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Bethann Hardison

Fashion activist and model Bethann Hardison was born in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from George W. Wingate High School, Hardison attended the New York University Art School and the Fashion Institute of Technology. During the 1960s, Hardison worked in the garment district of New York City as saleswoman. In 1967, she was discovered by African American designer Willi Smith and began working for Smith as a fitting model, soon crossing over to the runway and print industries. Along with Beverly Johnson, Iman, and Pat Cleveland; Hardison broke barriers in the 1970s appearing in Allure, Harper’s Bazarre, and Vogue. In 1973, she was featured in the international Versailles fashion face off, a historical moment in which France’s best designers competed against the top American designers of the time. Hardison then joined Click, a startup modeling agency, in 1980, as a booking agent where she produced fashion shows, handled public relations for design houses, and became a contributing editor at several magazines. Concerned with the politics of the fashion industry, Hardison changed her focus from modeling to activism in 1981.

Formed in 1984, the Bethann Management Agency focused on diversifying the fashion industry. Also, along with former model and friend Iman, Hardison co-founded the Black Girls Coalition in 1988 to provide advocacy and support to African American models. In 1996, Hardison turned her attention towards television where she co-executive produced television sitcoms “Between Brothers” and “Livin Large.” Hardison was also named Vogue Italia editor at large in 2010.

Hardison’s contributions in modeling and advocacy have earned her several awards throughout her career. In April of 1999, she was honored with the First Annual Vibe Style Lifetime Achievement Award. Later that year, the Magic Johnson Foundation presented Hardison with a Distinguished Service Award. The Black Alumni of the Pratt Institute honored Hardison with a 2003 Lifetime Achievement award. In 2012, she received a Woman of Power Legacy Award from Black Enterprise, and became a Frederick Douglass award recipient in 2013, for her work in promoting diversity in fashion.

Bethann Hardison was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 15, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.190

Sex

Female

Interview Date

7/15/2013

Last Name

Hardison

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Occupation
Schools

Fashion Institute of Technology

New York University

George W. Wingate High School

P.S. 35 Stephen Decatur School

P.S. 44 Marcus Garvey Elementary School

First Name

Bethann

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

HAR41

Favorite Season

April, September

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Morocco, Mexico

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

9/30/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pasta

Short Description

Fashion consultant Bethann Hardison (1942 - ) was known for her pioneering work in revolutionizing and popularizing a more inclusive definition of beauty within the fashion industry.

Employment

Bethann Management Co., Inc.

Click Model Management

Concorde Fashions Corp.

Stephen Burrows, Inc.

Ruth Manchester, Ltd.

Mary Gutmacher

Cabot Button, Co.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Bethann Hardison's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison describes her father's appearance

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison remembers living with her father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison recalls her father's influence on Malcolm X

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison remembers her father's death

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison talks about her father's Muslim faith

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Bethann Hardison remembers her mother's household

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Bethann Hardison talks about her mother's childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Bethann Hardison describes her foster sister

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Bethann Hardison describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Bethann Hardison describes the sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison describes the sights of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison remembers her maternal grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison talks about her mother and maternal grandmother's occupation

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison describes her early personality

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison remembers her early education

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison recalls her decision to attend George W. Wingate High School in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison talks about her experiences at the majority-white George W. Wingate High School in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison recalls her position on the cheerleading squad

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison remembers moving into her father's household

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Bethann Hardison recalls her influences during high school

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Bethann Hardison remembers moving out of her father's home

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Bethann Hardison remembers her miscarriage

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Bethann Hardison remembers her early work experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison recalls working as a corrections officer at Westfield State Farm in Bedford Hills, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison remembers leaving her position as a corrections officer

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison recalls her first position in the Garment District of New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison remembers her early work for clothing manufacturers

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison describes her relationship with her father

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison recalls the start of her modeling career

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison remembers her relationship with Donald McFadden

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison remembers meeting Willi Smith

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison talks about the emergence of black fashion designers

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison talks about WilliWear Ltd.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison describes her role as Willi Smith's muse

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison remembers her conflict with Ruth Manchester

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison remembers Willi Smith

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison describes Willi Smith's creative process

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison talks about Bruce Weber

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison recalls working for Stephen Burrows

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison recalls her early work as a runway model

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison remembers her first major modeling job

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Bethann Hardison talks about her appeal as a model

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Bethann Hardison remembers the black models of the 1960s, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison remembers the black models of the 1960s, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison remembers modeling in the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison recalls the preparations for the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison talks about Stephen Burrows' models

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison describes the night of the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison recalls the response to the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison talks about Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison describes her bohemian lifestyle, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison describes her bohemian lifestyle, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison talks about Andre Leon Talley

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison describes her social circle in the 1970s

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison remembers Andy Warhol

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison talks about The Factory

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison talks about Grace Jones

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison remembers Beverly Johnson

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison talks about Calvin Klein's impact on the fashion industry

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison describes Beverly Johnson's career

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison remembers meeting Iman

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison remembers the closure of Burrows, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison recalls working for Valentino

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison recalls designing a swimwear line

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison remembers joining Click Model Management Inc., pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison remembers joining Click Model Management Inc., pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison talks about the representation of African American models in the 1970s

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison describes her role at Click Model Management, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison remembers the success of Click Model Management, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison remembers founding Bethann Management Co., Inc.

