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Invisible Beauty: Documentary hails Style Icon Bethann Hardison the “Mother” of Advocacy for diversity in the Fashion Industry

Invisible Beauty: Documentary hails Style Icon Bethann Hardison the “Mother” of Advocacy for diversity in the Fashion Industry

“I just want everyone , audiences to discover Bethann Hardison, I think everyone can gain from knowing this person. I know I gained from it. As I am very much someone who keeps my head down, not very confident, but getting to know Bethann and seeing how you can lead your life with such confidence, tell it like it is that was very important to me”. Frédéric Tcheng Director Invisible Beauty

Bethann Hardison is the subject if the new documentary Invisible Beauty, a portrait of the pioneering model-turned-agent who worked with and Iman, and mentored models like Naomi Campbell, and Tyson Beckford. a vsisionary you should be familair with, if not with her you don’t need to be a fashion connoisseur to see examples of her work in the fashion industry, she discovered Tyson Beckford the worlds first Black male supermodel.

Test Shoot 1975 Paris

Long before that “work” she was a fashion runway model describing herself as the first “Black Black supermodel” an unwavering presence, on the catwalk, not quite what the models of that time looked like, at every step channeling what she refers to in the documentary as her inner Samurai. “I’d always think of Samurai when I would walk.” she said.

Landing at Ruth Manchester Ltd. a junior dress company she became the first Black salesperson in a showroom. Whether it was working in Manhattan’s garment district, donning Chester Weinberg’s elegant A-line skirts, or captivating audiences at the illustrious Versailles in 1973, she shattered expectations. On the catwalk she proved that models of color exuded charisma far beyond the role of the “mannequin”. In this captivating documentary “Invisible Beauty,” we bear witness to her resolute determination and fearless rebellion, as she embarked on a remarkable journey without any premeditated plans, just to do what she wanted to do.

The notion of becoming the pioneering Black supermodel was never a deliberate aspiration for Hardison. Ambition and society’s perception of success were distant notions in her mind. Yet, within an industry plagued by deep-rooted racial biases, she unwittingly emerged as a symbol, embodying the hopes and fears projected onto her by others. When an unseen interviewer mused about the desire to always emerge victorious, to win, Hardison gracefully corrected him, emphasizing that her drive stemmed not from a craving for victory but from an aversion to the possibility of failure. “You always want to win,” he says. “I don’t want to lose,” she says,

Raised in Brooklyn with her feet intertwined in the South, Hardison experiecend the harsh realities of an unjustly divided USA. Her grandmother lived in the Jim Crow South, Hardison’s young mind questioned the logic behind segregated “dirty” water fountains, perplexed by the notion of separate facilities. In high school, her Black classmates, deemed her artistic pursuits as “white things,”. But that did not deter her from charting her own course guided by instinct rather than conformity.

Speaking to Bethann at the Sundance Press Breakfast she said. “When you grow up as a kid you don’t know who you are, the good thing was I had alot of freedom as a child I lived with my mother and grandmother for the first 12 years. I was a latchkey kid and you are out on your own when I came home from school. I changed into my play clothes and you were just street. I was so loved and by the time I was twelve years old I had got into so many things, you just don’t know why you are who you are, you just come to earth to be that.”

Co-directed by the visionary Frédéric Tcheng, a maestro in the realm of fashion filmmaking, “Invisible Beauty” serves as a contemplative retrospective, transcending the boundaries of a conventional autobiography. Through the film’s lens, as co-director Hardison gains the opportunity to reflect on her past, paving the way for her future journey. As she puts it, she “looks back in order to go forward”. Each scene encapsulates the magnitude of her life, seamlessly intertwining moments of celebration and introspection.

Meeting your superheroes one interview at a time Editor Joy Coker with Bethann Sundance London

Photos of Bethann, her work, and the talent she represented during her time as a producer, creative director, and agent Copyright Bethann Hardison

If the fashion industry had a superhero then it is Hardison. In 1984, she was the first Black woman to own a modeling agency, establishing the groundbreaking Bethann Management Agency.

Collaborating with Iman, she co-founded the Black Girls Coalition in 1988, advocating tirelessly for increased opportunities for Black models within an industry that held both her passion and her heart. Her mentorship extended to iconic figures like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks.

The documentary unfurls with intimate conversations between Hardison and Tcheng, granting viewers an exclusive glimpse into the depths of their thoughts. Thoughts which include what might be the purpose of the documentary.

While luminaries like Zendaya, Tracee Ellis Ross, Whoopi Goldberg, Ralph Lauren, and Tyson Beckford (whom Hardison discovered) shower her with well-deserved accolades, a bittersweet undercurrent pervades. As you watch this woman Bethann Hardison who has given so much and acheviced so much. It reminds you of how much more still needs to be done in the fashion industry and in America. And how whether consiously or unconscously racism is something Black women have to contend with as they forge paths for themselves.

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Invisible Beauty unveils Hardison’s resolute comeback in 2007, long after she had gracefully retired from the runway and found a home in Mexico. Fearlessly, she confronts fashion powerhouses like Prada and Calvin Klein, demanding greater representation for Black models in their shows. Hardison played a pivotal role in igniting an transformative shift in the industry which lead to seeing Black models like Naomi grace the front covers of Vogue and be part of major campaigns, adverts, editorial and runways.

Kadeem Hardison and Mom Bethann

The documentary also honestly touches on her relationship with her son Kadeem Hardison ( A Different World).

The title of activist was not a title she herself asked for it was bourne from her forging her own path, refusing societal limitations imposed upon her. A title bestowed on her and many Black women who become the first in their fields the word activist becomes synonymous with their name. “Invisible Beauty” deserves applause and is for anyone who doubts the power of “I can do anything”, for lovers of great human stories, for lovers of fashion history and fashion, for women who forget they are formidable, for lovers of good cinema. The story of this trailbrazer is told eloquently under the co-direction of Frédéric Tcheng (“Halston,” “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel”) and Hardison herself.

At 80 years old her latest role is #Gucci’s Executive Advisor for Global Equity and Culture Engagement. With tears of joy Bravo Bravo Bravo Bravo was the words in my head when leaving the cinema after the press screening at Sundance London. As director Tcheng puts it,“it is a feel good film”. Tickets are limited catch the film on July 7th at Picturehouse Central 3:15pm

Where to watch:

About the Black Girls Coalition: “With over 20 members, including Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb, Karen Alexander, Roshumba, Beverly Peele, Cynthia Bailey, Gail O’Neill, Peggy Dillard, and Kerstie Bowser, the group quickly evolved into a watchdog group providing advocacy and support to African-American models and raising awareness for issues ranging from homelessness to racism in advertising.