Sundance 23: Invisible Beauty Bethann Hardison Revolutionized Fashion
“My objective was always to change the world, it wasn’t just to change fashion…That was just the tool I had.”
When you hear the name Hardison, one is inclined to immediately think of the star Kadeem Hardison from the hit 90’s sitcom “A Different World.’ Most don’t realize that his Mom, Bethann Hardison was and is a fashion revolutionary, model turned agent and activist who knew that Black was beautiful well before the fashion industry acknowledged the truth.
From walking runway shows alongside Iman to discovering supermodels like Tyson Beckford and mentoring icons like Naomi Campbell, Hardison has been at the epicenter of major representational shifts in fashion. Catalyzing change requires continuous championing, and as the next generation takes the reins, Hardison reflects on her personal journey and the cost of being a pioneer.
Co- directed alongside Frédéric Tcheng and produced by Lisa Cortés, Bethann Hardison is a force at the helm of her own story while tracing her impact on fashion from runway shows in New York and Paris in the ’70s to roundtables about lack of racial diversity in the early 2000s. Her audaciousness and candor are inspiring and inviting, especially when you realize had she not lived, fashion and the manner it is ingested may have never shifted into what we know it to be in today’s world.
In a powerful testimony, Iman shares a poignant moment of Hardison’s character when she kneeled down to help assist with her shoes during a show at the chagrin of other models standing nearby and simply looking on. They felt giving Iman preferential treatment would set her up to expect this behavior moving forward. But, to Bethann it was one Black woman assisting another and saying without one word, I see you sis’.
Just as the late Andre Leon Talley was considered the ‘father of fashion,’ Bethann Hardison is affectionately referred to as “mother” and single-handedly called designers and agencies out on their tunnel vision and Lord knows what the industry would have looked like without this unapologetic, radical thinker who doesn’t just talk – she did it while not suffering fools gladly earning the respect of peers on a global level.
However, being this much of a force can often times bring conflict in one’s personal life and the film does not shy away from her challenging relationship with her son or relationships that didn’t go the distance for one reason of another.
Invisible Beauty is a tribute to an Black woman who made such seismic shifts that we should never forget her name or her contributions to equality in the fashion industry and beyond. So the next time you seen a magazine ad or commercial with a diverse cast, be aware that in some shape of form this Invisible Beauty made it all possible.