Black style is legendary, and as we celebrate the second year of The Glow Up 50, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge the living legends in our midst. This year, Dame Pat McGrath was honored with our annual Dap Award (so named for the iconic Dapper Dan), but she was in great company, as our committee heartily debated two other contenders: Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter and the fashion industry’s “Oracle,” (as she was recently coined by British Vogue), Bethann Hardison.
For film lovers, Carter’s impact looms large. Since making her cinematic debut as the designer of Spike Lee’s 1988 hit, School Daze, Carter’s vision has helped bring to life the beloved characters of films like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988); Do the Right Thing (1989); Mo’ Better Blues (1990); The Five Heartbeats (1991); Malcolm X (1992); What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993); Rosewood (1997); Amistad (1997); Black Dynamite (2009); Sparkle (2012); Selma (2014), Dolemite Is My Name (2019) and Coming 2 America (2021), to name just a portion of her over 60 film and television credits. Then, there is the Afrofuturist vision that earned Carter a long-overdue Academy Award: designing the costumes for 2018's Black Panther.
“I always felt a responsibility to be authentic and real with depicting the culture,” Carter told The Glow Up ahead of the blockbuster’s release. “You look at enough research, you know the people. They’re your relatives, they’re your family. And so, collectively, when [I] look at my work, I just feel proud that I had some consistency with my approach to all of them. There was never one that I felt wasn’t important for us to learn from.”
Carter’s talent recently also earned her a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—the first Black costume designer to receive the honor. Similarly, model, activist former agent and steadfast advocate Bethann Hardison is a pioneer widely recognized as part of a “cohort of groundbreaking Black models.” Her “look,” short natural hair and dark skin, was keeping in line with the 1970s “Black Is Beautiful” movement and gave her a unique edge and look during her modeling career, as well as a spot walking the runway in the historic Battle of Versailles.
After working as a director for several fashion brands and modeling agencies, Hardison branched out and founded Bethann Management. With now over half a century of experience in the fashion industry, Hardison has consistently used her influence in the industry to bring other Black women into the fold. She founded the Black Girls Coalition with Iman—her best friend—in the ‘80s, giving models a platform to speak out against the lack of representation of Black models in editorial, commercial and runway. After years and years and continued lack of representation Hardison delivered a swift, elegant and efficient “fuck you,” to the fashion capitals of the world: “If you use one or two models consistently for one or two, three seasons, of color, or none, the result—no matter the intention—is racism.”
In 2014, Hardison was awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Eleanor Lambert Founder’s Award for decades of championing diversity. Soon after, she launched the Designer’s Hub to lend much-needed financial support to designers of color (which was bolstered by several grants from the CFDA earlier this year), in addition to being an adviser for Gucci’s diversity initiatives. Her influence on fashion, hip hop, beauty and every world in between is what makes Bethann Hardison “The Oracle,” the trailblazing, ass-kicking, guns-blazing activist and influencer who has fought for representation for over fifty years.
Watch our video above to learn more about these legends.
(Video production: Joyzel Acevedo)