Bethann Hardison: A Model, An Activist, An Icon— We're Highlighting Her Most Notable Achievements!

Find out what makes her so influential.

At BET, we are privileged to celebrate our Blackness every day. In honor of Black History Month, we’re pulling out the extra confetti as we profile some of the most influential Black people in the fashion and beauty industry—even if their accomplishments and contributions are overlooked by mainstream society. Cheers!

Bethann Hardison, a Brooklyn native, has paved the way for the fashion and beauty industry in more ways than most are aware. From becoming the first Black salesperson in a showroom to being a tireless advocate for diversity in the modeling industry, Mrs. Hardison is a living legend.

Below, see some of her most notable achievements.  

  1. Pivoting From Showroom Salesperson To Supermodel

    (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)

    Cindy Ord/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows

    (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)

    Being the first Black salesperson in the showroom for Ruth Manchester Ltd. in NY proved to be the beginning of many firsts for Hardison. It was during her sales rounds that famed Philadelphia designer Willi Smith noticed her distinctive beauty. In 1967, she became his fitting model and muse, along with his sister Toukie Smith.

  2. Breaking barriers in the modeling industry

    In the 1970s, western beauty standards were closely followed in the fashion industry. However, instead of tucking tail, Hardison broke barriers —along with other Black supermodels including Beverly Johnson, Imanand Pat Cleveland.

    In 1973, Hardison’s modeling career skyrocketed when she stole the show at the historical Battle of Versailles fashion show, which iconically helped the American designers win the competition against the French. The Battle of Versailles forever changed fashion by giving the industry a new perspective on style and beauty. 

    In 1980, Hardison joined the newly-formed Click Models as an agent. There she successfully helped revolutionize the modeling industry with a new definition of beauty, which most considered "exotic and odd." 

    People of Color were finally being booked for campaigns that included Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, and more. Many of the notable models that she represented included a young Whitney Houston and Elle Macpherson. 

    Hardison again made fashion history by securing an exclusive contract with designer Ralph Lauren for Tyson Beckford—who would quickly become the most famous male model in history. It was the first contract of its kind ever to be given to a Black male model. 

  3. Diversifying the fashion industry

    (Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images for Gucci)

    Jacopo Raule/Getty Images for Gucci

    (Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images for Gucci)

    After noticing unfair treatment behind the scenes, Hardison hung up her stilettos to become more active in diversifying the fashion industry. 

    In 1984, Hardison left Click and formed Bethann Management Agency, where she continued challenging prevailing notions of beauty. The agency represented a vast group of models in different sections of the color spectrum. 

    Veronica Webb, one of Hardison's early discoveries, continued to break the glass ceiling for Black models with clients such as Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, and Chanel.

    In 1988, Hardison co-founded the Black Girls Coalition with the iconic model, Iman. Along with other models that included Naomi Campbell, Roshumba, and Cynthia Bailey, the influencers quickly went into action to support Black models and raise awareness of racism in advertisements and runway shows.

  4. Receiving Accolades From Her Work

    • In 2014, Bethann was honored with the CFDA's Eleanor Lambert Founder's Award for demanding diversity in fashion for over three decades.

    • With more than 20 awards, she has also received the Shot Caller Award in 2008 from Black Girls Rock! 

    • Fashion Institute of Technology’s Office of Educational Opportunity Programs Le Grand Divertissement A Versailles 40th Anniversary Commemorative Award (2013)

    • Iconic Trailblazer Award from Harlem’s Fashion Row (2018)

  5. Where she is today

    (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

    Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

    (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

    While she continues to monitor inclusivity on the runways, Bethann also works diligently to assist young fashion designers in developing their businesses. In 2020, she became Gucci's Executive Advisor for Global Equity and Cultural Engagement and was also invited to serve on the CFDA's Board of Directors. 

    Currently, Bethann maintains management for Tyson Beckford and her son, Kadeem Hardison. She is also working on her autobiography, developing a documentary titled Invisible Beauty, and consulting on set for HBO’s upcoming scripted version of The Battle of Versailles by Academy Award-nominated director Ava Duvernay.

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