Pat Cleveland Shares Her ‘Walk With The Muses’

Pat Cleveland

Pat Cleveland ‘Walks With The Muses’ in her new book.

After spending six decades as an in demand model, and the “Josephine Baker of international runways,” according to Andre Leon Talley, former Vogue editor, Pat Cleveland is back with her new book, “Walking With The Muses.” Cleveland fought long and hard to make a name for herself in the modeling industry during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Pat Cleveland was born on June 23, 1950 in New York to a white father and a black mother. Her parents separated when Cleveland was a young girl causing her and her mother to move to Harlem. Studying design at New York’s High School of Art and Design, Cleveland had hoped to become a fashion designer.

The woman dubbed as the “first black supermodel” was discovered by fashion editor, Carrie Donovan, on a Manhattan subway at the age of 15. Once Cleveland signed with Ford Models, she not only walked the runways for brands such as Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent, but posed for famous photographers such as Irving Penn and appeared on the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Fast forward to 2016 and Cleveland has a book sharing her modeling journey with us beyond any editorial or interview written at the time about the model. Cleveland has a book detailing what separates the models of her time, and even the models of the ’90s, from today’s most popular and well, white models. Though considered as “light skin” in the black community, Cleveland did not have an easy journey.

“There was always the racial divide and ignorance about people of color,” Pat Cleveland told Mic during a Facebook Live Interview. “Because POC were such great strong people who could build a nation, but were still considered not educated because of slavery… Being a person of color wasn’t an asset.”

The journey is similar to many models of color experience on the runways as just last year nearly 70-percent of 120 runways during the latest NYFW were white. Such segregation and racism caused Cleveland to move to Paris in 1971 and back to the U.S. in 1974 when a black woman landed the cover of Vogue. That woman was Beverly Johnson.

Cleveland shared with Mic that the fashion industry was once about the “romance between the artists.” Today, Cleveland says, it’s all about numbers and “the spirit gets sucked out of it.”

Through it all, it was the moves that Cleveland made that catered to her success as a legend today. Not every move is decided by the fashion industry.

“You know, we’re like a seed,” Cleveland said. “Sometimes we fall on barren grounds. You know you have to keep it up. You have to be brave and keep going. You can’t lose your courage along the way because as much courage as you have, if there’s not someone who’s receptive to it, it seems to go by the wayside. You have to be a nomad, meaning, don’t get mad, just keep traveling till you find the right lover.”

Shonette Reed

Fashion Writer

Shonette Reed is a Los Angeles based blogger and journalist with a journalism and integrated Media degree from Biola University. She has worked in the fashion industry as a freelance writer for ForHarriet.com and a public relations intern for Liberate Apparel. Her main goal in the fashion industry is to continue to bring more women of color to the media, showing that the fashion industry has diversity worth celebrating.