NEW YORK, United States — Anna Cleveland was a newborn when she arrived on the set of her first photo shoot, four-years-old when she walked her first runway show and just 13 when she starred in her first French Vogue editorial. But it wasn’t until she walked Giles Deacon’s Autumn/Winter 2015 runway show that the industry truly saw her as something other than a decedent of iconic face Pat Cleveland, one of the first African American stars of the modelling world who worked with Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Halston, among others.
Since that February 2015 show, Anna Cleveland has become a campaign star — landing Vionnet, Bottega Veneta and Maiyet — and scored two covers of Italian Vogue, with plenty of choice runway jobs along the way. The mother-daughter duo has also appeared together in campaigns for Lanvin and, most recently, Marc Jacobs.
Like Pat, Anna brings a sense of theatre and performance to her work. It’s a rare quality in a model of her generation, many of who prefer to save their outbursts of emotion or flamboyance for social media. She is often called upon by designers to add something extra to the task at hand, whether that means a twirl at the end of the catwalk or, in the case of Jeremy Scott’s Autumn/Winter 2016 show for Moschino, voguing down the runway as smoke floated off of her dress.
But the younger Cleveland is quick to say that she is a very different model than her mother, and that she has faced a different set of challenges despite (and sometimes because of) the privilege that comes with her pedigree.
Anna and Pat, the latter of whose memoir Walking With Muses will be released in the US in June 2016, sat down with BoF to discuss the current state of the fashion industry and the changing dynamics of modelling.
Pat Cleveland: I became a model because my mother was a painter. When I was a little girl, she used to draw me all the time. I would sit in front of her easel. [Modelling] started with sitting quietly and getting all that love and attention from an artist. When they look at you very intensely and you feel like…
Anna Cleveland: … It’s a relationship, and you kind of feed off each other in a way. That’s how it’s been with you and me.
PC: That’s really true. Don’t forget, modelling was not a popular thing in the 1950s. There were some stars, but not like today. There were no examples really when I came up. I used to love Donyale Luna. I thought she was spectacular and untouchable. But I’ve been out there since the KKK. I’ve been chased down the street. I’ve had a really hard time of it. Now, it’s getting much better. More accepting. But oh goodness, when I started it was like, “Freak! Freaky!”
Fashion is like music today: It’s out there, it’s available to everyone and everyone is tuned into it. It’s not just clothes anymore. Now you go and dress like someone who looks like someone that you want to aspire to be.
AC: Like working on an artist collaboration, you take on pieces from each person. Like today, when we were getting dressed to go out, I took something from your closet, you took something from my closet. [Growing up], you would say, “Thank god for fashion.” It’s really the truth. It’s deeper than just the look.
PC: For us, you know, modelling is also political. It’s business. Modelling is not just a regular girl looking pretty and feeling satisfied, it’s about satisfying a whole platoon of people. You have to be like Anna right now. She’s satisfying the taste of the people and the culture. It’s all about cultural movement and the model comes along that satisfies everyone. Like me, with my crazy hair, looking like a flying carpet coming into the room. It satisfied that kind of bohemian whimsical look. Anna is different than me: more classic.
Our dynamic is great. We’re so used to each other we’re like a worm and a wasp. When she came along everything speeded up. When she was 10-days-old she had her first fashion shoot. We were shooting the jewels of the Duchess of Windsor. She had the pearls in her mouth and the editor said, “Let her swallow that so we can go to Brazil on holiday!” And I said, “This is my baby. She’s not going to swallow the Duchess of Windsor’s Harry Winston pearls!” But she got a taste for it, right? One day her dress is set on fire. You did that elegantly.
AC: Different times now. My first big editorial was for French Vogue when I was 13, a 12-page story. I got into modelling really fast. I’ve always been in and out of it. Milestones would be the covers of the Italian Vogue, the cover of Love magazine. Meeting Katie Grand, working for Steven Meisel and getting to that point…Tim Walker for Lanvin….
PC: I held her hand from the first time on the runway for Moschino and she was five. No, four. She saw the models in dresses. Moschino put her in a t-shirt. She had a fit because she wanted a “grown-up dress.”
AC: I hated the t-shirt. I wanted to wear the actual real clothes.
PC: When she got to my level, they could see something in her that she didn’t even know she had. Somebody else has to recognise it in you. It’s someone discovering you. That’s how it happens. I had a big feeling that fashion was so important because I could make it with my hand, I could sew, I could make clothes. I thought I was going to be a designer, but it just turned out that mascara did the trick. It took me into a different direction and I started having the freedom I longed for. I could travel and see the beautiful clothes and beautiful people and places. It was just such a blessing.
AC: I feel the same way about it. It’s very freeing.
PC: It’s a blessing. It’s like a university. Modelling is a world, a school, a business, you learn to meet people, you learn to work with people. If you have a good agent, if you’re lucky and it all comes together. You know?
