ROBERT GARCIA, HOST:
What's up, everybody? Peace. Just heads up. There may be some strong language in this episode. Ooo (ph).
ADRIAN BARTOS, HOST:
Some bad words.
GARCIA: How do you know Stretch?
BETHANN HARDISON: You know, it's so funny. I used to go to a club. He and Clark Kent were my two favorite DJs.
GARCIA: Oh, my God.
BARTOS: I wish I had known this earlier...
GARCIA: This is crazy.
GARCIA: ...it would have done so much for my self-esteem.
HARDISON: And then when he got older, he got to be handsome. 'Cause he wasn't - he wasn't handsome before.
HARDISON: No, this is straight up.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES BROWN'S "CHASE")
BARTOS: Hey, everyone. This is Stretch Armstrong.
GARCIA: And my name is Bobbito Garcia. Together, we are the hosts of WHAT'S GOOD WITH STRETCH & BOBBITO.
BARTOS: WHAT'S GOOD WITH STRETCH & BOBBITO.
BARTOS: That's the first time we've done that in unison, maybe the last.
GARCIA: Stretch, we have an incredible guest today. And I'm amazed that once again - similar to Lenny - and you have these personal ties with incredible people.
BARTOS: Listen. We are both very fortunate men.
GARCIA: We are.
BARTOS: We know a lot of fantastic people.
GARCIA: We do.
BARTOS: And the great thing about doing the show is we've been able to get a lot of them in this room and sit with them and kind of share our insights with these people with the world. And today would be no different. We've got one of the loveliest women I know, a friend of mine who happens to be an incredibly important person.
GARCIA: A pioneer.
BARTOS: A pioneer going back decades. The one and only Bethann Hardison.
GARCIA: Yeah. She is a guest on our show because you're cool with her. I mean, I think she might have been a guest regardless.
BARTOS: It sounds like you're surprised (laughter) that I'm cool with people.
GARCIA: No. No, not at all. I love it. I mean, you know. I'm just saying like, you know, the levels of ties that you have to this immense New York and beyond community is impressive.
BARTOS: So let's talk about Bethann a little bit before we invite her into the studio.
BARTOS: For people that don't know, Bethann is someone that has occupied a space in fashion - although she hates that word - for many decades. Starting out as a saleswoman in the garment district, then...
GARCIA: And then being a barrier breaker in the world of runway modeling and print.
GARCIA: As a woman of color.
BARTOS: A magazine editor, a fashion show booker, a model agent, someone who has mentored Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford.
GARCIA: Supermodels on both the man and women side. Bethann is just kind of like this maternal figure in that industry.
BARTOS: To so many people.
GARCIA: To so many people.
BARTOS: She's one of the first, if not the first, black women to really, really push effectively and constructively for diversity in fashion.
GARCIA: Sure. And she's part of a greater vanguard at this point, along with some of her other luminary friends who contribute to what we see as the image of beauty in the world.
BARTOS: That's right, and I think if we look at fashion these days, particularly the covers of big magazines like Vogue, even last issue with Beyonce on the cover, which was the first cover shot by a black photographer. We're, I think, really seeing the fruits of Bethann's labor.
GARCIA: Word. And coming up is Bethann. Don't go nowhere.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BARTOS: And we are back in the studio with a woman that I just revere so much. Her name is Bethann Hardison.
GARCIA: Wait. And I'm jealous because you know her personally, and I don't until today. So.
BARTOS: Yes. Well, we're going to both get to know her better. How personal can we get here? I mean, what's - like...
BARTOS: I don't want to make Bob jealous, so we're just going to keep this very NPR, and then we'll see where it goes from there.
GARCIA: No, no. Let's do us.
GARCIA: I want to know, Bethann, how do you know Stretch?
HARDISON: You know, it's so funny. I used to go to a club. He still - I just wrote to someone that he and Clark Kent were my two favorite DJs.
GARCIA: Oh, my God.
BARTOS: I wish I had known this earlier...
GARCIA: This is crazy.
BARTOS: ...it would have done so much for my self-esteem.
HARDISON: No, you knew. I used to come up to you - and then when he get older, he got to be handsome. 'Cause he wasn't handsome before.
HARDISON: No, this is straight up. No. It didn't matter. The loving, caring, female, mother, madrina that I am, I was smitten with Stretch.
GARCIA: Oh, wow. Stretch...
BARTOS: We're done.
GARCIA: ...are you embarrassed right now?
GARCIA: Interview over.
BARTOS: No, I actually have goosebumps.
GARCIA: He did become handsome.
HARDISON: I'm telling you, I saw him...
GARCIA: No, he was handsome in his earlier - but his style, his haircut.
BARTOS: No, I looked nuts.
GARCIA: And it's all my fault back then.
HARDISON: You influenced?
GARCIA: No, I used to give him haircuts in the '90s. I used to boricua-fy (ph) him.
GARCIA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I used to give him a shape-up.
BARTOS: He's like, you're now Adriano (ph).
HARDISON: Well, no, he was so good. And that's why I met him in a club. And I always loved his music. I love to dance. Dancing is everything, and so he was one of my favorites.
BARTOS: Well, Bethann, I - you know, you've been many things in your illustrious career. I mean, you started out as a model, then you eventually became a fashion activist.
HARDISON: Well, you know, it's interesting. I really didn't start as a model, but everyone thinks so. And everyone concludes what I am and how it was, and this must be your life's work, and it's not really true in that way. But I started out in the garment district. That's my claim to fame. That's my alma mater. That's what I believe in. It's the manufacturing business. And I started out in wholesale. And I started out - and then I did some retail. And then I did back to wholesale. And then I got discovered by Willi Smith.
