The Teacher

InStyle (USA) - - Insider -

CON­TIN­UED FROM PAGE 200 voice. We all had a meet­ing in Har­lem with Dap­per Dan [who of­fi­cially part­nered with Gucci on Gucci–dap­per Dan: The Col­lec­tion in 2018]. That was a great thing, be­cause I do love the brand. I was a big Gucci fan back in the day when it was gang­ster. That was re­ally my style; I loved all that shit. When Alessan­dro [Michele] came and took it back over [in 2015], I was in­ter­ested but fear­ful. The first show was all white [mod­els], and that was right at the brink of mak­ing sure we in­te­grate. And his first pre­sen­ta­tion wasn’t that. But af­ter see­ing how he showed, what he was think­ing, and how his mind worked, I be­came a fan. So I’m very happy to be in this place. It made me re­call what my young friend Iman used to say to me years ago: “You’re rel­e­vant.”

LB: Iman! That lit­tle baby! BH: Yeah. I would say, “Well, ev­ery­one is.” And she said, “No, ev­ery­one isn’t.”

LB: You’ve been the con­stant. BH: And this is her point.

LB: You first started the Black Girls Coali­tion in 1988. From then to the be­gin­ning of 2020, there’s, thank­fully, been a ton of progress. What stands out to you 32 years later? BH: Now I think what could change greatly is be­hind the scenes. The ob­jec­tive of fash­ion and re­tail CEOS should be to hire people of color be­cause they are good, not just be­cause they are of color. When I used to book mod­els, I wouldn’t take a girl just be­cause she was black. If they sent me some­body who wasn’t right be­cause they thought I would take any­body, no.

LB: Do you think de­sign­ers of color are get­ting more sup­port on the business side now? Who stands out to you? BH: I don’t see that yet. I wouldn’t bring any­one into the group we are ad­vis­ing un­less they have a brand. But these are emerg­ing de­sign­ers. I truly love some­one like Vic­tor Gle­maud be­cause he’s learned the ropes from be­ing with oth­ers, which most people don’t. They want to start right out. I like what Laquan Smith does. He’s so young and mak­ing strides in his own way. And I adore what Tel­far [Cle­mens] does on a com­mu­nity level. He’s so in­no­va­tive, and he’s not ar­ro­gant. He’s an ar­ti­san who is hon­ing the un­der­stand­ing of putting people to­gether.

LB: De­sign­ers are carv­ing out their com­mu­ni­ties now more than ever. Why do you think that is? BH: They have plat­forms on so­cial me­dia where you can see things from around the world. People now are be­com­ing le­nient about defin­ing sex­u­al­ity, gen­ders. They learn to ac­cept. Young kids are not going along with the es­tab­lish­ment. They’re sort of de­cid­ing there’s an­other world to live in. It al­lows people to find and sup­port each other. So many people have voices now. And that’s the difference.

LB: How of­ten do you talk to Naomi Camp­bell? BH: That child of mine is very in­ter­est­ing. We’re lucky if we can break it down and say hi once a month. Back in the day it was a lot more. Now she’s on her own two feet, so strong, and she’s determined to change the view of the African con­ti­nent. So she’s busy. But she does check in and call if she needs some­thing, or to share that some­one has done some­thing naughty and that we need to ad­dress it.

LB: She calls the Bethann hot­line. I know [model] Adut Akech is re­ally close with her now. BH: A mother role.

LB: Yeah! You’ve got some­body to share Ma du­ties with. BH: She has al­ways been the one who would ring my bell when I was ly­ing in a ham­mock in Mex­ico drink­ing tequila and be­ing cool. Naomi would say, “You’ve got to get back here. There’s some­thing going on. This is not good. You need to come.” She was my man on the beat.