AC: For me. it was a big inner struggle. At a certain point I wanted to go for it full force. In the past, I had tried to be in fashion in my own way and it didn’t really work out. When I put my effort in it 100 percent and said, “This is what I’m going to do,” I had to believe that it was going to work. That’s when things started opening up for me.
PC: You need a good agent; someone to work with you to achieve your goals. You want to work in a high level. It’s all about how much you care about something. That’s where the passion comes in: “I really care that this thing is beautiful and I can represent it.” You become the flagpole for the flag. That’s a big deal.
AC: When I work with designers, they appreciate the fact that I respect this business. Because of the way I was raised, I see modelling as a beautiful and uplifting thing that’s not superficial. When you link up with those people that understand what you’re saying, you can create something new and innovative and refreshing. For instance, when I did the Moschino show, I was hoping that the audience would be happy and pleased in that moment of theatre. That’s what my mother and I have in common.
PC: And we love doing pictures. Photography is historic stuff.
AC: Remember you had the dark room downstairs? My dad is a photographer and I remember, as a little kid, going and seeing everything being processed from nothing to something. In social media right now, it’s a lot about image. But what I try to do is bring something artistic, to make people aware that fashion is a form of art versus a form of perfection.
PC: Like I tell her, who cares how many followers you have? It’s the quality not the quantity. What do you have to bring forth? Do you have a story?
AC: And expressing yourself can sometimes be more difficult than some people think. Doing the Moschino show was difficult because no one does that anymore. When I got my first cover of Italian Vogue, I remember I was sitting at a café with Kyle [Hagler, president of Next New York] and we were just like, “Wow.” To get to that point, thinking about how many years it took. How many years of not giving up?
PC: If you don’t have a good agent, you’re not going anywhere.
AC: Has it been harder for me because my mom is so iconic? Absolutely. But I don’t mind that, because I love her. I know that for a long time, people thought that I was trying to be my mother. A lot was loaded on me. I’m trying to be myself. I just want to make the people that I work with feel like what they’ve done is worth it. That’s my responsibility.
PC: A challenge is a challenge, whether you start out of the dirt or you start off at the moon.
AC: And I’m very appreciative. I don’t take any of it for granted. My mom taught me to respect the people that I work with, and to respect the clothing.
PC: Be on time, wash your face, get some sleep, call your agent, get a bank account and put your money away. And try to get something going for yourself. Learn something everyday. All those practical things that mums tell.
AC: Thanks, Mum. So far we haven’t worked that much together. We did Zac Posen, Marc Jacobs, Lanvin [campaigns].
PC: With Marc, it was the whole family. Her brother [Noel], too. He just wanted some really interesting characters and we were a family.
AC: My mom always told me that fashion is a family affair. I think Marc was maybe trying to express that in a way.
PC: How has the industry changed since I started? I think it’s the types of designers and the way they carry themselves. They’re more streetwise, they aim to please the public more. They’re companies. It’s a business more than couture. When I first started, it was really about making the clothing individual and special for one type of society lady in Paris. Now you can go to Valentino or Dior or Chanel and get the actual dress here in America.
What hasn’t changed is that designers still need a muse. It’s like a little love story. Well, in my day it was just a photographer and the sunshine, but now it’s like a whole movie set.
AC: It’s a bigger production, a collaboration and you have to have conversations with multiple people and it becomes… it’s different. When I walk down the runway every single inch of my body is going to be scanned. It’s much more detail oriented, there is much more people watching.
PC: But you’re the star for a moment because you get to stand there in that beautiful creation and everybody has their eyes pinned on you.
AC: The most important thing I’ve learned from my mother is to respect the relationships, the collaborations. I think about when she did the Thierry Mugler [Spring/Summer 1984] show. She was catapulted from the ceiling as the Madonna and no one knew that she was four months pregnant. She did it because at that moment it would be something life changing for the people in that audience. She sucked it up.
PC: He was panicking, and I was hanging from a thread in the sky [laughs]. Fashion survivors. But there is much worse out there. I’m so grateful.
AC: I’m grateful, too. At this point, I do think we’ve realised that we have different styles, no?
PC: I think she’s more European and I’m more American, even though she’s American-European. I had to start from this side of the ocean, so I have a different point of view of things. Being in America is like, “I can get anything.” She grew up in Europe, and she’s like “Well, we have it already.” [Laughs.]
AC: But I have more to get though.
PC: Yes, and more to give.
AC: In one year, I’ve worked with all the top photographers in the business, but there are so many more photographers and collaborations with so many different stylists and people. I don’t want to close myself off and think I’ve done enough. I want to do more. I want to keep exploring.
PC: The newness of it all. You have to reinvent yourself. Listen to music. Go out and dance, fall in love, get into trouble, come back, grunge it out, put on your chic evening dress, change your life.
AC: Because women are more than one thing anyway.