PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 21: Director Bethann Hardison attends the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Invisible Beauty” Premiere at The Ray Theatre on January 21, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images).
By Katie Small
Former fashion model, advocate, and activist Bethann Hardison is the kind of singular leader who is truly resolute in her convictions. Her dedication to racial equality and representation within the world of fashion led her to a life of energetic activism. The iconic fashion revolutionary’s documentary Invisible Beauty, co-directed with filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng (Halston, Dior and I), provides an intimate and candid look back at a career that has spanned five decades and counting.
Beginning with her childhood in Brooklyn, Invisible Beauty traces Hardison’s impact on fashion, from runway shows in New York and Paris in the ’70s to roundtables tackling the industry’s lack of racial diversity in the early 2000s. Her personal experiences as a Black model in a white-dominated industry would go on to inform her work as an activist and agent.
After retiring from the runway, Hardison founded her namesake modeling agency and later formed the Black Girls Coalition, an advocacy group dedicated to supporting Black models working in fashion. “I wanted to show young Black women that they could work together in a world where it would normally be very competitive,” Hardison recalls.
Such tireless advocacy is not without its pitfalls, including periods of isolation from her son and loved ones, which Hardison reflects on with vulnerable honesty. She lent her unmatched energy and influence to an overlooked, voiceless movement.
Hardison’s hands-on approach and intense focus made her a very grounded, disciplined advisor to young Black models navigating a space where they were continually underrepresented. Her mentorship extended to her friends and contemporaries as well, including icons Iman and Naomi Campbell, who reflect on the impact that Hardison has had on their careers. Additional testimony from Zendaya, Whoopie Goldberg, Tyson Rutherford, Ralph Lauren, and other industry members confirm that Hardison’s drive, dedication, and compassion informed her pioneering leadership.
Ever the advocate and organizer, Hardison used the post-premiere Q&A to connect inspired audience members to other activists in attendance, and brought all of her filmmaking crew onto the stage, so that they could be recognized for their contributions to the film.