Pat Cleveland is a trailblazing international model. One of the first black supermodels she rose to prominence in the 1970’s. Cleveland was a muse to the designers Halston and regularly opened his fashion shows. She also regularly appeared in the shows of Yves Saint Laurent and Stephen Burrows.
Pat Cleveland, a New York native of black, Cherokee and Irish descent, was born in 1952 to artistic parents. Her mother was well known American artist, Ladybird Cleveland, and her father was saxophonist, Johnny Johnston. The couple’s relationship didn’t last too long as Ladybird would go on to raise Pat by herself. Pat’s modeling career started randomly one day as she was getting off the subway on her way to school. Carrie Donovan, the editor of Vogue at the time saw Pat and invited her to Vogue’s studio to do a trial shoot.
Ebony Magazine’s Eunice Johnson invited a 15-year-old Cleveland to participate in Ebony Fashion Fair. Unlike many models in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, Cleveland enjoyed success as both a print and runway model. Her mother often served as a chaperone for her teenaged daughter, often crafting many of her outfits. In addition to her modeling career, Cleveland also danced on Broadway and incorporated her dancing abilities on the runway. Her unique walk would go on to become one of the most memorable in fashion history.
In 1971, Cleveland moved to Europe and worked for some of the biggest names in the business. Her blackness worked to her advantage. She walked in the legendary runway show that would come to be known as the “Battle of Versailles”. In 1973, unknown American designers used all African American models to outshine their French competitors. It was at this point European designers started to embrace black models.
Pat Cleveland for Thierry Mugler 1984
People have often described Cleveland as having a zest for life as well as her career. In 2002, she told Honey Magazine, “ Fashion gives you that extra something. It helps make the world an interesting place to live in because it is part of life. Thank God for fashion.”
Pat Cleveland on the runway