GARCIA: Who's Willi Smith?
HARDISON: And Willi Smith is a designer that has passed away, but he was - he had the company WilliWear. So WilliWear was a company that everybody - was just streetwear. And everybody - you always saw WilliWear in the street. And when Willi saw me, prior to all that success time, he asked if I could become his muse. My bosses Sylvia and Ruth (ph) were so excited - my Jewish family - and so...
HARDISON: ...when I told them about Willi Smith, they always said, oh, you got to do it. You got to do it. What is it - of course, you should do it. It was never about what do you mean, you work here. It was never that.
GARCIA: That's a great accent.
HARDISON: Yeah. Well, I am from New York.
HARDISON: So at the end of the day, that's how I got started with Willi. And he believed that I could be pret (ph). So he introduced me to Bruce Weber, who was just starting. Bruce used to be a model, and then he took up the camera. No one knows that Bruce used to be a model. Bruce would take me, and we would go to a park every Saturday - Central Park - and we would shoot. And that's how I really slowly start. And then little by little, you know, you get out. You know, you start to move through your life, you don't even know how you got to be where you are.
But I did a lot for different companies as assistant and trying to work to help them. What wound up happening, at one point, a woman who had an agency called Click. She asked me to come and help her. Eventually, I did. And while I worked for her for two years, I then was being told, you've got to do your own thing. What are you doing? I had Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, different designers, friends, people encouraging me to, you know, start out - I don't want to have my own company. Truth be told, you know, no one believes it, but I'm really kind of lazy, and I love being lazy.
GARCIA: I can't imagine that.
HARDISON: Lazy avoids all the responsibility of having to have to do and show up. You know what I mean? And so to me, it was like, God, I got to start my own company? And, you know, you feel guilty. 'Cause then you say like, well, I am from Bedford-Stuy. You need to represent, you know, show up. You're one of the few blacks that are out there doing things. So you eventually - you go for it. And I started Bethann Management, my company.
BARTOS: So once you got the agency off the ground, what were you trying to change in the industry?
HARDISON: I wanted to make sure it had Latin kids. I wanted to make sure it had Asian. I wanted to make sure it had blacks because I was a black owner. I didn't want to have a Woody Allen movie, you know what I mean? I didn't want to be living in New York, and then have nothing but, you know, white kids, and you never see what you see on the street. When you're successful in the white environment, you can see the difference. It's not because they're not wanting to do it. It's almost because they're just ignorant of it. And so, you know, it's ways of sort of saying things to people that sort of helps them to broaden their scope of thinking.
It's an education more than anything else. It's never an accusation. And so that's where I think that, you know, you're able to do that. Or say to Calvin Klein or to Donna Karan, I don't understand why you get excited about wanting me to find you one black girl. How many girls or boys are you using? Thirty-five. And you want me to find you one? But I thought you'd be happy. Well, I am, but look at the ratio. It's like racist. In that way, it's not the intent, and that's how it becomes. That's how you - so then you become like this activist. You become this advocate for something that's basically mostly to educate. Not to change the landscape, but you hope that's the results.
BARTOS: So let's take it back to back in the day. We found this photo of you in doing research.
HARDISON: (Laughter) So cute.
BARTOS: It's been confirmed that this is you.
HARDISON: Yes. You want to know where that was?
BARTOS: I want to know everything about this picture. Yes.
HARDISON: This is such a great story. That's me trying to look grown. Borrowed my mother's glasses because my mother was a barfly. And this is in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The guy let her bring me in the back door of the bar. I was 7. I said, I can look older, and I took the woman's glasses (laughter) like that's going to change something. And that was around 9 o'clock at night or something, and that's the back booth of a bar.
BARTOS: Can you describe what you're wearing here?
HARDISON: Oh, stop it. (Laughter).
HARDISON: This sounds like, you know, fashion...
BARTOS: Well, no. Because people can't see this.
HARDISON: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Sorry.
HARDISON: Radio. Get it? OK. So I'm wearing - my hair is pulled back in two braids. It's very funny. Straight back. And I really do have to admit, I was really cute there. And it's - I'm wearing these tortoise shell glasses and a little mock turtleneck that is striped. And one of the favorite things is called a storm coat. Every kid had at one time, if they had a cool parent, had a storm coat.
HARDISON: Storm coat is like, you know, like - you know, of course, it's to protect you from the storm. Who knew? But it always had a little like fake collar of fur around - around the lapel and around the collar.
GARCIA: It reminds me of the bomber jackets they used to sell on Lansing Street...
HARDISON: Yes, that's exactly right.
GARCIA: ...In the late '70s, early '80s. (Laughter).
HARDISON: Exactly. Exactly right.
GARCIA: What's curious - what I'm curious about is that I'm imagining this is somewhere in the late '40s, early '50s perhaps. And at the time, the United States was going through a casual revolution...
GARCIA: ...In style, particularly for kids. I mean, you know, you see photos of 1930s Bed-Stuy, 1930s Harlem. You know, kids have dress shoes on, dress pants. And then by this time...
HARDISON: This is the '50s.
GARCIA: ...In the '50s...
HARDISON: You're right.
GARCIA: ...And now kids are wearing sneakers and some wear jeans. They're starting to wear white T-shirts that prior - which is only undershirts for your button-down shirts.
HARDISON: That's right. That's right.
GARCIA: And so what are your sensibilities - what - regards to that casual - like, where do you see that casual revolution in you?
