Bethann Hardison, a model, activist, and fashion icon, has co-directed a documentary about her life and legacy, titled ‘Invisible Beauty’. The film, which was released earlier this month, showcases Hardison’s remarkable journey from working in the garment district in the late 1960s to becoming one of the first Black women to run a modeling agency and advocate for diversity in the fashion world.
Hardison, who is now 80 years old, has been a pioneer for inclusion and representation in fashion for over five decades. She was one of the 10 Black models who participated in the historic Battle of Versailles in 1973, a fashion showdown between French and American designers that helped break the color barrier on runways. She also modeled for influential designers like Willi Smith and Issey Miyake, and appeared in magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
A Mentor and a Leader for Black Models
In the 1980s, Hardison transitioned from modeling to representing models, and opened her own agency, Bethann Modeling Agency, where she kept a roster of multiracial talent. She also co-founded the Black Girls Coalition with supermodels Iman and Naomi Campbell, both of whom consider her a mentor. The coalition was a support network for Black models, and a platform to raise awareness and challenge the racism and discrimination in the industry.
Hardison also organized press conferences, panels, and open letters to call out the lack of diversity and inclusion in fashion shows and magazines. She used data, testimonials, and media attention to pressure the industry leaders to change their practices and policies. She also created a network of spies who would leak information to her team about the worst offenders.
A Source of Inspiration and Empowerment
Hardison’s documentary, ‘Invisible Beauty’, which she co-directed with filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng, is a testament to her impact and influence on the fashion world and beyond. The film features interviews with celebrities and icons who admire and respect her, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Zendaya, Tracee Ellis Ross, Fran Lebowitz, and Tyson Beckford. The film also uses archival footage and personal anecdotes to reveal Hardison’s personality, style, and vision.
Hardison told TIME that co-directing the film, as well as working on an upcoming memoir, have given her perspective on how much her work has affected others. “When you can recognize yourself as being someone who’s actually helped shift society and shape the industry in some way, you’ve to give yourself credit,” she said. “Along the way, everyone says it to you, but I’m at a time in my life where I’m reflecting on it in a different way because of the film.”
Hardison also said that she hopes the film will inspire and empower others to follow their dreams and passions, and to challenge the status quo. “It’s just taking yourself seriously,” she said. “You have one life to live, and you need to make it the best it can be.”