While Pat Cleveland is not as well known to the general public as African American models like Iman or Naomi Campbell, she has quite a legacy in the fashion industry. And at age 65 she is still doing runway work and is probably one of the oldest African American models who is still getting gigs.
The Pat Cleveland mannequin was released in the Pat and Pretty series in 1973 and again in 2006 in the Second Generation series which also included the mannequin versions of her two adult children who also models.
Pat was a muse to Halston and was one of the models at the legendary Battle of Versailles.
Pat’s father is Swedish, so technically she is bi-racial although she is always featured as an African American. As we all know, colorism (the first cousin to racism) is alive and well in the fashion industry.
And while Pat is a talented model, her racially ambiguous looks allowed her to get bookings that would have been unavailable to a darker hued African American woman.
Not that it was easy for Pat. When she first began as a model she was told this quote by Eileen Ford of Ford models:
“Patricia, we have very few colored girls in our agency. And do you know why? Because there is no work for colored girls. The only reason I took you is because [photographer] Oleg Cassini recommended you. But I really think you will never make it in the modeling business.”
Fortunately Pat went to Europe and found success and acceptance there and then returned to the US. By then she had an established reputation and the fashion industry was slightly more diverse. But later after the civil rights movement she lost out on some jobs because she did not look “black enough”
She wrote a book “Walking with the Muses” about her experience in the fashion world and you can read an excerpt here: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/…/pat-cleveland-on…/+4
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