10 Iconic Sound Bites From Pat Cleveland At Our COTERIE Fireside Chat

by The Daily Front Row

This week, the Daily’s Eddie Roche had the pleasure of engaging Pat Cleveland for a one-on-one talk during COTERIE show at the Javits Center. The conversation flitted from tales of growing up in Harlem with her artist mom Lady Bird Cleveland, her discovery as a young creative and how fashion magazines would write about the clothes she was designing, to how she became friends with a legendary circle that included Andy Warhol, Antonio Lopez, and Halston—all while walking the runways and serving as a muse for the last five decades. Here’s some of our favorite bits!

On her first experience as being an in-house model in the 1960s

“It was a very sophisticated look. You know, no laughing, no smiling, nose in the air. [Says sarcastically] ‘This look is too good for you darling.’ But anyway, in reality it was all just a big tease and those girls were very wonderful. I got to work with some of those [models] that were from the ’50s and ’40s.  It was another game. The faces were so heavily powdered—not that we don’t do that today! But they looked like they were not real. They were the original mannequins of the houses of the designers.”

Pat Cleveland at COTERIE (Courtesy)

Bob Mackie, Pat Cleveland (PMC)

On working with designers like Halson and Oscar de la Renta

“They were the top—Oscar, Halston: those boys knew how to reel in the names of society. People just loved them, they were so gorgeous. The way they made the ladies feel; it was more than a dress, it was a romance. It was a definite romance because they could make them feel perfect. They could dress a lady and make her feel the way she wants to feel. Halston draped them in cashmere and chiffon and they floated through the room as though they were in heaven. Halston and Oscar were the couture designers of America. Oh my God, [getting to] work with them all…it just made me feel appreciated and loved, just being in their presence. They had charisma, they had talent, and they were great leaders because what they did is they made everyone feel that they were also part of the creativity. They made all the people feel that ‘this also belongs to you.'”

On Halston’s innate personal style

“You know Halston did that black turtle neck thing and he wore it as a uniform. He wore cashmere pants in black, and a cashmere turtleneck every day and I think that kind of set a bar in New York for everyone to dress in black. Because before that, we were rainbow children!”

On the creative scene in NYC in the 1970s

“For clothes and fashion, you went to Studio 54, because everyone dressed very beautifully there. And the music was good! You know, in those days all the houses of fashion were not separate. It was like we were all family. We couldn’t wait to go out and be together and dance the night away. We worked hard and we played hard. New York had a different schedule; it wasn’t 24 hours a day. It was 9-5 from Monday to late Thursday afternoon, and then you would get in your limo to Fire Island.”

Fashion Show - Pratt Institute Hits The Catwalk

Stephen Burrows, Pat Cleveland, Thomas Schutte, Angela Bassett, and Byron Lars

Nicole Miller

Pat Cleveland on the runway (Courtesy)

On her love for dancing and moving through the world with rhythm 

“Actually during lockdown I put extra disco balls in my house to remind me of Studio 54! It was all about dancing. Fashion is dancing. Put one foot in front of the other, and it’s a dance. Just think of it like you don’t have to do too much. Just the fact that you can move from this place to that place is a great lesson. And if you dress like a Christmas tree, it actually helps even more. I try to do that every day.”

On inspiring others and breaking barriers as a Black model

“I don’t know…we’re put on this earth at a certain time to do something, and I did the best I could. If it helps someone else realize, ‘Hey this is a path you can go down. Don’t be afraid honey, come on let’s go!’—then great. When I meet new girls and they’re shaking and they don’t want to go on the runway, I say, ‘You can do it! I did it, come on.’ I think that’s why I’m still in it. I feel great. The other day I was doing the Marissa Wilson show and I had to dance. All the girls and I were backstage and they circled around me and gave me a hug! All of them, there were like 15 of them, they said, Thank you for what you did.’ I said I didn’t do anything, you’re doing it for me now! I feel like yes, the girls that came up at my time, maybe they didn’t have the breaks that they deserved in all things, but we got what we could get and the next generation will get a little bit more and that’s how the evolution goes.”

On what an average day looks like these days…and her peacocks

“I try make my intentions on a new moon. Like this month, I’d like to get this done or that done. But sometimes I don’t get it done and I say, ‘Oh well!’ I do have a lot of peacocks in my garden and I love to look at birds and animals. And I have grandchildren. I paint, I write everyday because I think it’s good to revisit. Write something about your life so you can look at it and mirror it. I wrote my book and I wrote a poetry book.”

On writing and art

“The only reason I like writing is that I like scribbling! Writing is just like drawing and painting and making clothes.. all of those things blend into each other. Even going out and meeting people, it’s threading the pearls [on a string]. Everybody is like a pearl of their own effervescence and you just see them all sparkling together] and it’s like you’re in this jewel box or something!”

Anna Cleveland, Karl Lagerfeld, Pat Cleveland in 2016 (BFA)

On one of her many mantras

“I’m just saying—don’t limit yourself, do the things that bring you joy. That’s why I like singing. (Sings) Oh the way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea! The meaning of all that, oh no, you can’t take that away from me!”

On how she wants to be remembered 

“I just want to be remembered because I did work hard and I hope it means something. You know, I want to leave a little something. Show that I was there and I did that—so somebody else might say, ‘Oh I could be there and do that.’ I want to be remembered as a little stepping stone in the garden of life.”

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