HARDISON: You know, I never thought about what we wore at that time. My mother bought all my clothes from Delancey Street in Williamsburg area. So yeah, there were things that were coming out then that were just very casual. And so at 7 years old, 8 years old, I used to take myself home from school and my mother left all of my clothes out. So I should remember. They were very easy clothes. You know, very pull on, very - T-shirts - it's true. It was a lot of T-shirts. I always remembered the pull on, the kind of jeans were not too structured as they are now - not for children anyway - sneakers, yes. My mother always made sure that come home and put on your play clothes and you take off your school clothes. So that was my story.
GARCIA: And is that the beginnings of your fashion sense?
HARDISON: No. You know, I never thought about fashion because we - even in the garment district, I never remember that word fashion being thrown around as it is now. That's such a pop-culture word now. We had style. And especially in Brooklyn, you grew up around people who had style. You know, you went uptown Harlem, you went up to Spanish Harlem, people had their own style. I never thought of it as fashion. That's why, you know, it's beyond call of duty now.
GARCIA: King of what?
GARCIA: King of style.
GARCIA: That's a reference to a documentary from the '80s. So you attended Wingate High School.
GARCIA: ...You're bursting with style from your childhood, from Bed-Stuy, from a barrio, from Palladium (ph). What's the diversity at Wingate and...
HARDISON: Oh, God, we were blessed. Oh, my goodness, I'm so glad you said that. You're talking about racial diversity?
HARDISON: Oh, my goodness. I didn't know this. I got accepted into a performing arts school. And my mother knew that was such a big thing for me. And then this white guy shows up to my high - my junior high school - at 35 - in Brooklyn Bedford-Stuyvesant. And he was so cool looking. And I'm sitting in the audience. He's talking to us kids. And he wants to tell us about this new school called Wingate. It's a banjo shape and design - architect. Everything about it appealed to me. I had got accepted to one of the greatest schools for performing arts.
I left that meeting that day in the school auditorium. I went home, told my mother, said, I'm going to this new school called Wingate. It sounded so cool. I had no idea - I learned from my white girlfriend many years later - that that was the efforts of them busing black kids into white neighborhoods and white schools. And we were the first class. But I didn't know that. I went there and rocked that school.
HARDISON: I went there...
BARTOS: You rocked the house.
HARDISON: I swear I became...
BARTOS: Brooklyn rocks the house.
HARDISON: That was in Flatbush. I came out of Bedford-Stuyvesant. I went to that school. I wind up first - I mean, I learned to play chess in that school. I wind up being first black cheerleader. And we played - that was a great basketball team then. We had Roger Brown. We went to...
GARCIA: Oh, my God.
BARTOS: Uh-oh. Here we go.
HARDISON: Oh, don't play with me. Oh, yeah.
GARCIA: You saw Roger Brown play?
HARDISON: He was in my - he used to be - we were good friends.
GARCIA: What? Wait. Hold on. Let me...
HARDISON: No. Stop.
GARCIA: Allow me a second.
HARDISON: No. You know?
GARCIA: Stretch, Roger Brown and Connie Hawkins...
GARCIA: ...Were two of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game. We're not talking about NBA...
HARDISON: That's right.
GARCIA: ...I'm just talking about period.
HARDISON: That's right.
GARCIA: And Connie unfortunately got caught up in a point-shaving scandal. He got barred from the NBA for many years. Roger Brown for some reason got caught up in some mess as well. And he wound up playing in the ABA. They used to call him the man of a thousand moves. This dude is a legend. And you got to see him?
BARTOS: They were friends.
HARDISON: And so was Connie.
GARCIA: That's crazy.
HARDISON: So was Connie.
GARCIA: Connie Hawkins was a friend of yours?
HARDISON: Yes. No, that's true. We all - I was a cheerleader. I was popular. The - Boyce High and Wingate, we got to the Garden often.
GARCIA: Connie Hawkins is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Stretch. He's the dude that started the whole dunking craze, basically.
HARDISON: Yeah. That's what - you see. And when you're a kid, you don't know nothing. They're just another kid friend of yours, right? Being in Wingate was one the best things that ever happened to me. I mean, really, going to high school was great. I lived with my father then. I went to live with my dad when I was 12. I left my mother and my grandmother. And my father was a imam, he was an Islamic leader. And so I had to embrace Islam and embrace also the education that he - and he was a very important man. He really did a lot of things for a lot of people, too. That's how I got to know Malcolm X. My father influenced a lot of people. And so it was really living that life...
GARCIA: I love how she just throws out...
GARCIA: ...Like, Roger Brown, Connie Hawkins, Malcolm X.
BARTOS: Between this and Lenny Kravitz.
GARCIA: Right. Right. Exactly. It's like before you're 17, you've already rolled with like three of the most powerful people...
BARTOS: Yeah. OK. Wait. So speaking of powerful people, we need to talk about the Battle of Versailles in 1973.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED NEWS REPORTER #1: Once known in the fashion world as the Battle of Versailles, it was a landmark show held in France back in 1973 that finally put American designers on the map.
UNIDENTIFIED NEWS REPORTER #2: On one side was the long-established French designers, and on the other, Americans with a secret weapon.
HARDISON: Eleanor Lambert and Francoise de la Renta, which was the former wife - who is deceased - of Oscar de la Renta, decided to do a charity event to build up the hall in Versailles.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED NEWS REPORTER #3: The 17th Century palace in Versailles in Paris apparently has fallen victim to termites, worms and leaks. And those who want to save it say $60 million is needed. So last night, a lavish fundraising party and fashion show was held at the palace for 650 invited guests.
