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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

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/30/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

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

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649287">Tape: 1 Slating of Bethann Hardison's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649288">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison lists her favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649289">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison describes her father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649290">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison describes her father's appearance</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649291">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison remembers living with her father</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649292">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison recalls her father's influence on Malcolm X</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649293">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison remembers her father's death</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649294">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison talks about her father's Muslim faith</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649295">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison describes her mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649296">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison remembers her mother's household</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649297">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison talks about her mother's childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649298">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison describes her foster sister</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649299">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison describes her earliest childhood memories</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649300">Tape: 1 Bethann Hardison describes the sounds and smells of her childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649301">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison describes the sights of her childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649302">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison remembers her maternal grandmother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649303">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison talks about her mother and maternal grandmother's occupation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649304">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison describes her early personality</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649305">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison remembers her early education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649306">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison recalls her decision to attend George W. Wingate High School in Brooklyn, New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649307">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison talks about her experiences at the majority-white George W. Wingate High School in Brooklyn, New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649308">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison recalls her position on the cheerleading squad</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649309">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison remembers moving into her father's household</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649310">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison recalls her influences during high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649311">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison remembers moving out of her father's home</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649312">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison remembers her miscarriage</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649313">Tape: 2 Bethann Hardison remembers her early work experiences</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649314">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison recalls working as a corrections officer at Westfield State Farm in Bedford Hills, New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649315">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison remembers leaving her position as a corrections officer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649316">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison recalls her first position in the Garment District of New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649317">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison remembers her early work for clothing manufacturers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649318">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison describes her relationship with her father</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649319">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison recalls the start of her modeling career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649320">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison remembers her relationship with Donald McFadden</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649321">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison remembers meeting Willi Smith</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649322">Tape: 3 Bethann Hardison talks about the emergence of black fashion designers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649323">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison talks about WilliWear Ltd.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649324">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison describes her role as Willi Smith's muse</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649325">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison remembers her conflict with Ruth Manchester</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649326">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison remembers Willi Smith</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649327">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison describes Willi Smith's creative process</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649328">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison talks about Bruce Weber</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649329">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison recalls working for Stephen Burrows</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649330">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison recalls her early work as a runway model</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649331">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison remembers her first major modeling job</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649332">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison talks about her appeal as a model</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649333">Tape: 4 Bethann Hardison remembers the black models of the 1960s, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649334">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison remembers the black models of the 1960s, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649335">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison remembers modeling in the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649336">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison recalls the preparations for the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649337">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison talks about Stephen Burrows' models</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649338">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison describes the night of the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649339">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison recalls the response to the 'Grand Divertissement a Versailles'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649340">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison talks about Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649341">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison describes her bohemian lifestyle, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649342">Tape: 5 Bethann Hardison describes her bohemian lifestyle, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649343">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison talks about Andre Leon Talley</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649344">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison describes her social circle in the 1970s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649345">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison remembers Andy Warhol</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649346">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison talks about The Factory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649347">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison talks about Grace Jones</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649348">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison remembers Beverly Johnson</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649349">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison talks about Calvin Klein's impact on the fashion industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649350">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison describes Beverly Johnson's career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649351">Tape: 6 Bethann Hardison remembers meeting Iman</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649352">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison remembers the closure of Burrows, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649353">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison recalls working for Valentino</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649354">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison recalls designing a swimwear line</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649355">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison remembers joining Click Model Management Inc., pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649356">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison remembers joining Click Model Management Inc., pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649357">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison talks about the representation of African American models in the 1970s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649358">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison describes her role at Click Model Management, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649359">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison remembers the success of Click Model Management, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649360">Tape: 7 Bethann Hardison remembers founding Bethann Management Co., Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649361">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison reflects upon her decision to start Bethann Management Co. Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649362">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison remembers finding an office space for her modeling agency</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649363">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison describes the challenges of starting a modeling agency</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649364">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison remembers the models at Bethann Management Co., Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649365">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison talks about the success of Bethann Management Co., Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649366">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison describes her son's acting career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649367">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison remembers the deaths of her mother and Willi Smith</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649368">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison recalls organizing the Black Girls Coalition, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649369">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison recalls organizing the Black Girls Coalition, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649370">Tape: 8 Bethann Hardison remembers discovering Roshumba Williams</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649371">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison recalls her decision to retire from her modeling agency</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649372">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison talks about her purpose for Bethann Management Co., Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649373">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison reflects upon her impact on the modeling industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649374">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison shares her career philosophy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649375">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison reflects upon her accomplishments at Bethann Management Co., Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649376">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison talks about the successors to Bethann Management Co., Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649377">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison describes the changes in the modeling industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649378">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison talks about the role of casting directors in the fashion industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649379">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison describes her decision to become a fashion activist</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649380">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison recalls the reaction to her press conference in 2007</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649381">Tape: 9 Bethann Hardison talks about 'America's Next Top Model'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649382">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison reflects upon her life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649383">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison reflects upon her career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649384">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison describe her hopes and concerns for the black fashion community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649385">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison talks about the qualities needed to succeed in the fashion industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649386">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison shares her advice for aspiring fashion professionals</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649387">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison describes the challenges of a modeling career, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649388">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison describes the challenges of a modeling career, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649389">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison reflects upon her legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649390">Tape: 10 Bethann Hardison describes how she would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649391">Tape: 11 Bethann Hardison narrates her photographs, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/649392">Tape: 11 Bethann Hardison narrates her photographs, pt. 2</a>

