Bethann Hardison, a pioneering model in the 1970s, became one of the most influential agents in the 1990s, assisting Naomi Campbell and Iman in uncovering the first male supermodel Tyson Beckford. In the 1990s, she courageously condemned the industry's blatantly racist casting practices, causing a major shift.
Hardison's extraordinary and fantastic life provides an inspiring example of how to bring about dramatic change within the system, and her methods can be studied in the stunning new documentary "Invisible Beauty."
Hardison is the co-writer and filmmaker of "Halston," "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel," and "Halston," "The Eye Has to Travel." Their presentation is fairly standard, but there's so much information to convey that an easy approach feels appropriate.
Hardison isn't the sort of established figure who demands a totally subjective portrayal (if such a thing exists); she's an unsung hero of the industry who deserves her overdue flowers. As a director, she does not gloss over the more troubling aspects of her personal life, such as her somewhat tense relationship with her son, Kadeem Hardison, who plays Kadeem in "A Different World."
Tcheng spends time in the film making impressions on Hardison's upstate home, and the filmmakers discuss how to present the wealth of documentary footage. In the 1950s and 1960s, the film begins with a parade of influential figures who sing Hardison's songs.
Hardison's father was an Imam who influenced Malcolm X, and she credits him with influencing her. She studied at FIT and NYU, where she became a saleswoman for emerging Black designer Willi Simpson. She walked alongside Beverly Johnson, Iman, and Pat Cleveland on the runways of the 1970s.
When modeling for Southern consumers, Hardison always felt she was "walking into a hostile environment." She cites Kurosawa films as her early influences: "I'd always think of Samurai when I would walk."
"Invisible Beauty," by Bethann Hardison
Hardison turned to booking and representation in the 1990s, inspired by fashion's bleak race politics. She founded The Black Girls Coalition with Iman in 1988, both with the aim of promoting African American models. Kimora Lee Simmons, Roshumba, Veronica Webb, and Beckford are just some of the most well-known models in the business.
The fashion industry took a sour dive into white homogeneity after Hardison left the country to pursue her next career. Led by Prada and Calvin Klein, the early aughts' "heroin chic" look resulted in a "future-chic" look, which Hardison taunts. "They're lemmings." In 2013, she launched a massive press conference criticizing the blatant racism that had become industry norm, often stating, "No
The film does this information at a relatively short time, and the runway shows and press conferences convey a sense of cultural artifact being defined and preserved in real time. It's a valuable reminder of how much media is shaped by the fashion industry.
“My goal was never to change the world,” Hardison says in the film. “That was just the tool I had.” In her later years, Hardison is still being admired by distinguished designers, photographed in stunning outfits, and consulted by fashion's elite. “Mother is still living her best life,” Iman and Campbell joking to each other. “I think being alive is the moment.”
"Invisible Beauty" was the first film to premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently being distributed.