HARDISON: Eleanor, being a - very prominent as a PR person for most of the designers in America, she came up with the idea, why don't we invite five American designers with five French designers, come together and do a big fashion show and invite everyone? Great idea. Sounded good. What happened is that when the French and French media got a hold of it, they began a big laugh (laughter). American designers? C'mon.
GARCIA: (Imitating French accent) Foolish Americans.
BARTOS: (Imitating French accent) Who are these fools?
HARDISON: (Imitating French accent) Compete with us?
BARTOS: (Imitating French accent) So ridiculous, right?
HARDISON: Compete? Well, the word was never compete. It was just, no. Let's just all get together. Little by little because the press, the media in Paris started to speak badly about the Americans designers, you know, like, they're just sportswear people. They don't make clothes, the beautiful dresses like what our designers do. And so the French designers - and I hope I remember them all - was Marc Bohan for Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Ungaro and - one more I'll think of in two seconds of course.
BARTOS: And Pierre Cardin?
HARDISON: Ah. Yes. And the American designers was Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, Anne Klein and Stephen Burrows. And at some given point, it became the Battle of Versailles. People - because now it's going to - they consider - it is going to be like a battle. And wind up - we wind up going, and it wound up being what is now known as something spectacular. And it was then, too, because of who showed up, who was there. It scared a lot of the American press because they thought we were going to just embarrass ourselves.
But in the end, though, we wind up winning. And I was one of the models at the time that walked that runway or that stage. It was so much drama that - the designers were fighting among each other. We had forgotten - Joe Yula (ph) was the one who did all the sets and he wound up doing everything in inches, didn't know it was centimeters.
HARDISON: So we had no sets.
HARDISON: The Europeans did everything. They had everything from Nureyev (ph) to Josephine Baker. They - I thought any minute, they were going to shoot somebody out of a cannon. They had everything on that stage. And they took so long. And we had simple - just us, the designers, Liza Minnelli and we had the genius of Kay Thompson, who actually choreographed it all. She was so brilliant.
GARCIA: Wait. Liza Minnelli was performing while you walked?
HARDISON: She was - yeah. She was performing. She opened the show.
GARCIA: Oh, wow.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BONJOUR, PARIS!")
LIZA MINNELLI: (Singing) I want to step out down the Champs-Elysees, do some window shopping in the Rue de la Paix. That's for me. Bonjour, Paris.
GARCIA: And then she closed the show. And they did a performance dance number. So it was really good. "Native New Yorker" was our theme.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATIVE NEW YORKER")
ODYSSEY: (Singing) New York City girl. You grew up riding the subways, running with people. Up in Harlem, down on Broadway. You're no tramp, but you're no lady.
GARCIA: Who sang that?
HARDISON: You know that girl.
GARCIA: (Singing) Native New Yorker...
HARDISON: You know. Yeah.
GARCIA: (Singing) You should know...
HARDISON: (Singing) You're a native New Yorker.
BARTOS: I mean, there's the Odyssey version.
GARCIA: Odyssey. Yeah.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATIVE NEW YORKER")
ODYSSEY: (Singing) It's the thought that you had in a taxicab that got left on the curb.
HARDISON: OK. And then - what's our wonderful, heavyset guy's name that passed away that we all love?
GARCIA: Luther Vandross?
HARDISON: No. No. The...
BARTOS: Saying anything.
HARDISON: He got thin, though. He got thin. He got thin. OK. No. No. I mean...
BARTOS: Fats Waller?
HARDISON: You know - why you always so funny? This is no fun.
HARDISON: You help me.
BARTOS: Prince Marky Fresh (ph).
BARTOS: Heavy D?
HARDISON: No. Come. You know who I'm talking about. I was doing so good with names, and then I came to the most important name. You know, everybody - you always said when he played his music - when his song came on, everybody's making love.
BARTOS: Barry White.
HARDISON: Barry White.
GARCIA: Barry White. Oh yeah.
HARDISON: There you go. OK. Thank you. Well done, young man. Well done.
HARDISON: OK. Barry White was...
BARTOS: Hold on. Hold on. Barry White.
HARDISON: Yeah. Exactly. So we won that. We won that battle. Now HBO - one of the girls you know - I can't remember her name - Maria somebody - she's now working at HBO - she learned about the book. They optioned the book. Now Ava DuVernay is going to do a narrative...
GARCIA: Oh, wow.
BARTOS: Amazing. Incredible.
HARDISON: ...On HBO - "Battle Of Versailles."
GARCIA: You need to be cast in that film.
HARDISON: Well, no. Well, this is what they have to do. So it's a narrative now, right? So it's a film. So Ava knows me from back in the day when she was PR girl. She contacted me and asked me to come in as a consulting producer. The funny thing about this - and I'm going to say this now, and let's hope and pray that's not true - I don't really remember a lot.
HARDISON: I've got girlfriends that work...
GARCIA: Get that check. Get that.
BARTOS: You could. Just rewrite...
GARCIA: Don't say anything.
BARTOS: Just rewrite it. You're like, you can't tell me it didn't happen. I was there.
HARDISON: But the funny thing about it is that - it's so funny. I said, well, of course I'll help. So they - HBO very dun-dun-dun-dun (ph) - here's half the money now and half the money - I only got two phone calls from the writer. Just two questions. And I'm told by HBO recently - I got a call from the executive, saying, well, we got the script. I'm going, Ava's never around. How did they get the script? Ava's working, working...