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.

Leonard Davis

Fashion designer, fashion event producer and Black Americana collector, Leonard Davis, was born on March 12, 1953 in Washington, D.C. to Jordan and Cleo Davis. He graduated from Coolidge High School in 1970 and earned his associate degree in applied science at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 1973. Davis then continued his education at the world famous L'Ecole de la Chamber Syndicale De La Couture Parisienne in Paris, France where he earned his “Couture Design” certificate in 1975.

After working as an apprentice for Jean-Louis Sherrer in Paris, Davis returned to New York and began his designing career working for Willi Wear. On more than one occasion throughout his career, Davis was the first African American designer to head a division for companies including Adrianna Papell, Josephine Chaus, Inc. and Donnkenny. For twelve years, Davis worked developing private label products at Liz Claiborne, QVC, The Home Shopping Network (HSN), Essence by Mail and retail stores including Saks, Nordstrom, Bloomindales, Macy’s, JC Penney, Sears, Ashley Stewart and Steinmart. Davis has also worked abroad as Design Director for several International fashion houses including Mihang International, (Korean) Sage Apparel, (India) Tanzara/Plus Impact, (India).

In 1990, Davis realized the necessity for an annual event to honor African Americans in the fashion industry. With the collaboration of The Fashion Institute of Technology and Fashion and Arts Xchange, Davis’ vision was realized. He produced several annual events which honored black fashion pioneers including Ophelia DeVore, Naomi Sims, Andre-LeonTalley, Iman, Geoffrey Holder, Carmen De Lavallade, Wesley Tann, Helen Williams, Audrey Smaltz, Susan Taylor and Stephan Burrows. The event was hosted by Diahann Carroll and Phylicia Rashad.

In 1985, Davis began collecting Black Americana. He has published two books entitled “Black Americana Price Guide.” Davis has appeared in numerous magazines and newspaper articles, and The Davis Collection has been featured on several television shows including “Antiques Road Show,” “Treasures in Your Home,” ABC News, and featured in Spike Lee movie “Bamboozled.”

Leonard Davis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 31, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.119

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/31/2007

6/22/2007

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School

Calvin Coolidge Senior High School

Fashion Institute of Technology

Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale Couture Parisienne

First Name

Leonard

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

DAV19

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Quote

The Will To Do Will Make A Way

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/12/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Soul Food

Short Description

Fashion designer Leonard Davis (1953 - ) designed for many 7th Avenue fashion houses including Willi Wear, Josephine Chaus, Liz Claiborne, Adrianna Papell, Donnkenney, QVC, Home Shopping Network, Chico’s, and Tarzana International. As an avid collector of Black Americana, he authored two books and several articles on black collectables.

