When asked what her favorite part about modeling is, Pat Cleveland simply said, “The people who surround me in the business.” Watching Cleveland literally surrounded by some of the industry’s most beloved characters at last night’s fete of her new book, Walking With the Muses, it’s clear that the love is mutual.
Filled with her family and friends (including Calvin Klein, Francisco Costa, daughter Anna Cleveland, Wendy Williams, and Simon Doonan, among others), the launch was an intimate affair held in the ballroom of The Jane Hotel. The evening was a perfect mix of decadence, glamour, and disco fun, as models dressed in Josephine Baker-inspired ensembles (a reference to Cleveland’s tribute to the American-born French performer) danced on tabletops. Keeping with the theme of the evening, Cleveland gave a jazzy performance of the original song “Tonight Josephine,” written for her by Maurice Lynch (who was inspired by impersonations of Baker over the years).
Photo: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
“We are here tonight for a very special woman. An incredible icon, an original—a true original—a groundbreaking force. She changed fashion, she changed the world,” designer Zac Posen said to the crowd in his introduction. “Pat is more than an icon for fashion. Pat is an incredible performer, and has one of the most beautiful souls, [which] I think brought you all here together.”
To call Cleveland a modeling legend doesn’t seem to cover it. She was one of the 11 African-American models who represented the American designers in the 1973 Battle of Versailles. She’s worked with Halston, Stephen Burrows (who was also in attendance), and Irving Penn, to name a very few. Her appearances in magazines and on runways since the ’70s (and still to this day—she recently walked the H&M Fall 2016 show in Paris) are more than just appearances—they truly are performances.
Photo: Patrick McMullan
“She’s so magical, she’s so incredible. She’s a chameleon. She puts on the dress and becomes what the clothes say,” offered prolific photographer Roxanne Lowit, who fondly remembers Cleveland’s ability to take on a character. “I saw her faint at Thierry Mugler once,” she recalled of an operatic runway show that involved the model drinking poison from a ring. “She ate the poison, and she died on the runway, and she got up gracefully when Thierry came to meet her.” It’s this kind of commitment to being more than just a body to fill out garments that makes Cleveland in-demand to this day. “She knew when to be funny and when to be serious. She was just marvelous in the clothes.” Lowit added. “I’d watch her backstage when she’d put on something—she’d look at herself in the mirror and she’d move her body to see how it would flow, how it would work, how she should walk, what she should do with it.”
Cleveland decided to write the book when she rediscovered diaries from her teenage years, and the tome includes stories of being discovered, travel, and lovers. But which designer does La Cleveland wish she could walk for? “It would be the great Coco Chanel,” she answered. “I had a go see to fit with her, [but] she died a few days before my fitting. I missed out on the opportunity to meet her.”