There are only few words that are needed when describing industry icon, Pat Cleveland. Legendary and elegant come to mind but somehow still seem to fall short of describing everything she epitomizes. The much celebrated and spirited muse has turned her storied career filled off posing in front of the likes of Avedon, walking for Halston, and canoodling with Warhol into a personal memoir aptly named “Walking With Muses”, out in stores June 14th. We spoke to the her about the intimate account, her dazzling life, and why she couldn’t wait another moment to unveil her project.
Photographer – Wikkie Hermkens
Thank you for taking the time, I know you probably have a busy week ahead of you. Congratulations first and foremost on your new memoir that’s about to come out. How are you feeling?
Oh, I’m so excited! All of the people I love are up and about and excited too. It’s a family affair in a way, some people who are still living are in the book so we get to celebrate.
It’s been many years in the making! I know that you’ve mentioned that you’ve always wanted to write a book.
I think between everything you’re not always just on the runway or just in a picture. You have all of that time in between. I’ve always been writing and I always wanted to do something that I could finish. I wrote poetry, I wrote a screen play. I wrote different forms but how about my real story? They always say know yourself. Write about what you know, which is what I try to do!
I mean, these people who have been in my path, who gets to meet them? Who gets to know them? It’s like the furthest star away in the universe. Even though the world feels like it’s getting smaller now, at that time it was like, this is impossible! How do you ever find those people again? They came into my life and they made a difference.
“Walking with the Muses” is fittingly titled and as a memorable muse yourself I wanted you to paint a picture about being a model in the 60’s and 70’s. I can imagine that it was an exciting time at that period.
Well, being so young in the 60’s and then coming out of the 60’s when before everything was so proper and ladylike. That’s quite shocking when you think of women and history and how they have to behave and the kind of whimsical bohemian freedom I grew up with, with my mother being an artist. Being very young and experiencing being in a profession like ours was very demanding. I was 15-16 getting into this world of show.
I had to try to fit into a world that was so racially oriented in a way that it was divided and society was dividing. We had so many problems. Everything had to be black or white. I was on the fence, and which way or how do I go? You know growing up in black culture I had so many wonderful gifts given to me. To be honorable, have faith, and keep moving through kind of thing which is where most of it came from for me. The faith I have and I think I do, like this book for instance. To write a book you just have to go into something and put your heart and soul into it no matter what people think of you. People have many facets and every time in my career I keep discovering another door opening.
Your life seems like a dream! What was your earliest fashion memory and how did you fall in love with the industry? What was the connection between you being with your mother and her artistic background and you finding your own lane in the fashion business?
Well, I was surrounded by sequins and feathers all over the floor and creative messes because my mother was an artist and my father was a jazz musician. I knew Mantan Moreland and boxers and golfers and even gangsters when I was small and Vogue editors from France and even painters. Just being around people like that, they’re your Oyster and they just shine you up like a pearl and you don’t even know who you are until somebody recognizes you!
The 60’s you’d think growing up in a society where women had to take the back seat and being a black woman as my mother was and her mother before her and her mother before her was in slavery, then she went on to graduate from Spellman College. She was one of the first black women to do that. When she came out of school there was no opportunity for her whatsoever. There was only so far you could go and it just seemed that I had to take the torch and run with it and go somewhere. The door opened and I ran for it! There was a place for me to do something useful that was helpful and the fashion world became my flying carpet. My world that I could travel into and serve a purpose and learn. I was making clothes and studying design and I thought my god this way I get to meet everybody. And those designers that I met in the beginning they were just coming up too! They were a new batch of people that were taking over the world of couture and the world of fashion in America and France. They were just all young and ready to explore who they were like I was. I was in their presence and we were all helpful to each other.
That’s so awesome to hear from your perspective. I can only imagine the process of trying to bring all of your stories together. How long did it take for you to consolidate?
I kept a diary since I was 16 and when I was backstage. When other people were smoking cigarettes I had a pen in my mouth and I stay under the racks and I wrote down what I saw. I had all of those notes that I had left at my mom’s house. I wanted to honor the people that had given me a hand. The process of that was a little heartbreaking in the way because as I wrote my pages I would see that this person was no longer on the earth but still giving me great inspiration from far away. I can actually almost hear them talking to me as I wrote. At some point I was writing so much I had thousands of pages. I have 15 boxes of writing that I did 10 pages a day for like, 7 years I was writing. And I stopped for 1 year because I got really scared. I thought I had a poisoned pen or something because everyone I had written about would die! So when people would ask me, “Will you write about me?” I’d say “Absolutely not!” I learned a lot. I taught myself how to tell stories. It’s what every writer has to do.