Employment

Tanzara

Chaus

Adrianna Papell

Willi Smith

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505598">Tape: 1 Slating of Leonard Davis' interview, session 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505600">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis describes his mother's education and upbringing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505602">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505604">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis' mother describes her childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505606">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis describes his father's career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505608">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis describes how his parents met</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505609">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505610">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis describes his upbringing in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505611">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis describes his neighbors</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505612">Tape: 1 Leonard Davis describes Washington D.C.'s racial environment</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505613">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis remembers his early interests</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505615">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis remembers Rabaut Junior High School in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505617">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis recalls his fashion column at Chamberlain Vocational High School in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505619">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis remembers his growing interest in fashion</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505621">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis recalls learning to sew</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505623">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis describes his early fashion shows</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505625">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis remembers winning a national art competition</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505627">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis recalls his decision to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505628">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis remembers the Fashion Institute of Technology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505630">Tape: 2 Leonard Davis remembers learning about fashion designers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505633">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis recalls his black peers at the Fashion Institute of Technology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505634">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis remembers the emergence of black fashion designers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505635">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis remembers the disco scene in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505636">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis recalls his early aspirations as a designer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505637">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis describes his education at the Fashion Institute of Technology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505638">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis recalls his decision to study couture in Paris, France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505639">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis recalls his experiences of discrimination in Paris, France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505640">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis recalls his training at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505641">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis describes his design apprenticeship in Paris, France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505642">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis remembers the arts community in Paris, France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505643">Tape: 3 Leonard Davis recalls searching for employment in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505644">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis remembers being lost in Paris, France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505645">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis remembers searching for housing in Paris, France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505646">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis remembers working with Helen Faske</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505647">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis remembers visiting his family for Christmas</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505648">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis remembers his interview with Oleg Cassini</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505649">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis describes Willi Smith's design career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505650">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis explains the development of junior sportswear</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505651">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis remembers working at WilliWear Ltd.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505652">Tape: 4 Leonard Davis talks about the African American fashion community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505662">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis remembers being hired at Adrianna Papell</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505663">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis remembers designing for Bernard Chaus, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505664">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis recalls designing for Oak Hill Sportswear Corporation and Donnkenny, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505665">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis describes his international career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505666">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis describes his experiences of racial discrimination in the fashion industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505667">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis describes the stereotyping of African American designers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505668">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis describes the urban wear market</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505669">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis talks about designing for the moderate market</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505670">Tape: 5 Leonard Davis talks about notable African American fashion designers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505671">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis talks about the changes in the fashion industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505672">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis describes Tanzara International, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505673">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis describes his organizational involvement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505674">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis lists black fashion pioneers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505675">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis talks about preserving African American fashion history</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505676">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis shares advice for aspiring African American fashion designers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505677">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis talks about the term ethnic</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505678">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis shares lessons from his career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505679">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis talks about his parents' influence on his career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505680">Tape: 6 Leonard Davis lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505681">Tape: 7 Slating of Leonard Davis's interview, session 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505682">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis remembers buying his first apartment</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505683">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis recalls his first purchase of African American memorabilia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505684">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis talks about the value of African American collectibles</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505685">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis shares the history of Aunt Jemima</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505686">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis describes his Weller Pottery cookie jar set</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505687">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis describes his collection of black Americana artifacts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505688">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis talks about negative caricatures in his collection</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505689">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis describes the reactions to his black Americana collection</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505690">Tape: 7 Leonard Davis describes the history of racist images in advertisements</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505701">Tape: 8 Leonard Davis describes the Weller Pottery Aunt Jemima set</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505702">Tape: 8 Leonard Davis shares his collection of black beauty products</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505703">Tape: 8 Leonard Davis describes the educational value of historical artifacts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505704">Tape: 8 Leonard Davis talks about the importance of preserving family histories</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505705">Tape: 8 Leonard Davis describes his relationship with his Americana collection</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505706">Tape: 8 Leonard Davis talks about the advertising images of African Americans</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505707">Tape: 8 Leonard Davis describes the changes in images of Aunt Jemima</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505708">Tape: 8 Leonard Davis talks about depictions of African Americans on cereal boxes</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505717">Tape: 9 Leonard Davis shares tobacco cans from his black Americana collection</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505718">Tape: 9 Leonard Davis describes the history of racial slurs in product names</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505719">Tape: 9 Leonard Davis shares an advertisement for Nigger Hair Smoking Tobacco</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505720">Tape: 9 Leonard Davis describes his collection of piggybanks with racist imagery</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505721">Tape: 9 Leonard Davis shares his artifacts from the Madam C.J. Walker School of Beauty Culture</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505722">Tape: 9 Leonard Davis describes his artifacts from the Coon Chicken Inn</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505723">Tape: 9 Leonard Davis describes his Weller Pottery set depicting Aunt Jemima</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505724">Tape: 9 Leonard Davis shares the Aunt Jemima products in his collection</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/505725">Tape: 10 Leonard Davis narrates his photographs</a>

