INVISIBLE BEAUTY – Review by Loren King

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Invisible Beauty belongs among the great fashion documentaries of recent years. Like Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel and The Gospel According to André about André Leon Talley, Invisible Beauty profiles a fashion insider who is also an outsider. Trailblazer, innovator, activist and all around legend Bethann Hardison co-directs this look at her life and career with Frédéric Tcheng (Halston, “Dior and I). But it’s no vanity project. Candid, thoughtful and reflective, the film is much like the memoir that Hardison is writing throughout the film.

If you’re not a fashion maven, perhaps you’ve never heard of Bethann Hardison. After watching this film, you won’t forget her. Her unorthodox life began in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and took her to the top of the fashion industry as a model, agent and activist. But what’s remarkable about this portrait is how, in such a cutthroat and often superficial business, Hardison cultivated a nurturing, community building approach that still managed to shake things up and result in real change.

Hardison made her mark on the runway in the 1970s as one of the few Black fashion models then launched her own agency where she was mentor, advisor and mother figure to Iman, Tyson Beckford and Naomi Campbell who still affectionately call her “Ma.” She spearheaded the Black Girls Coalition to support Black models, who often arrived from faraway places without family or support system. There’s archival footage of Hardison conducting a series of town hall style meetings in the 2000s when many of the past gains began to erode with the advent of a new trend. Led by Prada and Calvin Klein, dour, emaciated-looking, unknown Eastern European models became the new aesthetic and Black models seemed to disappear overnight from runways and fashion spreads. The firm but soft spoken Hardison demanded respect by virtue of her reputation, status and her work ethic. It was a watershed moment. But Hardison wasn’t about to be satisfied by token change or mere shifts in trends.

Invisible Beauty is a gorgeous film to look at and an illuminating look at fashion industry history. It’s also an indelible portrait of a one-of-a-kind trailblazer and leader, now a role model for a new generation. Bethann Hardison is the very definition of “forward thinking.”

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