Anyone remember the lavish Ebony Fashion Fair shows that used to tour the country? In Seattle, it was a highly anticipated annual event presented by the National Council of Negro Women, Seattle Chapter. To get a glimpse of the cadre of Black models strutting the runway, particularly the male twin models Rod and Ron Fuller, and a look at the work of Black designers like Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, and Stephen Burrows, was to always be delighted and excited and left wanting more. Ebony Fashion Fair brought couture and beautiful Black style to the masses from 1958 - 2009. During that time, Bethann Hardison was making her way through the world of high fashion as a model-turned-activist for Black representation on the runways of Paris, Milan, London, and New York.
Bethann’s life and life’s journey have been documented in INVISIBLE BEAUTY. The film shares intimate elements of her life as a key figure in the fashion world and includes a few bumps along the road with her son Kadeem Hardison, best known for his role as DeWayne Wayne in A Different World. There are pieces in the film between the two of them that illustrate just how much Bethann, as a single parent, wanted for her child, always pushing him to pursue his passion. It is her formidable success, constant drive, and candid nature that seem to challenge Kadeem’s view of his own success.
It’s also the passion and love that Bethann has for the legends of models of all stripes that floats to the top in the film. Supermodel Tyson Beckford sheds a few tears talking about the impact Bethann had on him. Taking him under her wings, one thing led to an introduction, which helped Tyson to become the first Black male to be showcased in a suit, in advertising campaigns for Ralph Lauren. The Polo brand was and still is quite popular as street wear, but Tyson Beckford gave “getting dressed” a whole new meaning in his pinstripe suit. Ads featuring his dreamy look were pulled from magazines and pasted on the bedroom walls of girls all over the world.
The careers of Naomi Campbell, Iman, Tyra Banks, Veronica Webb, Roshumba Williams, Kimora Lee Simmons, and so many others, all have a straight line back to Bethann Hardison.
“Bethann is the godmother of fashion.” Tracy Ellis Ross
After leaving the runway, Hardison opened her own modeling agency and represented young talent from every walk of life and every ethnicity. As an agent, she was absolutely a proponent for appropriate representation for Black models, but she did not pigeonhole her own capabilities and reach. Fashion is the industry she rides for and as such, she rode the backs of design houses, and opened doors for hundreds of fresh faces seeking their spot on runways and in fashion magazines.
The story of INVISIBLE BEAUTY is one about advocacy, representation, and equity, but it is also about creating and leading a community and being a vulnerable human. At one point in the film she says, “I know, because I have lived long enough, that you can change things.” She is an agent of change as much as an agent of fashion, and in her elder years, Bethann is still seeking to be poured into. In the film, she is candid about having cared for so many others, and remaining desirous of having that kind of care come back to her. It’s a truly touching human moment that perfectly contrasts her super hero status with her vulnerability as a woman and a Black woman of a certain age.
INVISIBLE BEAUTY is available for streaming on multiple platforms including YouTube, AppleTV, and Amazon Prime. Please take a moment to learn more about the incredible life, career, and beauty of Bethann Hardison here.