Today we celebrate Bethann Hardison, fashion pioneer, supermodel, entrepreneur, and activist. The Bed-Stuy Brooklyn native attended NYU and FIT and worked in the New York Garment District, becoming its first black fashion showroom salesperson. She was ultimately discovered by designer Willi Smith, becoming his fit model and muse. With ebony skin, a cropped cut, and doe eyes, her ‘look’ was a departure from the fairer-skinned, longer-haired models favored by the industry at the time.
The 1970’s ushered in a new era of opportunity for black models with the emergence of the Black is Beautiful movement, and she, alongside 11 other models of color, iconically stole the show during the 1973 Battle of Versailles, a fundraiser and ‘fashion battle’ between American and European designers. She’d later walk the runway and do print campaigns for many iconic designers including Perry Ellis, Issey Miyake, Kenzo, and others.
After her modeling career came to a close, she transitioned into a role as a booking agent, championing models beyond the ‘Nordic’ norm, including a young Whitney Houston. She eventually started her own agency, representing as many as 75 models across race and gender, including Veronica Webb, Tyson Beckford, Kimora Lee Simmons, and other iconic names.
She partnered with fellow supermodels including her friends Iman, Naomi Campbell, Cynthia Bailey and more to create the Black Girls Coalition, which became a watchdog group providing advocacy and support to African-American models and raising awareness for issues ranging from homelessness to racism in advertising.
She’d later go on to launch The Diversity Coalition alongside Iman and Naomi Campbell, an industry-wide group whose members remain anonymous to protect participants from repercussions as they monitor and report on diversity and inclusion. Now 78, Ms. Hardison continues to be a diversity advocate, highly-respected and awarded force in the fashion industry, and a champion of up & coming designers of color. She recently made her small-screen debut as an actress on CW’s Black Lightning!
You may also recognize her last name from somewhere else - Ms. Hardison’s son and client, Kadeem, is best known for his portrayal of Hillman student Dwayne Wayne on one of my all-time favorite shows, A Different World.
Let’s give Ms. Bethann her flowers!!! 💐💐💐💐💐