GARCIA: Sure. Sure. Sure. Sure.
BARTOS: We tried to get her on WHAT'S GOOD.
BARTOS: Yeah. Hasn't happened yet.
HARDISON: Oh, yeah. She's good. She'll be good. But the fact of it is that that's the thing. It's moving right along anyway. So - and that's wonderful. So when you say you never heard of it - it's funny - all those people never heard of it either. It's just popping now.
BARTOS: But wait...
GARCIA: Oh, sorry.
BARTOS: But the - what's the significance of that event?
HARDISON: Well, it was more, you know...
GARCIA: She doesn't remember a thing.
HARDISON: Yeah, I do. I do. I do. I just don't remember the airplane riding, you know, everybody was partying. I don't remember that. I just remember I stayed in my lane. But the significance of it, when you asked that question, it was significant because when everything is so dry and everything is so white at one point, and you learned about an event that had so many girls of colors in it, then it becomes significant. It wasn't exclusively black, but it was so many because there were a lot of popular girls at that time. We were all runway models.
GARCIA: Provide context because, I mean, you were breaking barriers. You were a leader in terms of diversifying this world that was predominantly or exclusively white. And, I mean, you weren't alone. You had Iman, and you had other models that were really pushing the envelope for what the image of beauty in the world was. What was prior to you, and what was your point of view as an insider looking out?
HARDISON: That's interesting. That's interesting because a lot of people think, you know, now that we have this word fashion and that fashion is so much a part of popular culture more so than anything else, a lot of people think that this was always - oh, it's such a struggle. It wasn't such a struggle before because there was an agency called Black Beauty. There were other people who owned agencies.
GARCIA: In the '70s or in...
HARDISON: In the '70s and the early '80s, I mean, that all - like, Richard Roundtree, all those people, they were models. And they were part of this agency. So there was always images of blacks. I never longed for my blackness. I had it.
When you started to model back in the late '60s, we were coming out of the civil rights movement, too, where - in that frame of time was Black Is Beautiful - was the statement. Black Is Beautiful was important because it really was saying something. And who helped to make that? Were whites advertising - young advertising executives who wanted to change the landscape of the advertising industry. Everybody was feeling this feeling. There's just this current of just style, and blacks really were having that. With the Panthers, everything, there was significant style.
And then eventually, you know, it came down that surely people like Beverly Johnson got discovered first time on the cover of Vogue magazine in the '70s. You know, it's interesting to say that because even when Iman came along, she was so controversial. She came in, supposedly out of the bush. Peter Beard, the photographer, discovers her in Kenya, tells the world back here that he's discovered this girl from the bush, gets her a contract with Wilhelmina. She's not from the bush. She's from a [expletive] university - pardon the expression.
HARDISON: You know, she's from a university. But he made this...
GARCIA: Her father was an ambassador.
HARDISON: Yes, exact-o. He's too smart, this Bombito (ph).
GARCIA: Did you just call me Bombito (ph)?
HARDISON: Yeah. Yeah, I did. (Singing) Bombito (ph).
GARCIA: I'm going to run with it (laughter).
BARTOS: Yo, Bob already has 20 nicknames.
HARDISON: (Laughter) He does, I'm sure.
BARTOS: He's going to have another one, Bombito (ph).
HARDISON: It's a trick of the tongue. So it's so interesting how these things came about, these different - these illusions and thoughts. But she came into a very controversial scene too because she came in, and she was announced as this black beauty found in the jungle. And the blacks that were here were - you know, editors and all - were very annoyed with that. And they said, you have to go all the way to Africa to find - we got a lot of girls here. Why? What's that? So it became - see, it's a controversy within, but in the same time these girls were being discovered in different ways.
And we always had this around us, you know, we had beautiful - the Essence magazine had started. Barbara Cheeseborough was another model who was the first cover. Essence coming out was bringing it in itself because it just - it - there was no other magazine like it. You know, Ebony and the Johnson publications of Jet was one thing, but what Ebony - Essence was was a whole 'nother feeling. It was a lifestyle magazine with a touch of fashion.
BARTOS: Did you feel that the modeling industry then, and of course how it integrates into media, was more progressive than the rest of the world?
HARDISON: Well, no. No, because, you know, what - you have to remember something, my love. When we do say that word fashion, it's a tiny little island. It's a little tiny island that no one really cares about but - except for the people who are the players in it. That was then. That's the '70s, the '60s, the '80s, the '90s. Only now in the 2000s, it starts seeping midway out in the 2000s, and it becomes part of popular culture. Because before, nobody went to a fashion show that wasn't in the industry.
Then they started inviting important people that were, like, celebrated people outside. Then, all of a sudden, popular culture started happening. And people started seeping in and looking. Then things started changing - bloggers. You know, oh, my God, we got to wait because, you know, Kim Kardashian's coming, or we got to to wait because this one's coming, you know. That's why I fight so hard because I want us to remain ahead of the rest because we should. We're creatives.
So that's why I fight so hard because I don't want my industry, my alma mater, to be the last man. Because what's happening in television? They're moving ahead of us. What's happening in film? They're slowly - they're moving ahead of us. And they shouldn't be ahead of us. We all should be there in the same line, running along, you know, jockeying, you know, like - I think - along the same line, at least being - running shotgun with each other. Yeah.
GARCIA: Naomi Campbell calls you mom.
GARCIA: You were the maid of honor at Iman's wedding.
HARDISON: Oh, yeah.
GARCIA: And we have someone on the phone who also really looks up to you and appreciates your worth on this planet for the person that you are. Can we punch in our - her friend (laughter)?
