August 20 2014

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5 posts tagged "Bethann Hardison"

Beverly Johnson, the Original African-American Supermodel, Talks Diversity in Fashion Today


Beverly Johnson PosedBefore Iman or Naomi, there was Beverly Johnson. This August marks the 40th anniversary of Johnson’s landmark Vogue debut as the first-ever African-American to grace the mag’s cover. A year later, she landed the cover of French Elle, and later went on to score shoots with some of fashion’s most iconic photographers (like Irving Penn), Revlon campaigns, movie gigs, and more.
bj-vogueWWD recently checked in with the supermodel to discuss the state of the industry today, and she didn’t hesitate to point out the lack of women of color on the runways during fashion week, as well as the decrease in African-American hairstylists and makeup artists in the field right now. “Sometimes we live in this very elitist bubble called the fashion industry,” she said. “We have become really oblivious to what’s going on in the world.”

She said she will be turning a sharp eye to the runways in September, along with other top models who have been leading the charge for change, like Bethann Hardison, Iman, and Naomi Campbell. They have been joined by designers like Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing, who has been making his own push for diversity in the industry. Most recently, the designer revealed his Fall ad campaign, which features models of varied color and backgrounds. “I think fashion is all about a vision that you can give to people; it’s [about] expressing that passion. We need to show how diversity is important,” he told in an exclusive interview.

Photos: Gems / Getty Images; Condé Nast Archive

And The CFDA Awards Go To…


Joseph AltuzarraThree cheers for Joseph Altuzarra! The talent won Womenswear Designer of the Year, the top honor at the CFDA Awards, which just wrapped at Alice Tully Hall. Altuzarra, who secured an investment from Kering last year, had some stiff competition in fellow nominees Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs, but we’d have to say the honor is much deserved. Public School’s Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow won Menswear Designer of the Year, beating out Thom Browne and Rag & Bone’s Marcus Wainwright and David Neville, and The Row’s Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen took the Accessories Designer of the Year accolade, triumphing over Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough.

The third time was a charm for Creatures of the Wind’s Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters, who won the Swarovski Award for Womenswear after being nominated in 2012 and 2013—bravo, boys! And to round things out, Tim Coppens and Irene Neuwirth earned the Swarovski Award for Menswear and Accessories respectively. The big winners were in good company, and shared the stage with such honorees as Tom Ford, Raf Simons, and a crystal-clad Rihanna. As host John Waters put it, “Fashion is power.” Tonight’s celebrated designers and icons certainly have a lot of it. Congratulations to this year’s victors and honorees, all of whom are listed below. Don’t forget to check out our complete coverage of the CFDA Awards, here.

Joseph Altuzarra for Altuzarra

Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow for Public School

Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen for The Row

Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters for Creatures of the Wind

Tim Coppens

Irene Neuwirth

Tom Ford

Raf Simons for Christian Dior


Paul Cavaco

Bethann Hardison

Ruth Finley

Photo: Getty Images

Bethann Hardison Talks Diversity on the Runways, Igniting the Fashion Industry, and Making People Feel Responsible



Bethann Hardison has been making fashion headlines since at least 1973, the year she walked in Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles, a runway show that pitted American fashion designers against French ones. (The Americans won, thanks in large part to the prowess of Hardison and her fellow catwalkers Pat Cleveland and Alva Chinn.) These days the model-turned-model agent-turned industry legend is in the news for her advocacy. Hardison’s cause: diversity on the runways. Last September, the Diversity Coalition she founded published an open letter to the fashion councils in New York, London, Milan, and Paris that called to task designers who used no or very few models of color in their fashion shows.

“At some point you think your industry has flatlined, that it’s not interesting anymore. That fashion shows are just run-of-the-mill,” Hardison says. “I don’t go to them anymore, I’d rather clean out my closet. My doing this was going to be something that puts a little excitement into our industry again. It may be a point of education, it may be a prickly subject. But I thought it would ignite some energy, and that’s really why I did it.” The results of the Coalition’s open letter were fairly instantaneous. You saw more models of color not only on the Spring 2014 runways, but also in advertising. That said, there’s still quite a ways to go. “It’s a permanency that you’re trying to effect,” Hardison says. On the eve of the CFDA Awards, where she’ll pick up the Founder’s Award, she reflects on her long career in fashion. She’s as outspoken as ever.

