Sundance: Frederick Cheng and Hardison co-direct a captivating portrait of the model-turned-agent pioneer who represented Iman, Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford.
Progress in the face of systemic injustice does not occur spontaneously, but is driven by sheer willpower. In the case of racism in the fashion industry, that person is Bethan Hardison. A pioneering model in the 1970s, she became one of the most important agents of the 90s, the first male supermodel she discovered Tyson Beckford, Naomi Campbell and Iman. instructed. When whimsical tendencies threatened to undermine all of her endeavors in the 2000s, she boldly invoked the industry’s overtly racist casting practices and caused a dramatic shift.
Hardison’s amazing and wonderful life serves as an inspiring lesson for influencing fundamental change from within the system. You can learn how to do it thanks to the fascinating new documentary Invisible Beauty.
Hardison co-writers and directs with prolific fashion documentary writer Frederick Cheng (Halston, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel). Their presentation is fairly traditional, but with so much information to offer, a simple approach feels like a good fit. It may seem unusual for a documentary subject to profile herself, but the mere fact of the collaboration implies that the forces of nature cannot be stopped in the spectacle.
Besides, Hardison isn’t an established figure that calls for an entirely subjective portrayal (if such exists). She is an industry unsung hero who deserves an overdue flower. As her director, she doesn’t gloss over the more painful aspects of her personal life, such as her somewhat strained relationship with her son, Otherworldly star Kadeem Hardison.
The film opens with a parade of influential figures singing Hardison’s praises: Tracee Ellis Ross, Zendaya, Woopi Goldberg and Fran Liebowitz all pop up briefly, but a more comprehensive analysis is Iman, Campbell and Beckford. , and many fashion players. “It all starts in Bedford Stuyvesant,” says Hardison, presenting spirited archival footage of the iconic Brooklyn neighborhood of the 1950s and ’60s.
Her years with him were rigorous, but Hardison’s father was the imam who mentored Malcolm X, and she believes he radicalized her. started working as a saleswoman in a clothing district, where she caught the attention of budding black designer Willie Simpson. Her androgynous looks and expressive personality earned her a spot on the runways of her ’70s alongside Beverly’s Johnson, Iman, and Pat’s Cleveland, who started out as a model for Fit. .
They were all the rage in New York, but Hardison always felt “walking into a hostile environment” when modeling for Southern buyers. She cites Kurosawa films as her early influence. She said, “I always thought of samurai when I walked.”
Inspired by the tragic racial politics of the fashion world, Hardison turned to bookings and agencies to gain broader industry reach. In 1984 she started the Bethann Management Agency and in 1988 with Iman she founded The Black Girls Coalition. Both are intended to support African American models. Her agency was known for unearthing the most interesting and dynamic models from diverse backgrounds including Kimora Lee Simmons, Roshumba, Veronica Webb and Beckford. Countless interviews with industry insiders highlight Hardison’s revolutionary influence on the fashion industry in the ’90s.
But after Hardison retired to Mexico and planned his next move, the industry sank back into white homogeneity. Led by Prada and Calvin Klein, the obscure Eastern European model craze created the “heroin chic” look of the early twenties. “Fashion is so silly,” mocks Hardison. “They’re lemmings.” In 2013, she organized a shocking press conference calling out blatant racism that has become an industry standard, with casting calls often stipulating that “neither black nor ethnic.” She followed it up with what became known as “The Shame List.” This is the account of a prominent designer who rarely used black models in runway shows.
The film shares this information in sufficiently lively clips, and footage of runway shows and press conferences has the feel of a cultural artifact being defined and preserved in real time. For those who haven’t, it’s a record that reveals what was going on behind the scenes and an important reminder of the amount of media shaped by the fashion industry. Even if we don’t draw the dots, it’s easy to draw parallels to the battle for representation that’s waged in Hollywood. It reminds us of how we shape our perceptions, which Hardison understands well.
“My goal was always to change the world, not just to change fashion,” Hardison says in the film. “That was the tool I had.” In her later years, Hardison is enjoying a resurgence befitting her stature. She’s still dressed by great designers, photographed in beautiful clothes, and consulted by the fashion elite.”Her mother is living her best life,” says Iman. Campbell joked. For now, she seems content to work on her own memoir and share her story in her film: “This moment everyone thinks I’m in,” she says. thinks. “I think it’s the moment that you live in.” Amen.
“Invisible Beauty” will premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. We are currently looking for distribution.
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