It’s amazing that you even say that because there’s so much you brought to the industry that was exciting and invigorating. That tenacity and just wanting to be part of the industry, I remember watching videos of you twirling down the runway and being this invigorating spirit…
Because I know what it is to sew. I know what it is to spend hours and hours trying to create something. So for me when I walk down the runway I’m thinking about all of the most amazing people in the back room sewing and all of the threads and the export and import. It’s just like, I’m not walking for me I’m walking for all of the people who spent time to bring that garment together. That’s, you know, then you never feel… you always feel something good. Like you serve a purpose.
When it comes to diversity, you and many of your counterparts were prolific in the changing scheme of the industry. Moments like Battle of Versailles speak out tremendously. How did you overcome the prejudices in industry?
I think our communications got better. People were less afraid to be more open about their inspirations and the color palettes. At first it was like, America is separated by black and white and then the movement is in music and the civil rights. I had to go through that whole thing, are you black? Are you white? What do you do? I had to represent something because you have a whole group of people that have talent and they need something that is in their hands to represent. America I had to really work hard to get to the point where I could get any type of recognition because I wasn’t the typical girl next door and they didn’t know where to place me. As time went on and things became more international I think it was opened up. Their integrity, their professionalism, the way they moved, and their desire to do well. All of those things make a person beautiful.
Things started expanding in the 70’s. Everything became like, rainbows. People wore more color and the music was James Brown & Marvin Gaye. Everyone was trying to come up and bloom out from underground. Then you had Andy Warhol, Stephen Burrows and Halston – three different kinds of wonderful worlds blending together but all into one. Going to Versailles and bringing this rainbow from America it was like,”Oh my God!” It was presented like America is so awake and so alive.
It’s funny how important that time was to today. As far as, I know that Ava DuVernay is working on the new HBO documentary Battle of Versailles that goes behind that night and everything that time lead the way to.
With all the sparkles, the music, and the new energy to America. Everybody in Europe wanted to taste that freedom and not the old world. Then Americans wanted to take a little bit of the old world, so this is like a marinated sauce of one side and the fresh picked sauce of another.
A meeting of two worlds so to speak.
Yeah and blending it together!
How do you maintain your invigorating spirit and energy? I see you now and you’re still at it! You’re still so full of life and I know that sometimes this industry can kind of jade people to make people turn within themselves. How have you maintained that positive mindset?
It’s a matter of walking into a situation, not only for yourself, but for the people around you. And understanding how things work. Where are you relevant here? Are you an inspiration for this? What can you bring there to make people have a better working moment and to create these things? When I work with photographers they know I move a certain way and they want that because maybe that inspires them to do that… what we’re doing together… and then something more the way they inspire me. An exchange of inspiration is an important thing.
And how to survive in this business. I worked close with the designers and the photographers. The industry, it changes constantly every day according to how politics and money and the numbers. I used to own a model agency and I just remember bringing girls in from Russia or Brazil or whatever was pleasing to the economy at that time because of where the shops are going to open. I think, right now, I think aging and beauty go hand in hand. People think they want to live longer, they like to see maybe that you can have a good life and still maintain your health or looks. I had the MAC campaign, and it was like bringing light to the adventure of the soul! The journey doesn’t stop until you’re gone and the journey of fashion is a constant. If you keep your eye on it, it can give you a lot of joy. Good clothes take you places and the people who make them are amazing because they just love women, they love men. The kind of dignity…the Sunday School of life! *Laughs* I know when I was a little girl I had to dress up on Sunday…
Yeah you know what I mean? The thing is you learn how to dignify yourself by how you dress in society, and where you want to go. I think being playful and enjoying it and not letting it be so heavy. I think there’s a spiritual spirit. You have to know that there’s an inside of you as well as an outside. And the inside takes a lot more work. You don’t see all of that pampering and that caring and that loving yourself in the right way. Turn to nature and just look at beautiful things and try to make the world a beautiful place. That’s kind of the art of living?
What’s one thing that you want readers to take away from your story?
I want them to enjoy it and realize that there are places they can go to make their lives better. And there are things that you shouldn’t get involved in…you know, go the other way. And how to survive! *laughs* I think I’m a survivor!