Pi­o­neer­ing black model strut­ting stuff at 60-plus

The Korea Times - - CULTURE -

NEW YORK (AFP) — Coco Mitchell, one of the first black mod­els, re­turned to the run­way this month af­ter a decade away, keen to push bound­aries again in her 60s and sup­port young cre­ators.

As the fash­ion car­ni­val swings into Mi­lan from Lon­don be­fore head­ing to Paris, Mitchell is bask­ing in the glow of achiev­ing new catwalk feats in New York last week.

“I want to push the en­ve­lope,” she told AFP, days af­ter bust­ing some Janet Jack­son dance moves dur­ing a star turn in the De­veaux New York show on Sep. 9.

“I want to be re­mem­bered when I go up. To walk sort of va­pid, with no look or ex­pres­sion, I can’t do that. You have the wrong girl,” Mitchell added at her home in Har­lem.

Mitchell, who doesn’t re­veal her ex­act age, also de­lighted au­di­ences at shows by Mex­ico’s Vic­tor Bar­ra­gan and Amer­i­can Christo­pher John Rogers dur­ing New York Fash­ion Week, which ended Septem­ber 11.

“The whole thing for me is I’m grate­ful to be there, and not be­cause of my age. I was grate­ful back then.”

“And peo­ple have a sense, they feel that I have no fear of any­thing, I’m not afraid. The de­signer may not like it. What­ever. I’m go­ing to take a chance,” she said.

Mitchell, from the United States, first mod­eled more than 35 years ago. She has pa­raded for Dior, Saint Lau­rent, Ar­mani or Ver­sace and clearly has noth­ing left to prove.

In the early 2000s, how­ever, Mitchell quit the run­way af­ter be­com­ing dis­il­lu­sioned.

“I de­cided I didn’t want to do it any­more. I felt like a slave,” she told AFP dur­ing a lengthy in­ter­view.

The 5-foot 10-inch model, who was spot­ted on the street by leg­endary model agency ex­ec­u­tive Eileen Ford, re­turned to do­ing the sort of cat­a­log work that kick­started her ca­reer.

She went to model for the likes of Macy’s, Old Navy and Gap, but felt the call of the run­way again, so this year de­cided to work with young de­sign­ers.

“I’m one of those peo­ple that if you call me and you said we’re do­ing this thing and we re­ally need you to help, I would do it,” ex­plained Mitchell.

‘Racism, strange an­i­mal’

Her ap­proach chimes with many up-and-com­ing cre­ators who aim to break with the for­mal­i­ties of tra­di­tional cat­walks by per­mit­ting their mod­els to smile and even in­ter­act with spec­ta­tors and pho­tog­ra­phers.

Dur­ing the Bar­ra­gan show, she teased the crowd by plac­ing her hand on her blouse and then non­cha­lantly sweep­ing the air, caus­ing spec­ta­tors to cheer. Mitchell is no stranger to break­ing new ground. She was the first African Amer­i­can model in Sports Il­lus­trated and one of the first on the run­way, go­ing on to model at all the world’s ma­jor fash­ion shows.

She ob­serves with in­ter­est the winds of di­ver­sity that blow through the fash­ion world th­ese days, par­tic­u­larly in Amer­ica, be it skin color, age or the range of body shapes now grac­ing run­ways.

Mitchell sees greater open­ness, but also a re­al­iza­tion amongst fash­ion ex­ec­u­tives that there are prof­its to be made too.

“Eco­nom­i­cally a lot of the busi­nesses are see­ing that brown peo­ple, black peo­ple — we’re spend­ing a lot of money on skin care, hair care, beauty prod­ucts, cloth­ing,” she said.

Mitchell doesn’t have any il­lu­sions about at­ti­tudes in parts of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, though.

“Racism is a strange an­i­mal and we live in Amer­ica. I don’t be­lieve it’s ever go­ing any­where. It’s part of peo­ple’s DNA. It’s just how they think,” she said.

Mitchell’s im­promptu re­turn to the run­way gave her so much joy and sat­is­fac­tion that she is al­ready think­ing about ap­pear­ing again next year.

“I started late, al­ready 23 or 24. No one re­ally knew how old I was so I never think about age,” she said.

“When I’m 99 years old, I want the qual­ity of my life to be like it is now.”


Model Coco Mitchell poses for AFP in New York City, Fri­day. Mitchell, one of the first black mod­els, who re­turned to the run­way this month af­ter a decade away, is keen to push bound­aries again in her 60s and sup­port young cre­ators.

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