LB: What was the first time in the business when you were like, “OK, I have a voice”? BH: Oh, I never think that. But the first time I no­ticed some­thing was when I was at Click Mod­els and an ed­i­tor called to ask a ques­tion about [then model] Tal­isa Soto. She wanted to know where Tal­isa was from, and I said, “She’s from Puerto Rico.” She said, “No, I’m ask­ing where is she from—what’s her na­tion­al­ity?” I said, “She’s Puerto Ri­can.” She didn’t want to buy that she was from Puerto Rico, be­cause in her mind, she was so ex­otic and won­der­ful. They needed to hear an­other place. That was when I no­ticed some­thing. LB: Your pi­lot light went on, right? BH: Yeah, but you don’t know it at the time. When Calvin Klein’s com­pany was call­ing—and Calvin and I were very close; he’d be so ex­cited to look for a girl of color who re­ally was some­thing—they’d call me to find one. When I’d ask how many girls they were us­ing, they’d say 35. I’d say, “You want me to find you one good, great black girl?” They’d say yes, and then I’d take a beat and say, “Do you see how racist that sounds?” They would be like, “What do you mean? We thought you’d be happy!” “I am happy, but you’ve got to un­der­stand how that looks.” You have to ed­u­cate. I would say the same thing to Brides magazine. “You do know that black and brown people get mar­ried, right?” And they’d go, “Why are you say­ing that?” Now we’re all con­scious, but back then it was so typ­i­cal. I had a model agency with white, black, and Asian kids in it. [Pho­tog­ra­pher] Steven Meisel and I would talk on the phone. He’d say, “I’ve called around for some Asian kids. Do you know you’re the only agency that has any­body Asian?” I said, “Stop it.” He said, “I’m telling you. I’ve called.”

LB: When was this? BH: The ’80s and early ’90s. I do be­lieve it’s a mat­ter of ed­u­cat­ing. When I had the first press con­fer­ence [on the lack of black mod­els on run­ways and in fash­ion pages] at Bryant Park in Septem­ber 2007, a magazine ed­i­tor asked me, “Do you re­ally think you can make a difference?” I laughed and said, “Ab­so­lutely. I know I can, as I’ve done it be­fore. This will not be hard.” And she said, “How can you be so sure?” I said, “It’s not like I’m going up against the Par­lia­ment or Congress. I’m going up against the fash­ion in­dus­try. Do you know how un­aware they are?” Due to the need to en­force change, we sent let­ters out in Septem­ber 2013. By Oc­to­ber people in Paris, Lon­don, and Milan had switched [to fea­tur­ing more mod­els of color]. It’s not about racism. It’s about aware­ness. The last thing they want to be thought of is racist. It’s ig­no­rance. They have no idea what they are do­ing is a re­sult of racism.

LB: But yes, “diver­sity” is the cor­po­rate word now. BH: It’s a cor­po­rate topic. The fash­ion in­dus­try is one thing. The model in­dus­try, which ser­vices the fash­ion in­dus­try, has had success at in­te­gra­tion, and when it’s re­flected, it helps the mag­a­zines, it helps Hol­ly­wood, it helps ev­ery­thing. Once you start to see that not ev­ery­one’s a cer­tain type, then people get com­fort­able. The idea of be­ing our­selves—that works. LB: Right. It be­comes a given. In fash­ion it’s of­ten di­vided be­tween people who care and people who don’t. The cyn­i­cal and the open. It’s so old-fash­ioned in many ways. BH: You know why? Be­cause we were, re­spect­fully, a tiny elit­ist is­land. There were no out­siders. But now it can’t be. Now it’s fol­low­ing pop­u­lar cul­ture. It’s re­versed. Fash­ion is not elit­ist any­more.

LB: That’s true and wel­comed. And there’s al­ways some­thing to be said for the magic of fash­ion, though. This is­sue [of In­style] is about beauty and wis­dom, and I like to ask ev­ery woman I re­spect: What are you am­bi­tious for? BH: I want to main­tain the loves I have and stay as healthy as I can. There are a lot of things to do. I have got to fin­ish my doc­u­men­tary. My lit­er­ary agent is wait­ing for my book. But my big­gest am­bi­tion has al­ways been to lie in a ham­mock and have a tequila. I’m never going to be more am­bi­tious than to be lazy [laughs], and I think know­ing how to be self­ish is the most important thing.

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