Just saying the name Pat Cleveland is like opening a box of New York dreams to me. New York, Studio 54, Antonio Lopez, Diana Vreeland, Warhol, Jagger, it seems like Pat has gone through these eras with her big, gorgeous signature smile. I was so happy when I heard she had written a book, not just because I couldn’t wait to hear what it was really like for her, but also because I wanted to understand what was her secret to go through life with such strength and positivity. Not only was she one of the first black super models, but you know, she also strikes me as being a very free, independent thinker. This is why I’m super excited for you to meet her today on Pardon My French!
Embracing Your Freedom: Pat Cleveland
On the past style of New York….
Oh my god, in the 50s! The middle of the last century! It was like – everyone dressed up to go to the Easter Parade, which is when everyone dresses on Sunday and they wear their best hats, their best clothes and they walk on Fifth Avenue. Those were the kinds of things people did as a ritual, in New York. They would dress up to be seen walking along the streets. Much like the drag queens used to do under the bridge here in the West Village! You know, dress up with boas and be out in the night with twinkling high heels.
On how modeling has changed over the years…
She [daughter Anna Cleveland, a working model] has her Instagram, her manager, her agent, her stylist and her this and that. I was pulling all of that together for myself! But if you don’t have a team around you now, it evolves into a different kind of business. It just keeps going on. I can’t say it’s not as good, it’s just different. I just felt so good knowing the designers personally. When I started, the designer would pick you personally. But now you have to go through 25 doors to even get to meet the creators! …But I think everyone serves a purpose because the business is so big now.
On being hard to define…
You have to have a certain attitude. Even though things get very difficult. If you’re in a society where maybe women aren’t allowed to dress a certain way or you’re in a society where the color of your skin is not acceptable, you don’t let those things change your attitude about how you want to live your life. We’re put here to live our lives, to express ourselves. And at the time, growing up in a society where there was black and white, everything was such an opposite divide. I had to come through that to be accepted. And there was the racial problem of ‘oh this person is a black person and this person is a white person’ and well, me being the cultural mix that I am! I’m half Scandinavian, half American with thirty six percent African American and the rest, everything else French, Italian, Greek, Irish and English and whatever else have you. At the time, it was very difficult because people didn’t understand, what is that thing? They couldn’t categorize me…You just take your own dreams and you try to not let people bring you down.
On old school travel…
Pat: I’m like the original jetsetter, where travel was so not as easy as it is now. I came along in the time when people just stopped taking boats and just started flying… Jets to Europe and things like that.
Garance: So when you were traveling in those planes, people were smoking?
Pat: Oh absolutely! And the hostess was looking for a husband and she would spend time sitting on his lap! There was champagne and parties on the plane. I’m telling you. And people dressed up to go flying… It’s a party, you get to fly, it’s like going across the ocean in the Queen Mary or something. You’d have your flying outfit, with many layers so you can change a little bit during the flight. Oh they were long flights then. To Paris it must have been nine hours or so.
On the time of growth for female empowerment…
God, I turned into a Viking! I was out there. I turned into a man, I swear to you! Women started to have their own cigarettes. And when the Pill was invented, no stopping these women. I’m one of them. It means sex is part of life and if you can’t feel free when you’re loving somebody, what’s the point? You don’t want to be weighed down with babies without wanting them. It’s hard, women have such a responsibility. We’re the nourishers of the world. There’s a lot of nourishing men too. But we have the responsibility of our bodies and we should have the right to have that birth control and free hospitals. If we want to have an abortion, it’s our right… No one should tell a woman how to make a choice for her own body.
On her approach to beauty and growing older…
My point of view is that – use makeup! Cause if you can just paint in some good areas, it’s like a painting. I love makeup. I was a MAC girl, by the way. I looove makeup. I think makeup is the cure. I think just makeup and hair. Take care of your hair, make sure you wash your face really well, pamper yourself sometimes. I’m not saying go overboard or anything. Don’t do stuff until you really really have to…You have to not let the house fall down around you. Don’t overeat. It’s all in what you eat. Do some juicing.
Life lessons she’s passed on to her children…
I just wanted them to know that they didn’t have to run after things because they have everything inside, anything that they may want to do, they just have to put a little seed in and watch it grow and not get too distracted. Even today I tell them those things because the world has so many temptations and so many offerings and directions, and I say “where did you plant that seed?”
You can download Pat Cleveland’s song “Tonight Josephine” on iTunes, and be sure to catch her on her book tour!
August 10 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL / Neiman Marcus (Ft. Lauderdale)
August 11 – Palm Beach, FL / Neiman Marcus (Palm Beach)
August 20 – Boston, MA / Martha’s Vineyard Event
September 9 – Greenespace conversation
September 14 – Phoenix, AZ / Phoenix Art Museum
September 19 – London, GB Selfridges
September 21 / October 5 – Europe tour Milan/Berlin/Amsterdam/Paris
October 12 – Masachussets, Massachusets College of Art
October 19 – New Brunswick, Rutgers University
October 25 – New York,NY / NYU casa Italiana
November 5- New York,NY / Art of Fashion