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Interview: Pat Cleveland

Interview: Pat Cleveland

September 20161609Views

Talking with a muse about her modeling career and penning her first book “Walking With The Muses”

Pat Cleveland is one of the first to receive ‘supermodel’ status. The iconic African American model was known in the 60s, 70s, and 80s for her graceful twirl and animated walk on the runway for designers such as Chloe, Halston, and Thierry Mugler. I first discovered her work in the Neiman Marcus Fall/Winter 2016 ‘Art of Fashion’ Book, where she is featured alongside her daughter Anna Cleveland. The imagery is stunning! That’s why I was super excited to discover that Ms. Cleveland would be speaking at the Phoenix Art Museum about her first book “Walking With the Muses.” In a discussion with Curator of Fashion Design Dennita Sewell, Ms. Cleveland candidly shared musings on working with fashion icons such as editrix Diana Vreeland and French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, as well as regaled the audience on her first trip to Paris as a young model.

What have been some of your challenges as a model? When you think about numbers and the scientific part of the sociology it doesn’t add up to what the art is. The element of art is that the personal dream, and the personal thought, and the personal beauty belongs to everybody. It doesn’t belong to numbers where they say, “Okay, we have to have this kind of person because that’s going to sell to those many people.” And I had to deal with that all of my career, when I was first coming up. The numbers didn’t fit because I was something different.

How do you feel you impacted fashion and the modeling industry as an African American model? I want everyone’s consciousness not to be only on their color, but I want it to be in their inspiration. What we’re trying to express, women in fashion, is that we have choices. Even if some women in the world are not given that luxury, we think the strength of our consciousness will change the world.

You’ve spoken about being creatively inspired by your mother who when you were young, always had beautiful fabrics laying around and sequins everywhere. Yes! She also painted Black American history and I’m trying to get her things into the Smithsonian. We will see!

Neiman Marcus Fall/Winter 2016 Book

You introduced your daughter Anna Cleveland to modeling. What is it like to work with her and what valuable advice did you share about the business? What goes up must come down. Don’t ever burn your bridges behind you. As you’re moving along and you’re looking at all the things that you idolize, just remember maybe they had to go through that too, so you don’t really want to be in their shoes. Be true to yourself where you are because of your own passions.

How do you feel about the way young women in the industry in the 60s and 70s presented themselves then versus how they are today? Sometimes it is okay, but they run the car off the road. (laughs) You know, we all have to stay on a path. I think we have to respect ourselves and not always show our tushies. I was real upset at the music awards and when they had the hip hop awards recently because everyone was shaking their [arses] in your face and I thought they had so much more to offer than that. It’s all about the trends, you know. So it’s the choosing I always say to people. You don’t have to go with that trend. You have to choose to root yourself in something more desirable.

Which young model or pop culture figure would you say is representing the fashion industry well today? My daughter Anna because she’s the only one that I see that has that—when I see her do a show, she’s a real artist. She’s a real model. She’s the real deal. I see her come out on the runway and she does give you a show, but not in a vulgar way or not in a trendy way, but in a statement way that this is an art. This is the art that I do and I will present it in this way without fear.

pat-cleveland-celebrity-interview-walking-with-the-muses-neiman-marcus-black-lace
Anna Cleveland and Pat Cleveland (right) in Neiman Marcus Fall/Winter 2016 Book

You introduced your daughter Anna Cleveland to modeling. What is it like to work with her and what valuable advice did you share about the business? What goes up must come down. Don’t ever burn your bridges behind you. As you’re moving along and you’re looking at all the things that you idolize, just remember maybe they had to go through that too, so you don’t really want to be in their shoes. Be true to yourself where you are because of your own passions.

If you had not chosen modeling, what would have been your alternate career path? Probably designing clothes or writing, as I’ve been given that gift. I always pray for a gift. I always say, ‘God please give me something that I can do where I can learn something new and go through the process of it and enjoy what I’m doing from my heart, not to just do it because somebody else is doing it.’ Whether it’s writing or singing or dancing or modeling, or whatever I might tend to do next, painting, who knows—I always try to do something.

pat-cleveland-celebrity-interview-walking-with-the-muses-book-phoenix-art-museumWho is your favorite designer? I always wear Stephen Buroughs because he was the first designer to put me in my butterfly wings and we’ve been friends forever and I wear his clothes as vintage now.

He designed some beautifully colorful pieces. I’m wearing him now and I love the colors! I keep meeting other new designers. I do things with Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford and Zac Posen. Halston is gone but there are new people coming up that I keep meeting when I do the shows. I meet people from all over the world and I’m just so happy that I meet the new ones. So I wear a lot of new designers too.

Can you share a beauty routine you’ve used since you started modeling and a must-have beauty item that you still use today? I remember that when I first started modeling, my skin was so allergic and I had a lot of reactions. Wilhelmina, my agent at the time, sent me to Mario Badescu, who did Jacqueline Kennedy’s skin. I remember sitting in one room and he would go from Jaqueline Kennedy, giving her a facial, to me and then back to her. I still use his products for cleanliness. What I wish I would have had was those wipies that they use to take off makeup. They didn’t have them then, so I would travel with cotton balls.

What would your fans be shocked to know about you? That I play the guitar and the tambour and I have a musical ear and I write lyrics. I have a song that I did for my book party with a wonderful gospel group. It’s on iTunes and the song is dedicated to Josephine Baker called “Tonight Joséphine.”

What inspired you to pen “Walking with the Muses”? I came back to America to take care of my mother when she was not well and I watched her painting and every day I had some time between cooking her meals and giving her medicine. I watched her and I had these diaries that I kept since I was 16 years old. I looked at the diaries and I told myself, I have to do something with this. I started typing them up and I started enjoying them and I realized that there were so many people I loved and I wanted to write about. A lot of the people had passed away and it was sort of memory lane for me. I was kind of talking to them and I would say, ‘What is it about us that I love so much.”
But it got real spooky at one point because I was writing about people and they’d show up in my life and they would pass away like a week later or something after that time. It got to the point where people would say, “Are you writing about me?” I would say ‘Absolutely not!’ I stopped writing for a year because I thought I had a poison pen. But it was not true, so I continued all the way through. I love the process, I love listening, I love words. Words are music and they have to be used very well. You have to uplift your friends. Everybody ask, “You going to do a tell all?” I said no, ‘I’m writing a book.’

Image source: Neiman Marcus and Simon & Schuster

Mignon Gould

Mignon Gould

Mignon Gould is a multimedia publisher and the Agent-in-Chief of TheChicSpy.com. She is a style enthusiast, who views fashion as an art form that anyone can master. In our Culture column, she shares her musings on the latest happenings in the world, from diversity in fashion to pop culture controversies. Mignon has also interviewed celebrities and insiders including actress Emma Stone, 70's supermodel Pat Cleveland, and Audrey Hepburn's son, Luca Dotti.

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