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Inspired by Pat Cleveland’s memoir, Walking with The Muses, this program celebrates the audacity of fashion trailblazers such as Pat Cleveland, while exploring paths taken by black models, designers, and industry insiders to render visible diverse aesthetics found in communities of color around the world. They paved the way for a new generation of black slayage on and off the runway. Presented in partnership with the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and their latest exhibition, “Black Fashion Designers.” —Schomburg Center
Patricia Cleveland (born June 23, 1950) is an American fashion model who initially attained success in the 1960s and 1970s and was one of the first African-American models within the fashion industry to achieve prominence as a runway model and print model. Cleveland was born in New York City in 1950 to Johnny Johnston, a white jazz saxophonist of Irish and Swedish ancestry, and Ladybird Cleveland, an artist of African-American and Native-American ancestry. Her parents separated when she was young and she was raised by her mother in Harlem. She studied performing arts at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School and studied design at New York’s High School of Art and Design and hoped to become a fashion designer. Some of her earliest photographs as a youngster were taken by Carl Van Vechten, who was among her mother’s coterie of artist friends. Cleveland’s career as a model began in 1966 when she was on a subway platform with a friend en route to class and was noticed by Carrie Donovan, an assistant fashion editor at Vogue. Donovan, impressed by Cleveland’s fashionable clothing, invited her to tour the Vogue offices and the magazine subsequently published a feature on her as an up-and-coming young designer. The article led to her being approached by Ebony who asked Cleveland if she would perform as model for their Fashion Fair national runway tour. Cleveland agreed and decided she would place her aspirations to be a designer on hold and try her luck as a fashion model. Following her tour with Ebony, in which she claimed to experience acts of violent racism in the Southern United States, Cleveland caught the attention designers such as Jacques Tiffeau and Stephen Burrows. At age 18 she was signed to Ford Models after designer Oleg Cassini recommended her to Eileen Ford. Soon she was meeting and working with many of the fashion industry’s top enterprising people of the era, including Diana Vreeland and being photographed by Irving Penn, Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, and Andy Warhol, and briefly became a muse to Salvador Dalí. She made her first appearance as a fashion model in American Vogue in June 1970, photographed by Berry Berenson and the same year, appeared in the very first issue of Essence magazine. The following year she switched modeling agencies and was signed to Wilhelmina Models. Despite her early success, Cleveland grew disillusioned with America and what she perceived to be its racist attitudes towards black models. She relocated to Paris by suggestion of friend and fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez in 1971 and soon became a house model for Karl Lagerfeld, who was the main designer at Chloé. Cleveland vowed not to return to the United States until a black model appeared on the American cover of Vogue. During the 1970s she modeled for designers such as Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, Diane von Furstenberg, and Christian Dior. Along with Karen Bjornson and Anjelica Huston, among others, she became one of Halston’s favoured troupe of models, nicknamed the Halstonettes. The pinnacle of her success in Europe was her participation in November 28, 1973 Battle of Versailles Fashion Show; a gala event initially conceived as a publicity stunt and fundraiser held at Théâtre Gabriel for the then-dilapidated Palace of Versailles. The gala, which pitted five French designers: Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro and Christian Dior’s Marc Bohan, against five American designers: Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein, Halston and Stephen Burrows in a fashion showdown. The event was to become an international fashion extravaganza with style writers and society columnists, wealthy socialites, royalty, tycoons and politicians in attendance. Cleveland was one of thirty-six models to walk the runway for the event. Of the thirty-six models, ten of them (28 percent) were black, an unprecedented number for the era. The gala would later be chronicled in the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History by Robin Givhan. After Beverly Johnson became the first black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue in August 1974, Pat Cleveland returned to the United States and continued her modeling career. From the early to late 1970s she appeared on the covers of: Vanity Fair, Interview, Essence, Harper’s, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Wear Daily, L’Officiel, The Sunday Times Magazine and GQ, among others and appeared in spreads for Italian and American Vogue and Vogue Paris, W, Elle and others. During the mid to late 1970s she became a fixture at New York City’s exclusive discothèque Studio 54, often in the company of friends Halston, Jerry Hall, Grace Jones, Andy Warhol and Sterling St. Jacques. Later in her career, after raising two children, Pat Cleveland returned to modeling. In 1995 she started her own modeling agency in Milan. In 2010 she appeared in the documentary Ultrasuede, In Search of Halston and the same year appeared as a guest judge on the reality television series and interactive competition America’s Next Top Model. In 2012, she appeared in two more fashion documentaries, Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ About Face: Supermodels Then and Now. In 2013 she made an appearance on The Face, a modeling-themed reality television show hosted by model Naomi Campbell and appeared in an ad campaign for MAC Cosmetics alongside models Jerry Hall and Marisa Berenson. The MAC campaign was launched in dedication of fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, who died in 1987 and had been close friends with all three models and instrumental in their early careers. In 2014, she walked the runway for Moschino’s Spring Collection in Milan. In 2015, she returned to New York Fashion Week to walk the runway for Zac Posen, who also hired her and her daughter Anna to showcase his June 2015 resort collection, appeared in Vogue Japan and appeared in an ad campaign for Barneys New York. Both Cleveland and her daughter Anna were chosen for a 2015 ad campaign for French multinational high fashion house Lanvin. In 2016, she walked the runway for H&M during Paris Fashion Week. In 2016 she wrote Walking with the Muses: A Memoir, covering her early life in Harlem and her career in the fashion industry. The book was published by Atria Publishing Group, 37 Ink, Simon & Schuster.
As early as 1980, the term “supermodel” was used to describe Pat Cleveland. Former American editor-at-large for Vogue magazine André Leon Talley wrote, “She is the all-time superstar model” in an article for the June 1980 issue of Ebony magazine. Talley referred to Cleveland as “The first black supermodel, the Josephine Baker of the international runways” in his 2003 published memoir A.L.T.: A Memoir. Vogue contributor Tina Isaac-Goizé referred to Cleveland as a “supermodel” in a 2015 article about Cleveland’s daughter Anna.