Bethann Hardison, in Gucci by Dapper Dan, attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion on May 06, 2019 in New York City.
Bethann Hardison, in Gucci by Dapper Dan, attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion on May 06, 2019 in New York City.
Photo: Jamie McCarthy (Getty Images)

When it comes to fashion influencers, there’s one who’s been at it since before Instagram was a twinkle in its creators’ eyes. Advocate, activist, agent, influencer and prodigal model Bethann Hardison began her approximately 50-year career in fashion as a merchandising student who failed to graduate from New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology (h/t WWD)—and now, the Gucci Changemaker is starring in the luxury label’s Pre-Fall 2020 lookbook.

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For those who know Hardison best as the mother of actor Kadeem (A Different World’s Dwayne Wayne), her own trajectory has been even more remarkable. A series of chance meetings led the former child performer to a modeling career, an era that included becoming a muse to designer Willi Smith as early as the late’60s, acting as both fit model and assistant to Stephen Burrows, and counting Jean-Michel Basquiat among her personal friends (notably, she was also the maid of honor at supermodel friend Iman’s uber-intimate 1992 wedding to David Bowie).

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And then, there was the storied “Battle of Versailles,” where America’s most prominent designers of the day staged a walk-off with their French counterparts in 1973, featuring Hardison, fellow modeling legend Pat Cleveland and more. Hardison then moved on to the other side of the business, becoming a modeling agent for Click before launching her own Bethann Management in 1984, where her frustration with the lack of black representation in the industry led her to found the Black Girls Coalition. Later joining forces with Iman and Naomi Campbell, the trio successfully called out the lack of diversity on the runways, and lobbied the industry, leading to the bevy of black modeling superstars we’re currently enjoying.

Now, Hardison has rejoined the ranks of the stars for which she helped pave the way, stunting on all of us in Gucci’s quirkiest finery with Rome as her backdrop. As the icon wrote on Instagram, her journey is far from over.

As we close down the year and surely many are thinking “what a year”! For me this was the year that allowed me to know more about myself and how I am still determined.

Where most are retiring for sure by this age, I find that life continues to present a new wave to surf.

Like many, I wondered about my finances, which, where and how ?

Not truly until this year did I really take to heart and mind what my dear Iman said to me many years ago, that “you are relevant”.

I tried to say, “so were certain other people” she would clarify the difference.

With all that I have achieved, I never gave myself too much credit. I was busy just changing the world around me, because that was my revolutionary calling.

Grateful I am also to [Naomi Campbell] who would not allow me to lay back too long, as she would call me to arms. She knew I would persevere. She knew to help save our industry and the models of color that a significant respected disruptor was needed.

That be me..”Ma, you need to come back it’s bad”. She was my eyes.

Blessed them both because, when I stepped up, they stood strong.

Success was had.

This year, recognition and honor is being given to me, as I find ways to help others to be stronger at what they do. I have been given an opportunity to survive comfortably. My recent plight to help strengthen the businesses of young designer brands of color has given me “flight”, next level. I do what I do because I am called to do. Thank you [CFDA]

Grateful that I am rewarded by a luxury brand like Gucci that reached out to join forces with me. While we help the global world with their initiatives #changemakers, it also affords me to help my world of black designers.

I want to thank all for the support and gratitude.

Especially for being so happy seeing me in Gucci pre-fall 2020 lookbook. [Gucci] and the vision of [Alessandro Michele]

All to say..,it’s not how you start, not the bumps along the way, but it’s how we end.

Grateful for another year of learning that we are meant to survive, especially if you are a “do-gooder”.

But for sure this year because I still see the support, the respect and acknowledgements,

I am relevant.

So grateful !

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Witnessing Hardison’s return to high fashion editorial, we are three cogent reminders: Black don’t crack; black girl magic is for grown women, too; and respect for our elders—and their slay—remains eternal.

And yes, Ms. Hardison: You remain relevant as ever.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, an avid eyeshadow enthusiast and always her own muse. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.

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