By Charlie Siddick
Imagine waking up to an email asking you whether you’d like to interview one of your idols… it’s every writer’s wet dream. That’s what happened to me recently on a gloomy and otherwise non-remarkable December day, “ThandieKay would probably love an interview with Pat Cleveland?” read the subject line, followed by a brief description of Pat’s achievements and accolades, which let me tell you are hard to compress. “Yes, ThandieKay would love to interview Pat Cleveland” I hastily responded without consulting either Thandie or Kay, because I mean, Pat’s the perfect fit- and one of the world’s first ‘African-American’ supermodels, and certainly the most fabulous.
Pat made a name for herself in the late 60s and 70s as one of the first models to achieve prominence as both a runway and print model. Close friends with the Studio 54 set; Cleveland was a muse to Warhol, Dali, Saint Laurent, Lagerfeld and Halston (to name but a few). Modelling allowed Pat to travel the world, mix with and inspire countless artists and celebrities.
Now in her late 60s, age hasn’t withered her beauty, spirit or energy; remaining a regular fixture on the catwalk and in advertising campaigns- as her daughter Anna continues the Cleveland modelling legacy- she has returned her focus to an early passion; that of painting.
Pat and I spoke over Facetime one evening, in the midst of a current show in London and preparing for others in the States. She tenderly guided me around her studio and home, showing me her diverse art collection and some of her own work.
Pat is bubbly, endearing and possesses a unique childlike combination of naiveté and excitability. Despite being reduced to a screen of grainy pixels teleported across oceans- Pat’s iconic bone structure still shines brightly. Her melodic and drawling voice possesses faint traces of her Harlem upbringing and draws one in; captivating and transporting you back with her to whichever glamorous and prodigious reminiscence she chooses to meditate upon.
They say you should never meet your idols as they’re just bound to disappoint. But it was honestly an honour to speak to Pat- an experience I’ll never forget- I feel changed by her advice and wisdom. We bonded over our heritage and our revelations from using Ancestry DNA, we were a scarily similar percentage of African and Scandinavian- she found 6 siblings through using the website! Her musings on modelling gave me a much-needed sense of artistic perspective on an industry I sometimes find too shallow and consumerist to bear.
Notice how she slips between the use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ and the objective ‘you;’ when she speaks of her experiences she formulates them as though she is relating advice. Pat’s lived a fascinating and unbelievable life and therefore we should all be able to learn something from her. Pat’s gregarious guide to living:
How did you first get into modelling?
I started out as a fashion designer when I was around 14/15, I was always obsessed with fashion and made my own clothes. I always participated in what I thought was nice looking, or beautiful, I loved the idea of going out and looking good; dressing up and feeling good. That’s what fashion is supposed to be- embodying living art.
One day when I was wearing one of my own designs, a woman on the subway told me to come to the Vogue office to show them some of my clothes, an editor saw them and said: “I’m taking these to Paris, to Givenchy!” Following that they gave my clothes a 2-page spread. It was stocked in (Henri) Bendel’s for a while, but it was so exhausting- I was a one-man show.
One day when I was at Vogue, they didn’t have a model so pointed at me and said- “you’ll do!” I was enamoured and thought why am I slaving away all night sewing? I thought this was fun, partly cause you get to be around people- all I wanted to do was see the clothes anyway…
What was the industry like at the time?
There was a division between photo girls and show (runway) girls at the time, there weren’t many show girls then, maybe 10 in the whole of NY. It was kind of like an elite fashion club. If you were black it was hard, and I was kind of in the middle, so no one knew what to do with me.
It didn’t really take off for me till I met a designer called Steven Burrows and the illustrator Antonio Lopez, they were so important to me, so hot and so fabulous and they sort of just included me in everything they did. That’s how I met Andy… we’d go out to the Village, to Sheraton square, people could see me and appreciate me more because of who I was with.
We were all coming up at the same time, these people made a real difference in my life; Karl Lagerfeld, Yves, Valentino, and Halston…definitely Halston.
What did the label “African-American” feel like for you- someone of mixed heritage, predominantly Swedish?
The press referred to me as a ‘black’ model and I’d look at my skin and be like where’s the black? But I live in America where they separate you into black and white. Recently it’s become ok to be ‘mixed-race’, but before it was like: if you had one drop of black in you- you were black and it was meant with negative connotations whereas, I’ve always honoured it.
