“I would sit there and watch these black girls be rejected because they weren’t good enough”, Pat Cleveland told Harper’s Bazaar.
Stamping her imprint on the fashion industry, Pat Cleveland made for an unconventional model.
A magical muse for designers such as: Halston, Stephen Burrows, Giorgio Sant’Angelo, and Antonio Lopez. Cleveland moved unlike any other, capturing everyone’s eyes on the catwalk. A model people hadn’t seen before. “When she moved, she painted the air around her with the clothes”, Janice Dickinson told New York Times.
With a hint of eyeliner and a red lip, a fashion model was discovered. At the age of 14, a Vogue editor chased Cleveland down on a subway platform, in hopes of making her a fashion model. It was the late sixties and Cleveland had finally begun her modeling career with Ford Models. But, her beginning wasn’t sunshine and rainbows. She, like every African American model in the modeling industry, was turned away with the repetitive statement; “there was no work for colored girls”. Although the American industry wasn’t ready for black beauty, Cleveland didn’t let that stop her. Cleveland became the first black supermodel taking over international runways, and one of fashion’s most iconic models.
Cleveland booked her first traveling runway show at the Ebony Fashion Fair in 1958. Ebony Fashion Fair brought high fashion to middle-class individuals. Bringing beauty to the world, Cleveland went on to model for Essence and appeared in the first issue. Wilhelmina, her second agent, recommended Cleveland to pursue her modeling career overseas. Connecting with other like-minded individuals like Donna Jordan, Salvador Dali, Mike Jagger and Andy Warhol, Cleveland found immediate success. “Modeling for magazines in both Europe and the U.S., regularly walking the runway for brands like Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, and Kenzo”, Harper’s Bazaar. Cleveland was captured by fashion photographers: Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Bruce Weber, and Steven Meisel.
Much more than a muse, Cleveland manifested during the legendary Battle of Versailles fashion show at the Palace Versailles outside of Paris.
The 1973 event was a monumental shift in the fashion industry, as designers began to understand cultural changes by integrating a diverse cast of models. One of thirty models, the benefit runway show only featured 10 models of color.
“The world has changed- we’re all part of one world now. Fashion has to be for everyone”, Pat Cleveland told Harper’s Bazaar.
Cleveland continued to model including walking for Paris Fashion Week.
As the Grande dame of the modeling industry, Cleveland spills all in “Walking with the Muses”.
“A memoir about a tall, skinny mixed-race girl”, Cleveland told NY TImes.
It’s up to you to create your world, like Pat Cleveland the way maker and muse. She never let her struggle against racism in the fashion industry stop her; making sure people like her were represented. Now an all time super model, Cleveland is still out here giving models a run for their money. Including her own daughter.