How did it feel when you heard you would receive the Founder’s Award?
As soon as Diane [von Furstenberg] said, “Bethann, you’ve been given the Founder’s Award, darling,” I just started to cry. I was stunned. I kept thinking of the word revolution. People say, “Oh, come on, you couldn’t have been that surprised.” But why would I ever think [I'd get an award]? You don’t think there’s an award for this. What I’m doing has nothing to do with making something look nice.

You’ve been advocating for diversity on the runway for years now. Do you remember why you got started?
Kim Hastreiter [the editor in chief of Paper magazine] took me out to dinner. She said there was no diversity on the runways anymore, and she blamed me because I was no longer in the industry. I was living in Mexico at the time, and I really didn’t like hearing that because it sounded like, “Oh, Lord, now I gotta come back and do something.” That’s when Naomi [Campbell, who calls Hardison "Ma"] started calling me. “You gotta do something,” she said. There are no models [of color] around. From the end of 2004 to 2007, I said I was going to do something, but it took me a while.

What pushed you to do it?
By 2007 the agencies were saying, “No blacks, no ethnics.” Casting directors. Who are they? They didn’t exist before. Here and now, they have the power to say that and designers are following their lead because they’re happy to have someone else do the work. In the world I come from, the designer’s team did all that. I realized it was time [to do something]. We held a press conference, and it was great. Later that year, the curator at the New York Public Library wanted us to do a panel there; we did and it was sold out. The New York Times picked it up, WWD was giving it the front page. It’s a theme that can shake up things, to say, “Is fashion racist?” It did change things. If nothing more, no one has ever said after that: “No blacks, no ethnics.” That ended. And right after that came the Black Issue from Italian Vogue. The powers that be began to recognize the issue.

When did you launch the Diversity Coalition?
The beginning of 2013. I call them the secret society. They have jobs in the good places and they don’t like what they see. They’re white, they’re black, they’re Hawaiian, they’re Asian, they’re men, they’re women, they’re short, they’re tall, they’re all sizes. The point is: There was frustration. We did one big, long conference call. Then I just wrote up the letter in Mexico. I didn’t think of it as trying to shame anyone. I wanted people to adjust their thinking because racism affects society as a whole.

And what was the response like?
People started adjusting right away. I’m sure that the majority of designers in New York voted for Obama; they sure didn’t vote for the other guy. So they’re not racist or consciously trying to keep people back. It’s just we need to adjust what we do. People are looking in on fashion. Before, it was a little, tiny island that no one could see. We need to step it up.


So would you say you’re happy with the changes you’ve seen?

I am happy. You know, the one that impressed me the most is Jil Sander. This is someone who never cast models of color. When I saw that she had one black girl who was so dark, a beautiful girl, I was more impressed with that than Armani having five [models of color] and whatever Miuccia Prada did. I really appreciate Miuccia, I think she leads the designer way. She shut it down, and she had the opportunity to open it up again. Do you know what I mean when I say that?

Not exactly.

Years ago, when Miuccia Prada decided to get rid of the supermodel, that ended anything that was distracting on her runway, including the person of color. Everybody followed. That eliminated [the likes of] Linda Evangelista. Little by little, though, Miuccia started to bring in a couple of girls of color.

Who leads the way?
Designers like to think they’re individual, but they’re not. They’re part of a village. She really switched it up by putting Malaika Firth in that beautiful tweed coat in that ad. That was groundbreaking. That’s advertising. That’s rare. Gucci was doing it with Joan Smalls. And Burberry was doing it with Jourdan Dunn. But to have Malaika—I really give Miuccia a lot of credit for changing how we see things. I do give her the credit. You see more girls of color in advertising than ever before.

So the runway and advertising are two different fights, in a way?
The agents get annoyed that I don’t say more about advertising. But the runway is the first thing everyone sees. It’s the beginning, it’s the birth. The runway is the moment for the fashion model to be introduced, to be recognized. It’s like a cotillion. Until that happens, there is no advertising. She has to be introduced; a designer has to take that moment, that interest, and say, “Let me show you.”

That was the genius of Mr. Saint Laurent. To go to Yves’ show, he had his cabine of girls. Zac Posen is very similar in that mentality. There are certain girls who were always going to be there with Yves. And he didn’t mind taking one who everybody thought was over. I’d go to Yves, “Where did you find her?” She wasn’t even attractive, but she was attractive.