Africa is a big beautiful country, that’s inspired so many people; YSL, Picasso… everyone take their inspiration from Africa. And everyone has a ticket to ride- America’s a melting pot- everyone’s coming together to make a nice Mother colour.
I was out there in the beginning because they allowed me to be there, perhaps because I was lighter skinned- more palatable- but also because I’m just innately a fashion person.
Yes, I can tell you’re a fashion person, with your iconic fashion walk! How did you think the fashion industry has changed today? And do you think it’s for the better?
Time is precious; people don’t have time for romance anymore. That’s what my walk was- romantic. Romance is slow and moving- business is fast and competitive. The catwalk is more like a conveyer belt sometimes- you’ve got to get those groceries on the conveyer belt and out the other side! Fashion now, has so many more people involved- more people, more cameras.
It used to be quieter; an isolated art that had nothing to do with everybody from anywhere. It had more to do with ‘ladies’ and ‘gentleman’ from a certain part of society. I guess it’s a natural occurrence, things that were small and exclusive become large and accessible.
At the end of the day, it must be a good thing, as there are more opportunities for people to work at different levels of the industry. Fashion is a huge and powerful global industry. It’s opened up; it’s kinda like- do you just sell to the people taking limos? Or the people taking buses and trains?
How long have you been painting for?
That’s what I started out doing, I went to art school, but then modelling took over. Even then I was always scribbling in notebooks when on set. When Dali, Warhol and I hung out we’d always be scribbling on tablecloths together- have drawing wars. All the artists in my life took an active interest in my work, encouraging me to grow. They’d peek over my shoulder and say, “that’s a good drawing!” “that’s really nice- let me have it!” It really was that creative, bohemian lifestyle where we just thrived off each other’s energies.
What encouraged you to start focusing more of your energy on art and formally presenting your work?
My mom was a successful fine artist, she passed away two years ago, so I kinda figured-as she wasn’t looking over my shoulder telling me ‘that’s not how you do it’. I thought well she’s gone now- I’ll do what I want! When I paint I can feel how happy it made her. She painted until the very last minute, so I take that as a sign- a way to be happy. In a way, through art, her spirit still entertains me.
Does your mother’s artwork inspire you? How would you describe your work and your practice?
My mom was a fine portrait artist, whereas my work is more decorative and abstract. Partly because I live in the middle of nowhere and I don’t have many people around me when I paint. I’ve done portraits of my daughter (Anna Cleveland) and son. Of course, I love Sargeant! And really all the artists I used to mix with continue to influence my work.
I try and paint 2-3 works a day; I love colours so my palette tends to be bright and bold. When making art, you go through stuff, you look at all the masters, you go through it and absorb everything that everyone’s done, and you don’t try and do your own thing because you know it’s been done before! It’s all been done before, everything; portraiture, fine art- everything- pyramids, architecture… So what you have to do is not worry it’s all been done, and just do it anyway. Sometimes when I get up and get dressed for parties now, I think I’d love to get back to my paintings!
Clearly, you’re innately a creative, but spending so much time as a muse to other artists gave you awareness of both sides. Did being a model and therefore the object of another’s creative’s gaze feel problematic at the time? I sometimes find it tough being a passive participant in someone else’s vision.
You’re the important part, without you there is no image! You should feel grateful that they want you to be a part of their art. Identity isn’t a flat surface, there’s also the soul and the way you feel which is hard to capture in fashion photography. A model is there to invoke the spirit of the times. Your body is a work of art! A woman’s body, when you’re young… is the most beautiful thing in the world. These days there are disabled women modelling, transgender women, plus-size women- they’re all forms of beauty. Hieronymus Bosch/Sergeant– it’s just different forms of beauty. Whenever I model, I just feel honoured- like they really picked me?!- I better do a good job! I better work hard to make this image they see happen, as a team.
Check out some of Pat’s artwork in the group show ’75 works on Paper’ at Beers Gallery, on until the 24th of December
Follow Pat Cleveland on Instagram
Follow Charlie Siddick on Instagram
Called the best thing on instagram by Refinery 29, body positive activist, model and nascent documentary maker Naomi Shimada is a warm ray of sunshine in our cynical times.