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison reflects upon her decision to start Bethann Management Co. Inc.

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison remembers finding an office space for her modeling agency

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison describes the challenges of starting a modeling agency

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison remembers the models at Bethann Management Co., Inc.

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison talks about the success of Bethann Management Co., Inc.

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison describes her son's acting career

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison remembers the deaths of her mother and Willi Smith

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison recalls organizing the Black Girls Coalition, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison recalls organizing the Black Girls Coalition, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Bethann Hardison remembers discovering Roshumba Williams

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison recalls her decision to retire from her modeling agency

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison talks about her purpose for Bethann Management Co., Inc.

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison reflects upon her impact on the modeling industry

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison shares her career philosophy

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison reflects upon her accomplishments at Bethann Management Co., Inc.

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison talks about the successors to Bethann Management Co., Inc.

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison describes the changes in the modeling industry

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison talks about the role of casting directors in the fashion industry

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison describes her decision to become a fashion activist

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - Bethann Hardison recalls the reaction to her press conference in 2007

Tape: 9 Story: 11 - Bethann Hardison talks about 'America's Next Top Model'

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison reflects upon her life

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison reflects upon her career

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Bethann Hardison describe her hopes and concerns for the black fashion community

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Bethann Hardison talks about the qualities needed to succeed in the fashion industry

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Bethann Hardison shares her advice for aspiring fashion professionals

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Bethann Hardison describes the challenges of a modeling career, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Bethann Hardison describes the challenges of a modeling career, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Bethann Hardison reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Bethann Hardison describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Bethann Hardison narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Bethann Hardison narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$7