DASession

1$2

DATape

2$7

DAStory

4$5

DATitle
Leonard Davis remembers his growing interest in fashion
Leonard Davis shares the history of Aunt Jemima
Transcript
Lo and behold, (gesture) this lady [Cleo Williams Davis] saw one of the drawings one time and so she turns around on the front porch to Pauline Jackson [ph.] who lived to the left and goes, "Pauline, look at this dress. I love this dress. I wanna have it made." I'm going, "Ma, will you give me my sketch back? I gotta turn in my column for this week." "No, I wanna look at the--." I said, "Ma, who cares about the dress? I'm just--gotta do my--I'm doing my column, you know." I, I--I'm doing my--I'm in the back--in the back room, tinkering trying to make a transistor radio 'cause that's the class that I was in and this was just something on the side. What is everybody getting crazy over these stupid sketches? It's nothing. I'm just trying to write captions under the drawing and keep this column alive that I'm suddenly obligated to do. No. Mom kept flipping and she's telling Pauline, "We're gonna get patterns and I'm gonna make this dress because it's beautiful." Oh, boy. So, the week after that, again, I had to do a tracing and come up with something and I was--you know, after weeks went by, I got a little more interested in the drawings, tried to make them a little nicer, tried to take the hair and flip it like this. I didn't know what I was doing, but I was trying to do something. I was trying to keep my, my column alive and she kept on flipping over the dresses. And I kept saying, "Mom, stop. I don't care about the dress." She said, "But you don't understand. Look how fabulous this dress is." So then I started taking a look. So then the next week I would say, well, don't put two buttons on the dress, put six buttons on the dress and try to make it plaid. Then I would say, "You like this one?" (Screams) And she was dropping dead every time I would put my pencil on the paper. So slowly, I started believing, maybe I am doing something. Maybe I am--maybe it is something, I don't know. So then I started paying more attention to fashion. Then, I started paying attention to what people were wearing, what I was wearing, what was going on around me in terms of fashion.$$And what grade were you in?$$That was te- elevent- tenth--no, that was tenth grade. That was tenth grade, first year of high school [Chamberlain Vocational High School, Washington, D.C.].$$Okay, and that--and then how did you end up at Coolidge High School [Calvin Coolidge High School; Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, Washington, D.C.]?$$So, then, the elect- electronics took a back seat because I became--now, I got less interested in electronics and more interested now in the fashion thing.$$In the column.$$In the col- well, the column which led onto actually drawing clothing and really gain- gaining an interest in fashion. Okay, now wait a minute. So, now my mother and father [Jordan Davis, Sr.] are members of the Masons for the men and the Eastern Star [Order of the Eastern Star] for the ladies, that organization. So they know a vast array of people throughout Washington [D.C.] just from that organization and then, of course, my father is a Mason, he's also a Shriner, blah, blah, blah, you know. So that--there was a exposure to a lot of people and so my parents being gregarious as they are, are constantly out at meetings where--and bringing us out, okay. So as parents talk about their kids, you know, at the various events and functions and parties and picnics and outings that we go to, the word got around, you know, that my mother would always tell her friends, you know, he's interested in clothing, he's interested in designing, he's designing clothings. So, this was in the '60s [1960s] and everybody was wearing, you know, Michael Jackson, you know, the dashikis, you know, big afros, you know, black power, all that stuff. So then$$(CLEO WILLIAMS DAVIS): (Unclear).$$I was trying to--so then what I did was, I got a--my mom got me a sewing machine and I started making dashikis, making my own dashikis, you know. You could go and buy African fabric and get creative and make your own dashikis and all of that stuff, so started having fun making dashikis, you know, at home, whatever. That was kind of my first sewing pursuit.