Fashion disruptors fight racism in the industry – The Hollywood Reporter
In November 1973, the fashion world gathered at the Palace of Versailles, the symbol of French luxury, for a fundraiser that became an unforgettable event. The Battle of Versailles was a runway show between French designers pitted against Americans, a David and Goliath situation between haute couture royalty and world newcomers. However, what the Americans lacked in stage and set design, they made up for with personality. Of the 36 American models invited to walk, 10 of them were Black – an unprecedented number for the industry (then and now quite honestly). Among them is Bethany Hardison, who talks about her experience in Invisible beautya documentary that she co-directed with Frédéric Tcheng (Dior and I).
“I know that these people think we are less,” Hardison said of the French audience in attendance. “The more I walked, the harder, stronger and more intense I became with an attitude.” Her steps are purposeful, forceful and defiant. “I let them know we are here,” the model added in her testimony. The audience loved it. At the end of her moment, they launched their shows and broke into a thunderous applause. Hardison knew then that the Americans were winning battles abroad, and that inspired her to apply the same energy to change the industry at home.
A powerful tribute to a pioneering model.
Invisible beauty is a commendable self-portrait of the layman in the world of fashion, a reflective story of how one woman worked to advance her industry’s enduring progress. . With Hardison as co-director, the film takes on the tone and structure of a memoir rather than a standard biopic. A recorded conversation between Tcheng and Hardison will play out early in the project, establishing its collaboration structure. In a world where Black women’s work is so easily buried (during life and beyond), it makes sense that Hardison, a woman whose fingerprints touched every part of the industry This rigid, wants to preserve his legacy.
The duo came up with ideas for different ways to start the documentary. Should they start with Hardison writing her memoir, describing the challenges of looking back at herself? Or dive into the breadth of her career, documenting her various advocacy efforts? They decided to follow a simple chronology, bringing the film back to Hardison’s youth in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Hardison, born in 1942, was very optimistic about his early years. She attended a predominantly white school in New York and spent the summer with relatives in Jim Crow North Carolina. The perception of the difference between these two locales soon arose. At school, she participates in a number of extracurricular activities, from cheerleading to athletics. Colleagues accused her of acting chaste. Hardison was undeterred: “If you’re going to the circus, you better get in the car,” she said of being one of the few Blacks in the white space.
That sentiment underpins Hardison for the rest of her life. Even thinking about her relationship with her parents, who divorced when she was young, Hardison maintains an unobtrusive optimism. Her charisma and down-to-earth approach to obstacles made her a natural leader and problem solver as she entered the fashion industry.
Hardison fell in love with modeling, but once she entered the world, she dominated. Invisible beauty chronicles her accomplishments on the runway through interviews with Hardison, fashion critic Robin Givhan, industry gurus, friends, and mentors like Naomi Campbell, Iman and Tyson Beckford. What emerges from these heartwarming anecdotes, sparkling testimonials, and fond memories is the image of a woman committed to nurturing community in a relatively hostile setting. Campbell – moved to tears at times – repeatedly referred to Hardison as a second mother; Beckford agrees, recalling how Hardison organizes meetings with younger models to help them form real and lasting relationships.
The Battle of Versailles was a turning point in Hardison’s career—a moment that, as described by friends and colleagues, seemed to give the model a new sense of purpose. She returned to the United States and soon established her own company. She focuses on changing the industry from within, recruiting underprivileged models and helping them land gigs. In 1988, she founded the Alliance of Black Girls to support Black models, and in her early years organized town halls to promote dialogue and urge leaders in industries face their discriminatory practices. The general audience as well as insiders will appreciate the details and directness of Invisible beautythis does not overshadow the fashion world’s characterization of exploitative and trend-obsessed.
Hardison and Tcheng predict that some viewers might be opposed by Hardison’s integrative political strategy (the idea of teaching white executives empathy and tolerance), so they included a section showing amateurs interacting with a younger generation of models and designers. It was a full coda and represented a more dramatic feature of Hardison’s leadership style. She doesn’t expect the next industry insiders to necessarily agree with her methods — she just wants them to have the courage to lead her battles.
Alike Black GodfatherReginald Hudlin praises music executive Clarence Avant, Invisible beauty is a shining and powerful tribute to an influential leader in the industry. There are lessons learned and final questions that remain unresolved. Hardison is more honest than most biological documentary subjects, but avoids or ambiguity around some topics – such as her relationship with photographer Bruce Weber, who was recently accused sexual assault, or attempts to reconnect with her son – leaving nagging loose ends. Maybe Hardison, who concludes the documentary reviewing his manuscript pages with an editor, will answer them in his memoir.