Tonight, at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards, Bethann Hardison will be honored with the Founder’s Award, given in honor of the CFDA’s founder, Eleanor Lambert. It feels right to reflect this much deserved recognition (albeit in a smaller way!) with our Monday Muse series.
Bethann Hardison has been fighting tirelessly for greater diversity on the runway since 2007. We have identified that integrity, resolution and grit are qualities integral to the women we look towards as inspirational – Hardison fulfills each in abundance – she has adopted the slogan “Activism needs to remain active.”
Hardison started modeling in the sixties, she appeared in the 1973 ‘Grand Divertissement à Versailles’, a fashion show staged to raise awareness for the disintegrating palace – a face-off between top French and American designers using exclusively black models. When she founded her own model agency ‘Bethann Management’ in 1984, representing both white women and women of color, designers’ reluctance to consider any but white models caught her attention. She pressed the point, as far as she could, before tiring of the modeling industry and retiring in 1996. During the late 90’s (and in Hardison’s absence) trends shifted back towards generic, clonelike casting for the runway.
For the New York Times: “In my heyday, black models worked more than they worked today,” said Iman, who calls Ms. Hardison her closest friend. “I thought, what the hell is this on about?”
In July 2008 Bethann helped to develop and edit the ground breaking and highly successful “All Black Issue” of Vogue Italia, and in September 2013 Bethann led the Diversity Coalition, an organization that developed the Balance Diversity initiative, a movement to improve racial diversity in the fashion industry permanently. On the eve of the Spring 2014 Season’s debut, Hardison’s Diversity Coalition penned an open letter to the fashion industry chastising the designers who made little or no effort to incorporate women of color into their runways.
Thanks to the Diversity Coalition’s pioneering efforts, there has already been a noticeable increase of ethnically diverse women on runways and in editorials alike.
Bethann Hardison serves as a model of empowerment for the fashion industry and her steadfast commitment to increased diversity is cause to celebrate all she has inspired. She continues to shed light on the sensitive matter with the utmost grace. It’s easy to become wrapped up in the fantasy of producing a luxury brand, Hardison works relentlessly to make sure that our industry continues to see past this, maintaining integrity and an intelligent ethical justice. Hardison is a fierce female role model, and this Monday’s Muse.