$And at what time does Aunt Jemima pancakes start advertising with Aunt Jemima and possibly making these types of items, the advertisements and the cookie jars and the--$$Okay, and for--and for Aunt Jemima, now, Aunt Jemima in particular, that story is that something about the fact that the, the, the producers of that product at the turn of the century, okay, when, well let's say Mr. Kellogg, Mr. Post were coming up with this new invention which was a, a dry--a cereal and you just add milk, okay, but it was nutritious and it was instant, okay. Then, Cream of Wheat was there and then the pancake mix suddenly came along. And so it was at a point in time when industrialism was going on and people were coming up with these various inventions, but then your product, okay, had to have a, a logo, a name, a face, okay, that was going to sell to the--to the public and so it's kind of--the concept was we have a product, pancakes. Who makes the best pancakes? Okay and these are instant pancakes, so in actuality, you will be making them, okay, but they should taste like what? Like who? So, the best cook in the world was your maid, the black maid, the black mammy in the kitchen from the Old South. It was just that American notion that she's the best cook that there is. So then some very smart producer, promoters, okay, advertising geniuses thought, hum, if we put that notion and we put that face on the box and the--and the first actual person that portrayed the image of Aunt Jemima because there was never an actual Aunt Jemima. Aunt Jemima is just a, a--sort of a, a phrase. It's just sort of a nickname that was given to old southern women in the South rather than try to figure out, remember your name or whatever, all of them were auntie, auntie, you know what I'm saying. Every, every old woman was auntie, every old man was uncle. So, auntie, Aunt Jenny, Aunt Jemima, Aunt--auntie. It was--it was just a common southern name for old black women. And so Aunt Jemima, I think at the time there was a play on Broadway [sic.], 'Aunt Jemima Slide' ['The Aunt Jemima Slide']. I even have the sheet music for it, and so it was just a common name that was around and it would--it would just again--just say--it would mean an old fat black woman, an Aunt Jemima. She's an Aunt Jemima. But she's again--she's that faithful figure in your home. Typically, she probably raised you, okay. She may have even breastfed you. You were raised by her. You love her. She loves you and she keeps your home. She--she's there and she's a trusted, respected figure. She's your psychiatrist, she was your wet nurse, she's your doctor, she's your, your, your grandmother, okay, for what it's worth, okay, in the psyche of American people at that point in time. So imagine her image on that product box to say that's who made these. That--if you use this product, it will be as if she made them. You will--it will taste--but you can do it. So now, it's the turn of the century. The, the idea of having a maid and a cook and all of that stuff, it's no longer, it's no longer. The, the, the Beulah is no longer in the kitchen now. Times have changed, okay, so this is how we brought her forward. Now, Beulah is in the box, okay. And so that's why we're using that image. Again, realize, that product has the black image on the--on the box, okay, but this is a product that is not being advertised to the black consumer. That was not the intention. The intention was that we just wanted you to just realize that you trusted her, okay, and so that's why you're willing to buy this product, assuming that it's gonna taste as if she made it, the person that you trust, the Cream of Wheat that you trust, Rastus on Cream of Wheat, Uncle Ben that you trust as a very, very--the best cook. This product will make you the best cook just like them, someone that you know. But that product was not being advertised to the black consumer as the end user. That was never the intention. However, it was not a negative, also. It was--the, the, the image, the black image on those products was not also put on there as a negative, okay. It was put on there because this was a trusted figure that everyone knew for a food item. This is gonna taste great if you have it in your mind that this Cream of Wheat product, this oatmeal is gonna taste good if you buy it because it's in your mind that he made it. So that--I just wanted to put that point across.