Pat Cleveland shares details on fashion’s golden age

Pat Cleveland holds a spoon over his eyelid. The technique, which ensures a perfectly arched line to accentuate the eye, is one of many in Cleveland’s arsenal, all obtained through online tutorials. She also bites on a cotton swab to avoid the lipstick in the middle of her mouth. She even used castor oil to regrow hair that she lost after chemotherapy. Much of the “makeup” process reminds her of her mother, an excellent artist, who painted her face the same way she painted canvases.

Perhaps the 71-year-old Harlem native has so many muses because she, in turn, was a muse to so many. Recognized as one, otherwise the first black model, or as Andre Leon Talley wrote “the Josephine Baker of the international catwalks”, she has already counted among her closest legendary designers Halston, Salvador Dali and Diana Vreeland. She mentored Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, and Kimora Lee Simmons. At 15, she was featured in Vogue as a “rising designer” for her sartorial prowess. At 16, she was traveling the country with Ebony as a model. At 17, she had a line with Henri Bendels. And that was just the start.

Shot by Meisel, Berry Berenson and Andy Warhol, appearing in the very first issue of Gasoline, model for Dior, Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler and Karl Lagerfeld at Chloé, Pat Cleveland’s CV is so robust it needs a binder. Fortunately there is a book, Walking with the muses: a memory– which, of course, was picked by a leading player (read on to find out more). If there ever was an icon for the ages, it’s Pat Cleveland.

Speaking to Coveteur from his New Jersey home, Cleveland discusses the glitz, glamor and daring of the golden age of fashion.

Pat, let’s start at the beginning, how did you fall in love with fashion?

“I loved doing things. All I wanted to do was design, for me clothes were art. I made clothes out of $ 1 rags and wore them to school. I made these clothes. little skirts before the mini skirts came out and people would say, “Wow, look at you in your little skirt!”

“I was discovered standing on a train platform in New York City. An editorial assistant stopped me and gave me a card that said ‘Vogue’, and I felt like the whole world was going. was arrested. I was 15 when they found me. When I was the first to Vogue I had a double spread as a “promising designer”. But I didn’t feel comfortable delegating to older people, telling people what to do, how to do clothes. And it was a lot of work. At the same time, I was going to school and then running around New York with a portfolio that looked like a suitcase – 18×24 photos – for the studios to just say “no” over and over again. At first, no one wanted me as a role model. It was my “color palette”. There was no opportunity for girls of color. ”

With all of this rejection, have you been able to maintain your self-esteem and self-esteem? Do you still feel “beautiful”?

“It became a case of ‘do or die’. Having rediscovered my heritage, the slavery of two ancestors, I felt like I had to do my best because I was their representative. to do for everyone, I never thought of myself. I had to use what was given to me, and make the most of it. I had to try to live the best I could. It was about participating, to create, dress and make up like an art. But most of all, I knew the birds of a feather gather, and I was trying to find my other feathers. ”

When you found them, in Halston or Stephen Burrows, did you feel like you encountered these unique talents?

“What stood out to me was that it was the roof of the world. I had come out of hell for heaven. Even though it was a working atmosphere, everyone was so lovely. Diana Vreeland was magical, she would just tell me, ‘Do whatever I want.’ She put clothes on me and then pulled a bow out of me. But everyone was working so hard. “

pat cleveland

Did you have a support system in other models?

“No one was supporting anybody. The ones who supported you were the designers. The models were made for themselves. We worked with bitchy models and mean designers who stuck you with pins, or worked with camels and tigers, or grabbed subzero pneumonia. But I had Stephen and Halston to dress 24/7. I had Mrs. Vreeland and Andre Leon Talley in my corner. in limos, dancing and romance. It was everything you would want your dream life to be. ”

What was your routine like in terms of maintaining your appearance?

“I quickly realized that I had to stay healthy to look good and keep working, so I would travel with a juicer – I would make juice in my hotel room.”

Have you often had to deal with harassment, the hidden face of the modeling agency?

“They were directors. They tell you to go up to their hotel room and lock the door behind you. That’s why I never really turned to acting movies, I didn’t want to. dealing with it. I had to deal with this so many times. You just knew you were going to meet this as a girl. I had friends who went to a party and then had to be picked up from the hospital because someone “one put drugs in their drinks. People were pouncing on you. You had to teach people how to treat yourself.”

pat cleveland

How did you see the modeling agency evolve?

“The color palette [laughs]. There are also so many models now. At the time, there were about ten of us. No one knew your name as a model, you were just a face. Then came the models, they were making crazy money and the agents were pushing for the money. When we arrived it was never about business, it was just getting dressed and having fun. But I would give Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks walking lessons, we still love each other. I’m so proud of them. ”

You have to talk to me about Salvador Dali:

“I met him in New York – he took up an entire floor at the St. Regis and threw parties. But when I moved to Paris it was different, I saw him everyday and sat with him. him in the room. His wife never liked me because he offered me his things, literally gave me things he bought for her. ”

I can’t imagine running through this crowd and seeing the genesis of Studio 54:

“I remember Steve Rubell, who owned Studio 54, couldn’t get into the clubs because he was from the outskirts. So he said, ‘You’ll see, I’ll show them, I’ll open the best club in the world. ‘ And he opened a studio on 54th Street. Our first night there, Halston said, “I don’t dance, I have two left feet,” and Steve turned on all the lights and the music, and Halston turned on. We all loved each other so much. The creators were my muses. “

pat cleveland

Your friendship seemed so special:

“Well, Halston was very lonely. He loved [makeup artist] Victor Hugo, but Victor was a problem for Halston, he had no borders. He’s the reason Halston got AIDS. Everyone was so upset by the show, all of Halston’s friends, but people tell stories in the best possible way. They are actors, they can never be these people, totally. Ewan McGregor may not be as sculptural as Halston, but he worked hard. And he has the voice. There will be many more films that tell another side. ”

Surely you have been approached to tell your story on screen?

“Two years ago writers came from Hollywood to talk about my book Walk with the Muses. Jamie Foxx was one of the producers, Viola Davis was in conversation. Other people asked me, but the book was in their hands. Then they would go get Zendaya, and I gave the book to Zendaya. But then the pandemic went down, and I’m not going to be arrogant. The book is written, it will always be there. ”

I don’t know if anyone has lived a more interesting life:

“It’s the people around you that make you who you are. We all try to get together for fun.”

Photos: Getty

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