
gotten before. They showed me their plans, and
I was amazed. They had more models of colour
than normal, but they had a select number of
white girls in the show as well. It was the reverse
of what you normally see. And when I say “of
colour,” I mean they had girls of every skin tone
of black women, Asian women, Latin women.
The white women included t wo blondes and
t wo or three brunettes. It told a story that was
so brave. And the response to the show was
extraordinary. People were quiet all the way
through. Then when it was over, we all knew: It
was brilliant. Zac is one of those people who is
determined to reflect the diversity of our society.
And there are others. Marc Jacobs is
good. Rag & Bone does a great job. Diane von
Furstenberg always balances her shows with
girls of colour. Ralph Lauren shows not only girls
of colour, but girls with natural hair, like Imaan
Hammam, a gorgeous Egyptian and Moroccan
girl with beautiful, curly hair, and Dominican
Lineisy Montero’s afro always wows. Designers
like these will show a model such as Maria Borges
from Angola, or Kai Newman, or Ysaunny Brito.
My heart swells when I see it. Designers like
Michael Bastian and Ralph’s nephew, Greg
Lauren, balance it out on the menswear side.
Why is this so important? Do fashion models
and a more diverse representation of them have
an effect on young women and their own sense
of personal acceptance and their acceptance of
others? They do. I’ve never called anyone in my
industry a racist, as I don’t believe they think
that way, but if you consistently have only one
girl or guy of colour in a show, then the result
is racism. On the other hand, I’ve heard so many
young women talk about how they tear pictures
out of magazines of models who have their same
brown skin, and how affirming that is. It’s important not only for the girls of colour, but for all
girls, to see models of colour used consistently.
It helps everyone remember the balance
of our society. Diversity is beautiful.
I’m always, in my heart, fighting for the
fashion model—no matter what colour she is.
I’m not someone who follows the usual road very
well. I’m a non-conformist. But in my journey,
I’ve learned that you can change things. You just
need to keep a foot against the pedal. ■
Bethann Hardison has modelled in publications including
Allure, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. She discovered and
represented models such as Naomi Campbell, has served as
a Vogue Italia editor-at-large, and was the 2014 recipient of
the CFDA Founders Award.
“I’ve heard so many young women talk about how they tear pictures out of magazines of models who have their same brown skin,
and how affirming that is. It’s important not
only for the girls of colour. It helps everyone
remember the balance of our society. ”
Pat Cleveland shares
lively stories from
as one of the first
in a new memoir,
Walking With the
Muses. A contemporary of Bethann
Hardison’s, she also
participated in the
1973 “Battle of