How Pat Cleveland Conquered Racism to Become the World’s First Black Supermodel

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-06-20 19:01Z by Steven

How Pat Cleveland Conquered Racism to Become the World’s First Black Supermodel

Harper’s Bazaar

Kate Storey, News Edtor

Photograph: Kathryn Wirsing

Pat Cleveland was 16 years old when she was told she would never make it as a model.

It was the late Sixties, and Cleveland, who had just signed with Ford Models, was sitting nervously in a large leather chair in the agency’s intimidating Manhattan office. Co-founder Eileen Ford had requested to see the lanky teenager for some “real” talk.

“Patricia, we have very few colored girls in our agency. And do you know why?” Cleveland remembers Ford saying. “Because there is no work for colored girls. The only reason I took you is because [photographer] Oleg Cassini recommended you. But I really think you will never make it in the modeling business.”…

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Pat Cleveland: Early Supermodel and Author With Many Tales

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-06-19 04:16Z by Steven

Pat Cleveland: Early Supermodel and Author With Many Tales

The New York Times

Guy Trebay, Chief Menswear Critic

The fashion model Pat Cleveland in her home studio in New Jersey. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times

WILLINGBORO, N.J. — The peacocks were rooting around in the bushes, strutting and pecking and ruffling their trains. Occasionally, one — Boy or Big Boy, say, or Snow White — struck a pose, tipping its beak up to emit a banshee shriek.

“They’re just a bunch of drama queens, honey,” said Pat Cleveland, as she sat in the backyard of her house in a rural part of New Jersey, sipping on a sinister-looking juice drink the color and texture of algae. Drama queens, as it happens, is a topic on which Ms. Cleveland has some stories to tell.

This she does in “Walking with the Muses,” a picaresque new memoir about a tall, skinny mixed-race girl (“not black enough to be black or white enough to be white”) hailing from a section of East Harlem that she terms the Golden Edge.

In her 1950s childhood, Ms. Cleveland writes, that neighborhood was still representative of a now largely bygone city, a place where “the Jews, the blacks, the Irish and the Puerto Ricans all had a corner of their own.”…

…American fashion, in particular, during the era when Ms. Cleveland first appeared, was also more porous and racially diverse than it would be in the subsequent decades. Success in the business was measured in those days not by social media metrics but by an ability to bewitch the cognoscenti, to make yours a name they whispered about.

And seemingly Ms. Cleveland has been an object of fascination for those around her almost from the time she was born 65 years ago to a white Swedish saxophonist and an African-American artist from the South. Soon after, Ms. Cleveland’s father, Johnny Johnston, returned to Sweden, leaving her mother, Lady Bird Cleveland, to raise her freckle-faced young daughter alone.

“If you’re a single black woman and have a Swedish lover, life is never going to be easy, and Lady Bird didn’t have the opportunities in life,” Ms. Cleveland said. “But her lesson to me was always, whatever your circumstances are, it’s up to you to create your own world.”…

…At the height of her powers, that same skinny girl from Harlem was transformed into a star on the evening of Nov. 28, 1973, when she — one of 30 black models chosen to participate in a benefit runway show held at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris — took to the stage in front of 800 guests, many of them prominent or titled, and, spinning and twirling, left little doubt in the minds of observers that the immediate future of fashion belonged not to the Old World but to the New…

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