Rarely seen without a brightly coloured outfit, a huge smile, and a great pair of kicks, half Japanese, raised-in-Spain Naomi is one of a kind and I adore her.
Hilary Taymour is a friend and she’s the designer behind Collina Strada. Hilary started her casting process by deliberately selecting models from countries on Trump’s ‘travel ban’ list. However that proved harder than it from there we started selecting a wide range of models with different ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, ideologies that are fearful of the consequences during this presidential term. “We wanted to cast humans who are fearful of what is next: homosexual models; pro-choice models; a model in need of healthcare long-term illness.” Her casting made me feel so many things. Politics and fashion can be an uncomfortable and inappropriate mix, but for me, this show presented clothes via politics from a real-life sense, and more like social commentary.
Ashish is alway hands down my favourite London show. Political fashion shows are obviously trending right now but Ashish’s shows have always been political, with so much heart and soul radiating through in all that glitters. His show has an authenticity that reigns over all the others.
His t-shirts were emblazoned with the slogans ‘You are much lovelier than you think’, ‘Fall in love and be more tender’ – all good reminders of what we need to be saying to each other, doing, loving, caring hugging etc! Now that other designers like Dior and Prabal are trying to jump on this bandwagon Ashish reminds them how it’s done. That this isn’t a fad – it’s a lifestyle!!! That it’s cool to care, it always has been and always will be.
Their collaboration with the US Baseball league challenged the hyper male world with rainbows and sequins! Ashish’s show castings have always been the most inclusive and diverse – this time starred some of my favourite angels Wilson Oryema and and Leomie Andersen. The models wore Mexican Lucha ‘fighter make-up’ by Issamaya French with each model wearing their own gorgeous individual designs!
Hurrah for Comme! It’s just so funny and I don’t even know if it means to be! The so-called ‘ready to wear’ Comme Des Garcons collection is never dull and this season Rei really turned it on. Instead of following
Hurrah for Comme! It’s just so funny and I don’t even know if it means to be! The so-called ‘ready to wear’ Comme Des Garcons collection is never dull and this season Rei really turned it on. Instead of following fashion’s fascination with everything skinny, Rei Kawakubo does what Rei
Hurrah for Comme! It’s just so funny and I don’t even know if it means to be! The so-called ‘ready to wear’ Comme Des Garcons collection is never dull and this season Rei really turned it on. Instead of following fashion’s fascination with everything skinny, Rei Kawakubo does what Rei wants and created what she calls the ‘future silhouette’, padded, in your face, bulbous spherical Picasso-esque curves all coming at you, impossible to ignore! These outfits are a total reflection of what we need in these tumultuous times: a protective suit to hide in with trainers to run as fast as you can when need be! Your very own impenetrable fort! Obsessed with the Nike fly-knit collaboration, a white sneaker with a little bow – perfect for a girl like me who loves a glam but comfy look and avoids heels like the plague! NEED these looks to roll down the Kingsland Road and make people smile again!
I almost didn’t want to pick Gucci cause it’s the obvious choice but Alessandro Michele is an absolute genius. This show was so jam-packed with every kind of fun outfit on the planet my eyes were popping out of my head! I’m completely over stimulated! Candy for the eyes!
Post by Kay
“If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?”
John E. Lewis
As you probably know by now, ThandieKay is all about representation, so I was thrilled to stumble upon these Distant Relatives t-shirts designed by Mandy Mli.
Here is an interview we did with her.
I think it’s important in that it allows us all to be more knowledgeable and understanding generally. Creating a more balanced and mindful society/world. Representation to me is about clear well rounded communication. It should involve recognising diversity and studying various human experiences. I think it is important to recognise the richness in the experiences of those particularly left out of “popular culture” . I think it’s also about opening up that room for truthful dialogue and thus better understanding
It’s motivates me to celebrate and create on behalf of the underrepresented (and often misrepresented). It motivates me to paint and promote a different picture to the one handed to me from birth and hopefully inspire others to do the same. To paint their own picture of their world and experience. And with that I always like to support those who are doing the same. Representation to me should be about being able to tell your own story and inspiring others to do the same, all chapters included.
Distant Relatives itself was actually inspired by a few things, including my own cultural observations and further by an interview I heard, David Banner discussing his new direction/perspective now being more overtly culturally conscience in his music and using his platform to share knowledge and push towards building and educating his community.
