Posted on June 05 2014
Hello Pretty Birds,
This past Monday Bethann Hardison was awarded the CFDA Founders Award in Honor of Eleanor Lambert for her efforts to promote racial diversity in the fashion industry. It’s a fitting accolade for Ms. Hardison who has championed the cause since the 80s, and is also one that holds significant sentimental value for, as she noted in her acceptance speech, “Eleanor Lambert was someone who found me in the showroom of Stephen Burrows.” In 1973 Ms. Lambert would feature Bethann and almost a dozen other black models including Pat Cleveland and Alva Chinn at the “Grand Divertissement à Versailles” in France. That event, organized by Lambert to raise money for Versailles, pitted established French couturiers like Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Pierre Cardin against American emergents including Roy Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein and Stephen Burrows. In an article entitled “Years Later, Versailles Models Still Turning Heads” by Samantha Critchell for the Washington Times, Ms. Hardison is quoted as saying “Halston said, ‘Bethann, we’re counting on you.’ At rehearsal, I couldn’t bring it, I was so nervous, but in the show, when the moment came, fear made me go down there and do it for the team, and I did it.” Ms. Hardison’s transformation of fear into courage moves us deeply. And we think it safe to say that this important moment, in which she assisted in the evolution of American fashion, was a young seed planted in what has become an impressive career of activism within the fashion industry.
After the Grand Divertissement à Versailles, Ms. Hardison and fellow models Beverly Johnson, Iman and Pat Cleveland continued to break down barriers in fashion magazines including Allure, Bazaar and Vogue. In 1984 she opened the Bethann Management agency where she represented models of all ethnicity, but as Matthew Schneier states in his NYT article “Walking the Walk to Increase Diversity“: “When designers were disinclined to at least consider any but white models, she was inclined to press the point.” In 1988 Ms. Hardison and friend former model Iman cofounded The Black Girls Coalition (later Diversity Coalition) to provide advocacy and support to African American models. In February 2013 Ms. Hardison and the Diversity Coalition wrote letters to international fashion councils calling for an end to racism in the industry. Since then the number of models of color on the runway and in advertising campaigns has increased slightly. Joking during her acceptance speech, Ms. Hardison states “I want to thank Steven Kolb, Diane von Furstenberg and the Council of Fashion Designers for thinking that I deserve this, after I spank them on the hands and told them ‘come on, get it together.’” It takes an individual with a special confidence to state their message so fearlessly and wrapped elegantly in wit and conviction – and this is why dedicate our TBT post to Ms. Bethann Hardison.
Please enjoy Ms. Hardison’s CFDA acceptance speech:
Other articles referenced for this post:
“Bethann Hardison Continues Push For Racial Diversity On The Runway, Sends New Letter”, Huffington Post by Julee Wilson.
Looking Back at American Fashion’s Coming-Out Party, NYT by Guy Trebay.