When the fash­ion in­dus­try fum­bles, ed­u­ca­tor and ad­vo­cate BETHANN HARDI­SON shows it the way for­ward

InStyle (USA) - - Contents - by LAURA BROWN pho­tographed by AN­DREAS LAS­ZLO KON­RATH styled by SAM BROEKEMA

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.

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