When the fashion industry fumbles, educator and advocate BETHANN HARDISON shows it the way forward
Bethann Hardison in a Gucci jacket and earrings. Photographed by Andreas Laszlo Konrath.
Naomi Campbell calls her “Ma.” Her best friend Iman calls her “My ride or die from 1975.” The fashion world, from young models to emerging designers to brands like Gucci, calls her…a lot. Bethann Hardison, a longtime fighter for representation for people of color, is the fashion industry’s conscience. Born in Brooklyn, the beloved former model launched Bethann Management Co. in 1984, and in the years since she has worked, with a clear and tireless voice, to change how fashion looks. Now that black models are finally achieving their long-earned presence on the runways, Hardison is turning her attention to mentoring young designers and educating fashion brands on racial sensitivity. “Even when they take their eye off the ball,” she says, “I’m constantly driving the nail and making people go back to the point.”
It’s a lot to do, but for this self-described revolutionary, there has always been a clarity to her calling. And there’s always time for a tequila. (Well, after this interview.)
LAURA BROWN: On your Instagram in December you wrote, “Grateful for another year of learning that we are meant to survive, especially if you are a ‘do-gooder.’ But for sure this year because I still see the support, the respect and acknowledgements, I am relevant.” Tell me what came to mind when you were wrapping up the year.
BETHANN HARDISON: I don’t post every day. I have nothing to sell; I’m selling just philosophy. For me, this has been a very interesting year because at the end of 2018, I was thinking, “I’m going to need a roommate.” I needed to be able to afford to not have to put so much out, as hardly anything was coming in. And I didn’t want to use my savings to pay my electricity bill. I want my savings to be used for a great idea I have or to travel somewhere.
LB: For the rest of your life.
BH: I started consulting for the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America]. I just wanted enough to pay my rent. Then along came Gucci. They asked me to work with them at the end of February. So when I looked back at the year, I realized that no matter how old you get, if you’ve got something that’s of value to others and you’re not looking to make money off everything, you tend to have a longer life.
LB: You can have a longer life if you just want to do the right thing and do it with grace and empathy. What do you think in terms of the confluence of the CFDA and Gucci happening in six weeks?
BH: In my life I’ve always cared very much about others. The CFDA would reference me: “Remember diversity. Any questions, contact Bethann Hardison.”
LB: “Hi, my name is Diversity Hardison.”
BH: I also want to help young black designers. I’m tired of people saying, “Where are the black designers?” Oh my god, they exist. Everyone is not Virgil [Abloh], but people have businesses. So I pitched to the CFDA that I wanted to help young design companies of color be strong in their businesses. Not to become famous, but to have a solid business. LB: Have a real backbone and then be able to develop.
BH: I’m so inspired by emerging designers. And then that thing happened with Gucci and the balaclava sweater that people thought was blackface. The bombardment of that was such a shock to them. So I met with them. My take on this thing was different from the average person’s because I didn’t see the sweater as being blackface. But it’s in the eye of the beholder. LB: You have to read the room.
BH: Well, they needed a strong
Gucci jacket and earrings. Hair: Edris Nichols for Edris Salon. Makeup: Sam Addington for Kramer + Kramer.