Working in education, teaching in early years education and designing as a hobby (and considering going back to university to study a postgraduate degree in Social Entrepreneurship.)
It would be hard to pinpoint one thing that inspired me but music,was a huge influence as far as opening my mind to different experiences, perspectives and the art of story telling. at one point I was learning how to DJ. I loved all things 90s, music videos and all. I still do.
I would like to collaborate more with different artists and individuals. I see Distant Relatives as a collaborative brand. I also hope to expand the product line to include a variety of other accessories and products. Also working towards balancing a more design focused aesthetic whilst still being able to convey an important message.
Making and selling personalised and affirmative accessories. And constantly looking for ways to support social enterprise. And pretty much everything I am currently involved in is about mixing creativity, conversations and promoting positive energy. Directing energy to the things that I think are the important.
Photo: Ol Parker
When it comes to describing something that matches your skin tone, the word ‘Nude’ has often been used. But who’s Nude? Your Nude, my Nude or her Nude? Bizarrely, until now many brands have assumed that we are all one colour-beige.
Then there’s Nubian Skin lingerie, which launched a couple of years ago because the founder, Ade Hassan, was frustrated at the lack of lingerie shades that suited her skin tone, and only ever being offered white or black. Now available at ASOS, the lingerie is smartly named after popular foundation names from MAC and Bobbi Brown and are the lingerie of choice for Beyonce’s Formation tour.
Cameron Russell is editor of the participatory Interrupt magazine & director of a grassroots public art organisation called The Big Bad Lab as well as a successful fashion model. She was one of a few young women I worked with on a Craig McDean shoot in NY back in something like 2006, and again, when she was one of a few on a John Frieda commercial with director Jake Nava.
It wasn’t until I saw her Ted Talk (below) that I actually saw her, because even though I’ve spent my entire adult life around models on a fairly intimate level, I am guilty at times of being distracted by their otherworldly appearance, perhaps not quite bothering to find the time to see ‘a person’ as I would someone who’s currency was not ‘just physical’ at that moment in time.
Growing up in the fashion industry, I’ve observed how a select few become superstars whilst still in their early twenties, before they’ve even truly grown up as people, before getting the opportunities that create an environment in which to garner any sense of their real selves, never occupying any space without continual projection based on their looks alone. Models- who are they? Cameron models for a living, and what’s more interesting is that she both embraces, and explores the projection.
My mom didn’t talk about beauty when I was a kid. She did that on purpose because she wanted us to value ourselves and others for attributes besides beauty.
I’m wearing a piece of clothing that’s my absolute favorite. Like these baggy black jeans that have a shape I love, or this bright blue sweater that is a beautiful color. They are familiar and I always feel confident in them.
My mom didn’t really pay much attention to beauty. Her only make-up was this little tin of kohl (black eye liner) and when she went out to a party or special event she’d use a bit on her eyes.
It’s also lovely to work with people who are passionate about make-up because they’ll have all these amazing references and ideas and characters they want to build, and I get to be part of that.
Cmeron Russell on ThandieKay.com
Cameron Russell on ThandieKay.com
My mom loves textiles, and she’s an avid knitter and seamstress so my dad would always compliment her handiwork and style.
I’ve bleached my eyebrows on various occasions (most recently two weeks ago backstage at Prada) and usually it’s no big deal (they’re back to normal now!) But one time when I was a teenager I bleached them on a job and the team decided they didn’t like the look so we died them back, but they weren’t the right color and we died them two more times. Then they started to break off and fall out. I looked pretty crazy with thinned out super orange-y eyebrows for a while!
I wish I could pass on the gift my mother gave to me, which is not to worry too much about how you look. She always appreciated clothing, and I even remember her talking about some movie star whose hair she loved once. But it never was more important than being happy and healthy.
Where to start….on a glacier in Alaska, in a dust storm, in the back of many vans, RVs, cars, and tents, and of course backstage at a show with 3 people doing my make up and 4 people doing hair … in less than 5 minutes!
More diversity. Media that reflects and includes all people.
Yesterday, I changed my make-up too many times, ow!
See Cameron’s participatory Interrupt Magazine here
Check out The Big Bad Lab project here
Follow Cameron on twitter here