*This Black History Month Feature was originally published in February 2011.
With an electric smile, long limbs, and a whirling dervish of a walk, model Pat Cleveland took Paris and the world by storm in the late 1970’s. The Cherokee/Black/Irish gazelle was first spied by a Vogue Editor in 1967 at the age of fourteen on her way to Manhattan’s LaGuardia High School of Art and Design. In a matter of years she was the toast of Paris, hanging with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, and Claude Montana.
Alicia Drake in the book The Beautiful Fall described Pat Cleveland’s arrival in Paris in the late 1970’s, saying, “[she came] with liquorice hair, legs like pipe-cleaners, and a Harlem shimmy dance-movement that recalled Josephine Baker…she [ate] up the catwalks with her shimmering sexiness and laughter, bringing a movement and dance to fashion that no one had ever seen before. ”
Pat, along with friends Donna Jordan, Juan Ramos, and Antonio Lopez set the city of lights ablaze with their energy and insouciance. Pat once said, “We came to Europe to show off and we did just that…the point was we came from nowhere. We came out of America like wild, crazy people. We had grown up with movies and movie star attitude and we were there to be stars, superstars. We wanted to shine day and night.”
And shine she did, stomping the catwalks for Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Willi Smith, Valentino, and Chloé, and appearing in editorials for Vogue, GQ, Interview, Harper’s Bazaar, and more.
She, along with Karen Bjornson and Anjelica Huston, became one of Halston’s original models whom the designer affectionately called the Halstonettes. With her limber strut and electric energy, many called her a runway queen.
Pat eventually bowed out of the professional modeling world in the mid 80’s. Many of her friends had fallen victim to the AIDS epidemic and drug habits. She also fell in love with her current husband. She said, “I had someone to save me.”
Once a regular at Parisian nightspot Le Palace, she went to the club one last time to wave goodbye to her life as she had known it for so many years. As she told Alicia Drake, “I had on blue jeans, I had cut my hair. I was watching from the balcony down below on the stage…there were people swaying under drugs and André (Leon Talley) was there and he whispered to me, ‘You’re free now.’ I said goodbye to everybody…It was so hard to leave, but there was too much night, too many people dying.”
Pat still models from time to time, but spends most of her time with her two children and husband in New Jersey. Her daughter, Anna, has assumed her mother’s legacy, and now models for the likes of Zac Posen and Diane von Furstenberg.
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Image Source: The Fashion Spot