TYSON BECKFORD: What's happening?
GARCIA: You rep Tyson Beckford, one of the most famous models not just in the world, but period.
HARDISON: (Laughter) Period.
GARCIA: Tyson, what's good?
BECKFORD: What's going on, fellas?
HARDISON: Oh, so cool.
BECKFORD: What's up?
HARDISON: You so sneaky, Stretch.
HARDISON: Now I know why...
GARCIA: I like that she blamed you, not me, for this happening because it was Stretch. It was Stretch's connect.
HARDISON: (Laughter) It was Stretch.
BECKFORD: Yeah, it was Stretch.
GARCIA: Tyson, so how did you connect with Bethann?
HARDISON: Oh, so nice.
BECKFORD: You - do you remember Arsenio Hall's show?
BECKFORD: I had saw - yeah, duh.
BECKFORD: So yeah, I saw Kadeem, Beth's son, on there, and he was talking about the agency. And this aired - you know, Arsenio always had some of his best guests on Thursday nights. So it was a Thursday that we saw him, and then we tried to reach out, get with the agency the following week. And then we are able to get a appointment to get in. And then, you know, they were like, look, you know, if you guys can come back, you can see the lady herself. So we did, and the rest was history.
HARDISON: The meeting for me was interesting - and I want to say this, Bob - because of the fact that he was - the girl who first met him at my office, I had hired her. And she was, like, the underling, even though she had been an - a model editor at a magazine, of my group. And they weren't very nice with her. So she took what we don't normally do - we don't take walk-ins - she took the call.
BECKFORD: No, they don't. Yeah.
HARDISON: She said, let me meet with him. And she said, I really like this guy. Because I was trying to support her because the kids around the desk were so snitty, I said, OK, I'll meet him. It was only because of that factor, who it was. And then I said, OK, I'll meet him. Had no idea. And I - she said, I think you'll really like him. He's got something. He's really a good-looking boy. I said, OK. And I met him.
GARCIA: That's - Tyson goes on to be, like, Ralph Lauren campaigns.
HARDISON: Yeah, but just - but people said to me...
GARCIA: That's crazy.
HARDISON: ...All the time, oh, nobody else would have taken him. And I said, I don't think that. They said, I have friends who tell me, Bethann, at that time, they would not have taken him. You took him. But he...
BECKFORD: No, nobody else was trying to see us.
HARDISON: And then he - what was interesting about him is that whenever I see a model or anyone that's potential, I have to meet with them three times. I refuse to do it - I need to get to know the character. And he just - he did everything, he said everything right. He was interesting. Because the more you talk with someone, the more you can see their face, their line. So people said, oh, you must have saw - as soon you saw him, you thought he was the most beautiful. I said, no, I didn't think of him like that. He was like...
BECKFORD: No, she didn't (laughter).
HARDISON: I had this little white kid named Brent King that was the cat's meow to me. And then along came Tyson. And I thought he does have something. And he said - he was such a - he was a beautiful boy. So the day we were signing the Ralph Lauren deal, one year or so later approximately, he was next to me at the desk upstairs in our loft. As we were signing, I looked at him, and I said, Jesus, Tyson, you're a good-looking guy.
HARDISON: Remember that time?
BECKFORD: (Laughter) Yeah, I remember that.
HARDISON: He said, gee, B, you're just digging that now (laughter)?
BARTOS: It was the few mill (ph) on the check, right? It made him a lot better-looking?
HARDISON: Good point. But no (laughter) - no, it's true. I really did...
BECKFORD: You're just realizing this?
HARDISON: She said - he said, you're just realizing this now, B? He said, that's why I love you. Because it wasn't for anything other than the spirit of his character, besides his nice looks.
HARDISON: It was the spirit of his character. And we went on to do some great work. And I'm very happy you came on the call. Yeah.
BECKFORD: Oh, yeah. I wasn't missing this.
BARTOS: Tyson, what's Bethann been like for you as a - I mean, I know, you know, she's a dear friend, a mother figure, all that. But what's she been like as a manager for you over the years?
BECKFORD: She's been everything that, like, you know - that I want in a mother. And just - everything just - so always there for me and just given - has given me such guidance in life and understanding. And, you know, since I've met her, I've changed. I mean, you know, some of these guys remember me from the neighborhood. I was the wild boy. You know, I've just grown into a calm gentleman.
BECKFORD: You know, and it's just - there's, you know, just so many things that I've learned from her that I - we don't even have enough time to even discuss. But, you know, in the gist of it all, just, you know, I grew up around her. And it was just like watching and learning, you know, and just seeing, and just opened my eyes to a lot of things in the industry and just a lot of people and, you know, how to react and how to carry myself. Just - and I admit, I was a handful.
HARDISON: We used to call - oh, yeah.
BECKFORD: But, you know, you stuck with me, and that was it. You know?
HARDISON: Yes, that's very interesting, Ty. But those was good times because of, like, that b-boy - that time frame with everything - you know, him coming along at the time he came along too helped change a lot of things.
HARDISON: Recognition, and the fact that who was this guy in this red Polo that everyone - Polo? Every boy had a Polo shirt, Polo fragrance, Polo everything, right? And here he comes out of nowhere, that big advertising. That helped change a great deal. That was a great thing that - Ralph saw Tyson as being heroic-looking. Yeah, and I agree. And he's still somebody - still knows his name. That's great. No, guys?
GARCIA: Tyson, thanks for jumping in on this Bethann Hardison episode. Much love to you.
BECKFORD: Yeah, no worries. Any time, fellas.