DAStory

6$9

DATitle
Bethann Hardison recalls the response to the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'
Bethann Hardison remembers founding Bethann Management Co., Inc.
Transcript
So what was the response [to the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles']? Can you talk about that, too?$$Yeah, it was great response for us because--$$A lot of applause?$$Yes.$$A lot of oohs and ahs? No?$$No, not oohs and ahs, no, no oohs and ahs--$$Applause.$$I mean, wait, I mean, it was more. They were stunned by, I think, by the, by the sheer simplicity. And also, back in those days, no one used music to do a fashion show. And we did music--I mean, [HistoryMaker] Stephen Burrows, you know, did music. So, we were walking to music, too, and the girls flowing, and the things are so elegant. And the mixture of girls of color, and the girls that are not, and the girls that are dancers, and the feeling, the style, the elegance of it all. It was such a good thing in that way. The, the strong reaction is like, as, as it's told and history has it, is when I come down because I was so nervous 'cause during every rehearsal, I just did enough because I was, had so much to be concerned about. And there was so much fighting and arguing amongst the designers. And, you know, I had to go listen to Anne Klein talk. And everybody was just going through such tough times, especially her because, you know, she's a woman. And she feels that she's being treated badly because she's a woman and no one is paying her attention, but she also was ill at the time and I didn't know that. But I had to listen to her, and spend time with her, and I'd go back to my post because I wasn't there to model. I just had to model when I had to model, but I was there also as an assist to Stephen 'cause I worked in his design studio [Burrows Inc., New York, New York]. But that moment when, you know, Halston said, "Well, we can count on Bethann [HistoryMaker Bethann Hardison], you know, we can get--," and every time they kept saying that, I kept thinking--every time I go to the rehearsal, he could say, "C'mon, Bethann, c'mon." I said, "I will, I will, I will," 'cause I didn't have it at that moment. But when he put that yellow dress on me, and that wasn't, you know, that was his couture--the dress--and it was all pinned. And the way he had it, it was, you know, like, instead of everything was knits with him. With my dress, it was woven, and it was underlay, so you had to connect hook and hook, hook and eye, hook and eye, and then, it was wrapped over. It was like, he was dedicating that dress to couture, like French couture, because he had never done anything like that before. So, this dress, you know, we all had long trails with a, with a pinkie holding our trains, you know, on our finger. But when I came out, and I knew it was my moment (laughter), and I knew they were counting on me 'cause I hadn't shown them what I could do. I walked down there--that was another moment of having that moment with Chester Weinberg. I walked down there with such defiance on my eyes, my feeling, the spirit of my body was so strong, and the way I walked, that you see this, and I had, we had twills, all of us had twills. But I'm the only one with no hair, 'cause my hair is cut short, so it's funny how my hair is cut short now, where I had a long dress and hairs before, but this twill. So, here I look more Afrique, I guess, probably than anything--$$Right.$$--with this dark skin, this pure, beautiful, canary yellow dress, but the way I came down, it was like it was (laughter), Bill, Bill Cunningham said it was like, "Watts Bethann?" It was like watts--but when I hit the stage, the center stage, and turned, and stared at the audience in defiance, and threw my train down, and looked at them, they start to stomp the ground, the floor, and then, they threw all the programs up in the air, like Indianapolis [Indianapolis 500], screaming, "Bravo, Bravo!" Boy, that moment, the way they screamed, the way they start, the way the programs kept going up in the air. And I just stood there for so long. At that point, I saw Halston in this, in the wing, the, the left wing of the stage, and him grabbing Liza. And I heard them saying, "Go, Bethann, go." And, then, they said, "Stephen, Stephen, and Stephen's coming." And by this time, tears are coming in my eyes, and I'm like (fakes crying), I was such emotion. It was such emotion, just to be able to then take that one moment, and then walk across that stage where I was supposed to, to let the other girl come through. It was the most un- it was the most amazing moment. So, I missed the big party mostly because Liza Minnelli and I just, just walked around the whole Versailles [Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France], talking and talking. I don't know. When I see the film ['Battle at Versailles'], I don't remember where I was because I don't remember anything. I think, I think that moment was all I needed. And I wasn't one of the models like that. You know, they were really models. I was never a model--I modeled.$$I know, but at that point, you're a model.$$No, no, I--no, I was never a model.$$Right, in the head, okay, I got you.$$They were all models.$$I see.$$They worked and did nothing else but model. I modeled because I was capable of it, but I was never really a model-model. I was never that girl who just, you know, worried about what the face looked like, what was I wearing and all that. (Makes sound) That was not my way.$They were just doing their thing; and that's when someone contacted me, a, a French agency, who was our--who we loved, City [City Models], and she wanted to come into America. And she asked, would I open with her? And I was scared to do that because I knew what I had. I didn't know what I--another one saying, you're good, you're good. And then, you know, I had somebody who told me, "Please, let, you know, Bethann [HistoryMaker Bethann Hardison], you need to get away." I was at a party at Jerry Hall's house with Mick [Mick Jagger], and I met this lawyer, and he said, "I've heard a lot about you. I'd like to talk to you sometime." And he called me up and told me that a friend of his that told him that I was working to the point that I barely ever ate, and never caught my breath, that you never call her at the office 'cause she's always so busy, and I know she's not getting paid. He said, "I want to talk to you," and that was the beginning of changing my life. The agency wanted me in Paris [France], so when I went to Paris, I went and met with the woman. I came back. I didn't tell my agency. I considered it, and I knew I had this agent, this, this lawyer who believed in me. And then, I said, "Well, maybe I should do this because she's going to give me an opportunity to be an owner and I love, we love her girls." I mean, she has the best taste, the best eye, and I said, yes, but this crazy woman thought I was going to be a plan- that she thought, she was the plantation owner. I was going to be the slave, or in house Negro. She told me, "Well, that's not what you're supposed to be. You're not supposed to be--I never said I--you'll be my partner. Where do you get off thinking you're going to be--," and I had left my agency. This is when I got tough. And the reason why I left my agency is because I knew I was overworked, but I had gone--my, my owner, Frances [Frances Grill], wanted me to go to est [Erhard Seminars Training]. You know, what est is?$$est, yes, est, the--$$She didn't want me to go for me. She wanted me to go, so I could tell others around us to go. I need est, like I need a hole in the head--I had my father, and when you have my father, you don't need est. All these new books being put out and all this new world, nonsense, I had Lee Hardison. I don't need, I don't need est. So, what happened is she begged me to please go do it. "Please, because if you go, then you could tell Kezia [Kezia Keeble], she's--Kezia owned KCD, which is Keeble Cavaco and Duka. You could tell Bruce [Bruce Weber], you--they would listen to you, they would listen to you."$$Why would she want that?$$Well, est, you know, is she had it. She loved it.$$Seemed, I know, it seemed like a good, I've got people who are (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) So, I went, and I'm telling you, what she got out of it is the life shows right then and there--that man told me to leave that company. So, I was there for three days, came back one week, and Joey [Joey Grill] said, "You see what you did? Now, Bethann's leaving because the man said, you know, I was scared to report anybody's else's wave." He said, "As soon as you, as long as you're not afraid to do that--if you're afraid to do that, you'll never get anywhere." And I said, "Okay, that's it, that's the answer." So, I wind up doing this, but I wind up doing it on, wind up going off, but that thing with Fra- Paris really didn't work out, and I had to really pull it together.$$You had to go deep inside yourself that was 'cause--$$So, thank god, I had that lawyer who believed in me.$$Okay. Oh--$$And he, he helped, he talked his whole firm into taking care of me for no money. And I just looked every day in the newspaper for a space. And Bonnie Berman, the model, who was the top model of our agency, was my girl, a little white girl from Princeton University [Princeton, New Jersey]. She said, "Go find a space, and I hope, I'm going to try and find the money." She quietly stayed there. Talisa Soto, who's an actress now, but she was my little girl. She, she, she and Bonnie pushed me to do it. I didn't want to do it. But between Steven Meisel and a couple of other people, you got to, you got to. And then, I wind up, you know, going out here, looking for a space. And I found that place on North Moore Street.$$And you set up Bethann [Bethann Management Co., Inc., New York, New York], (unclear) that's right.$$Nineteen eighty-four [1984]. And I'd been with Click [Click Model Management Inc., New York, New York] since 1981.