Interview: Bethann Hardison with Justin Strauss
New York, New York
Bethann Hardison is a powerhouse of vim and vigor. A household name amongst the upper echelon of the 1970s New York fashion scene, Bethann was a supermodel-cum-entrepreneur, starting her own agency Bethann Management before turning her efforts toward fashion activism. She’s since become an advocate of equal representation for POC models and is an outspoken consultant in an industry that turns over faster than a seven-inch. For this edition of our Just/Talk series, Ace friend, legendary DJ and music producer Justin Strauss reminisced with Hardison on “leaving them yelling your name,” rocking the fashion boat and why she’s fighting for models of color.
Justin Strauss: Bethann Hardison. I’ve known you for a long time.
Bethann Hardison: Yes, you have. Yes, you have.
JS: How did you start in fashion? Was it something that you felt a passion for, or something that happened by chance?
BH: No, I don’t even give fashion any credit, I grew up in the garment district. I started at a button factory in the late 60s. That was where I got my first job. I stayed on there a bit and then went over to a low-end dress company. Then I went to a junior dress house before I got discovered by Willi Smith. And, eventually, I would start to work for Stephen Burrows.
JS: With Willi Smith, was that as a model?
BH: Yes… That’s how I first started to model. He was the one who saw me on the streets of the garment district, on Broadway and 40th.
JS: This is still the late 60s?
BH: Yeah. He basically thought I was a designer because he’d always see me. He asked me to be his muse, someone he could work with, talk with, maybe do some appearances with. I was working in a showroom dress house at the time with Ruth Manchester, so I said yes and so we started to be friends.
JS: At that time, were black models a rarity?