BARTOS: Any - Tyson, hope to see you soon.
BECKFORD: All right, good talking to you all.
HARDISON: Thank you, Ty. That was nice.
BARTOS: Sneaky (laughter).
HARDISON: That was sweet. Yeah. That was sweet.
BARTOS: Let's see, in 2013, along with Naomi and Iman, you called out a number of the big design - what'd you call them, companies? Houses?
HARDISON: Yeah, design houses.
BARTOS: Houses - Armani, Prada, Ferragamo and others on their lack of diversity in 2013, which of course is interesting in light of the history that you've shared about how, you know, when fashion was a smaller world, it was more diverse. But as it becomes more mainstream, when diversity's even more important, you know, because of how young people see themselves represented in mass media, there was a sort of - a reversal.
HARDISON: That's right.
BARTOS: And this was sort of a call to action for you.
HARDISON: And it's true. And it's very true what you're saying because, before, the world was so much smaller. But once the Eastern European Bloc went down, scouts started going into Eastern Europe bringing girls out of there. And the difference between that girl and the girl that was existing, whether she'd be white, black or Latino, was the fact that she was narrow-hipped, long, not particularly beautiful or glamorous in any kind of way. These girls start to come and they come in now faster than ever. And they're hardworking. They're coming from poor environments. They're looking to just work and make money.
This changed everything because we already had the supermodels - the Naomis, the Lindas, the Christies, the glamorous girls, the girls who made it glamorous. Prada - Miuccia Prada decided to switch that up. She wanted to have the girl you didn't recognize. She wanted you to only notice the clothes. That started something that just trickled like a, you know, yellow brick road - stutter.
BARTOS: The white brick road (laughter).
HARDISON: So yeah. So that's what - oh, white brick road. Yeah, perfect. Yo, he's quick. So what wind up happening is we wind up having just a lot of white girls, white girls. And they start to change. They begin to end all diversity. Black girls you now hardly saw. You didn't see Latino - you didn't see Brazilian girls. You weren't seeing, you know, any girls that really reflected anything other than Caucasian. This went on for a while.
And so by 2013, it's like, OK. I'm sitting in my bed in Mexico. I write this short letter, but it was just boom, boom. And I sent it to the people who I consider part of the diversity coalition and asked their opinion. They said, it's very strong, but I guess it's what we have to do. And so I called out, I mean, a lot of people, but never saying that they were racist, just saying that the - whether it's your intent or not, if you keep continuing to use one model of color for two - or none - for two or three seasons direct, then the result is racism.
And that changed things immediately because there are people like Celine who never had used anyone of any color other than Caucasian. They switched it up right by the time - if that letter went out in September, by the time Paris shows happened in October, she already had two and three. Everybody did. Armani, Chanel - everybody started to shift. And now, it's such a huge shift.
You know, people say, are you scared that it's going to fall back? I'm not scared. I - for some reason, I'm not - I got my foot on the clutch still. I'm still, you know - but I'm not afraid. I'm thinking there's a shift of understanding right now. For some reason right now, the girl of color is being embraced.
Now people are beginning to have a lot of problems. Where's the Asian and the Latin? Well, I got you. I'm coming. But you have to (laughter) - because they've always been in my crew. They've always been who I believe in. But in the end of the day - and many model industries had none. We're doing the best we can. We're moving as we can. Not everyone is beautiful just because they have color because God knows I sit there and go, no, no, no, no, a lot. But when there's, yay, yay, yay...
HARDISON: ...Yay, yay, yay, yay. And don't - I ain't booking a black girl because she's black. I'll sit there with my hands crossed like anybody else. She's got to have - she's got to be competitive to a white counterpart. So that's what's happening now. Our industry is very fickle in a very interesting way.
BARTOS: So you haven't been alone in this fight.
BARTOS: Who's following...
HARDISON: Yeah, that's a...
BARTOS: ...In your footsteps?
HARDISON: You know, you ask that question and so many people say that. Who will be that person? Who knows? Who's the revolutionaries that, really, basically - they're called to do it. They're not, like, elected.
HARDISON: We don't know who - if there's going to be someone who's supposed to have it, maybe the way things are will be so different that they can have a council, you know? It wouldn't be just this one person, blah, blah, blah, blah - because I do have people who have my back. You know, I don't name them because then I wouldn't be able to have my spies. You know, you have to have your spies, you know? You have to come from a mafia position. And so in the end of the day, I wonder that, too. But I don't worry about it because I think the universe will sort of handle itself in that way.
BARTOS: All right. We're going to take a quick break. And we'll come right back with more of Bethann Hardison.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BARTOS: And we're back. And it's the drums, the drums, the drums, and that only means one thing. It is time for the Impression Session.
GARCIA: Well, the drums could mean that Bethann's back at the Palladium, dancing.
HARDISON: Oh, wouldn't that be wonderful?
GARCIA: This is the segment where we're just going to play you a track. You react. It's as simple as that.
BARTOS: Two tracks, one each.
HARDISON: OK, yeah.
GARCIA: Stretch, you want to go first?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BULLET AND A TARGET")
CITIZEN COPE: (Singing) Hostility among us. Teacher said, no college. Still, kid, got to get a check with a couple commas. People want to bomb us. More people got to scatter and run from us. Blame it on Zeus and Apollo and Adonis. But what you've done here is put yourself between a bullet and a target. And it won't be long before you're pulling yourself away.
HARDISON: OK. I'm going to ask two things. OK. Feeling, first impression?
BARTOS: Whatever you want.