Any other shifts worth discussing?
Céline. Because they took a tough beating from our observation. And I like that girl Phoebe [Philo]. She’s cool. Every kid who’s got $4 wants a Céline bag. And yet, never any representation of anything that isn’t Caucasian. Come on! Then all of a sudden that season, I know it was a conscious effort. Phoebe picking Binx [Walton] for advertising is one thing. And the Saint Laurent designer, Hedi Slimane, is another. He never had any models of color, but after the letters went out, they had Issa [Lish], the Mexican girl, and Binx. There’s a subliminal thing that happens. It’s a switch. Now it’s like—an editor said, “You know, it’s kind of cool now; you’re not hip if you don’t have a person of color in your advertising.” It’s not about trying to raise up a race. It’s about improving the majority, not trying to support the minority. That’s what it’s about for me.

Do you worry that the recent increase in women of color on the runways and in advertising is just a trend?
Yeah, I worry. Definitely. It can’t be. A young designer asked me, “I want to ask you something: Who do you think you’ll hand off this project to?” I think about it. I said, “There’s no one.” I have to leave it to the whole industry. There’s no individual. There’s no Fidel Castro. You need a team, an army.

What comes after the award?
I wish I was that strategic. The most important thing is, I hope that no one thinks, Well, I hope she’s satisfied. This is not my career; this is a philosophy I have that I’m trying to share. The thing I want is that people feel responsible, conscious.

I’m not going to stop counting. We’re going to call it like we see it. I was nice last season. I wanted to really slam casting directors and stylists, but I didn’t. They are the perpetrators; they really don’t understand the responsibility they have. And for those who’ve changed their thinking? Good—now stay there. It’s a responsibility. The history of our country is different than other peoples’ history. This country wasn’t changed because some strong black people changed it. It was some strong white people. Martin Luther King wasn’t just with his black buds. It was a white Jewish guy who was his best guy. The people who changed this country looked like you and me. Not me. That’s what I hope comes of this award, because I don’t know if it’s gonna get me another casting job. [laughs] I don’t know what this can get me as a gig. If it can penetrate the minds of others, that’s what I hope this award does.

Photo: Bruce Weber; Courtesy of Bethann Hardison

French Castle, American Story


2013 marks the fortieth anniversary of Le Grand Divertissement è Versailles, the runway battle royal that took place in 1973 between French fashion houses (Givenchy, Dior, Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent, and Pierre Cardin) and American designers (Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, and Bill Blass). Held as a fundraiser to restore the palace, the evening was attended by everyone from Andy Warhol to Princess Grace of Monaco, and, in addition to a bevy of couture, featured performances by the likes of Liza Minnelli and Josephine Baker (above).

But aside from being, perhaps, the most epic runway spectacle to date, Versailles marked the first time African-American models took a prominent place on the European fashion stage. Last night, in honor of the anniversary, and in celebration of Women’s History Month, the Fashion Institute of Technology hosted a screening of Deborah Riley Draper’s 2012 documentary, Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution. And the historic event’s stars, like Pat Cleveland (below, right), Billie Blair, Norma Jean Darden, and Bethann Hardison, among others, turned out for the film and a lively panel discussion. Continue Reading “French Castle, American Story” »

Reunited, And It Feels So Good


“If you don’t have a high school or college reunion, this is your reunion,” model Alva Chinn told yesterday at the Met. (Hers was far more glamorous than ours: Jason Wu, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, Donna Karan, and Iman all stopped by.)

Chinn and her “classmates”—from left, Amina Warsuma, Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Charlene Dash, Chinn, China Machado, Billie Blair, and Bethann Hardison, with Stephen Burrows, center —were honored yesterday at a luncheon hosted by the Costume Institute to celebrate their victory in one of the greatest fashion face-offs ever, the 1973 Grand Divertissement à Versailles.

The epochal runway show pitted American designers (including Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and the luncheon’s co-hosts, Oscar de la Renta and Stephen Burrows) against French greats (like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, and Emanuel Ungaro) to raise money for the restoration of Versailles. But it also served as American fashion’s coming-out party, one which proved the U.S. could hold its own against France. “We were all worried [whether] we would look good at Versailles,” de la Renta said. “We could have never imagined that we would look that good.”

But if it was a watershed moment for American design, it was a landmark moment for models, too: The show featured African-American women on a European runway for practically the first time. Karan, who was a “very pregnant assistant” to Anne Klein at the time, credits them for the U.S. success. “What Versailles did was put us on the map,” she told the audience. “It had nothing to the designers, we just clothed them—it was the girls sitting in this room.”

As the girls of ’73 stood up to accept their awards, they were applauded by the likes of Iman and Veronica Webb, both of whom followed in their footsteps. “There’s so many people that helped me get my start in fashion here today,” Webb said. “Bethann taught me how to walk!”

Photo: Billy Farrell/