HARDISON: Whatever I want to say?
HARDISON: It sounds so Citizen Cope and Gil Scott-Heron.
BARTOS: Well, you win the award.
BARTOS: It's Citizen Cope.
BARTOS: (Imitates gunshots) Confetti, confetti, confetti.
GARCIA: You're the first artist this season to actually know the record that we're playing.
BARTOS: It's never a guessing game, but I love - uh-oh. The headphones are off.
HARDISON: Oh, I'm so proud. Oh, that was so good. That's him.
BARTOS: That's Cope, yeah.
HARDISON: And you know what? That is such different Cope. That is such different Cope stuff. I would never hear him talking like that, right? The lyrics?
BARTOS: Well, this was...
HARDISON: You think?
BARTOS: That's off his third album, which became much more - on his first two albums, he dealt mostly with personal relationships and love and whatnot. And then his third album was a lot more socially conscious. And, of course, this song is about justice and...
GARCIA: Which song was that?
BARTOS: It's called "Bullet And A Target." And again, the artist is Citizen Cope. I love this man's music. He's a personal friend of mine. And I'm thrilled that you - do you know Cope? You know - you've got to know Cope.
HARDISON: I stay at his house when I'm in LA.
BARTOS: I feel like this wasn't the right song to play. You're like, I stay at his house.
BARTOS: But his music - whatever.
HARDISON: But it's interesting. No, I never heard that. It just sounded - I don't know. I don't know all his music either.
BARTOS: Well, Cope's a cool dude because...
HARDISON: He is.
BARTOS: ...He doesn't make people hear his music when they go to his house.
HARDISON: All right, go ahead.
GARCIA: All right. We're going to get into another song. This is a song that I selected for you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUNFLOWERS IN MY GARDEN")
BUILD AN ARK: (Singing) But the sight that brings me so much joy and puts a smile on my face is the golden yellow petals of my favorite bloom as it crowds this sacred space. Sunflowers in my garden, follow the path...
HARDISON: First impressions - this is a song that I don't - it does nothing for me. But it's the kind of song that everyone knows the words to. And she has a voice that sounds like many people. And I have no clue who it is.
HARDISON: Is it...
GARCIA: The group is Build An Ark. And the song is "Sunflowers In My Garden." The reason why I played it for you, aside from being a favorite of mine in the last 10 years, it sort of evokes spiritual jazz.
GARCIA: It evokes folk music. It evokes soul. But particularly, the lyrics - I equate the sunflower in my garden as this sort of, you know, this wonderful creation of the universe. It's similar to some of the models that you have managed or models that you have come across. I would have to think, apart from this song, that there have been violations of those flowers in the garden. I was actually a model for two weeks with Boss back in '89. And my booker crossed the line with me that made me feel very uncomfortable to ever go back there. And it was a power dynamic.
And, you know, I would have to think that maybe perhaps you've - as a mother to a lot of upcoming models, have had to receive that and give some level of comfort or - you know, we think about what you have done to diversify the face of models. Where else does progress need to be made in that industry?
HARDISON: I'm glad you brought that up. Right now, there are people who are - besides the #MeToo movement, but it's happened in our industry - the consciousness about what has happened to other young people. I'm very concerned about it. No, it never happened to me. And if it happened to me, I probably - me and Naomi always laugh about this. We say, we handled it.
HARDISON: Maybe we went along with it. Who knows?
HARDISON: But the fact of it is that I never had any of my - I was so strict as a model agent. I was such - I was - I didn't want to be in that business anyway. And if I'm going to do it, I'm protecting people's children. So I came really from a - they couldn't even go out to clubs. I wouldn't let - if I heard a model of mine was at a club, she'd be in such trouble. Now there's a watchdog. Now, because there has been a watchdog - and very important photographers have been really sad, same thing with Cosby. Whether people like it or not, people who have done great things, their legacy is wiped. So I don't think, after we have something that's happened - being accused - Bruce Weber, being accused - Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier naming...
BARTOS: Terry Richardson.
HARDISON: ...Terry Richardson. That right there, to me, tells the rest - our little world, don't mess around. And that will end, I think, in practically all the industries because now this thing, how it's so radical - it's not like a question. It's like zip. Now we're all in it together. I want it to stop. I don't want anyone else to be accused. I want it to - because it's changing the industry. I don't want it to be known as an industry that has abuse. We need to recognize it and control it, and that includes the model. Now she's been - she or he has been given a voice. Don't go along with this. Don't keep this a secret.
GARCIA: Bless you.
GARCIA: (Clapping) Aplausos por favor.
BARTOS: Bethann Hardison, ladies and gentlemen. Again...
GARCIA: Word up.
BARTOS: ...It's great to spend some time with you.
HARDISON: Thank you so much.
BARTOS: We've never talked...
BARTOS: ...At length like this before, so it's been a privilege. And I'm just thrilled that we could make this happen.
HARDISON: Thank you so much. Thank you both, really a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BARTOS: That is our show. This podcast was produced by Michelle Lanz, edited by Jordana Hochman and N'Jeri Eaton. And our executive producer is Abby O'Neill. Music by composer Eli Escobar and our own Robertino Garcia.
GARCIA: (Laughter) If you like the show, you can find more at npr.org or wherever you get your podcasts, including bonus video content on Spotify on Fridays. Thanks to Spotify for their support. While you're at it, please go to Apple podcasts and rate, review and subscribe. That's how we know you are listening.
BARTOS: You can follow us on Twitter @stretchandbob or Instagram @stretchandbobbito.
GARCIA: Word up.