Legendary supermodel Pat Cleveland, shot by Antonio Lopez. We caught up with Cleveland last night at an event celebrating her new memoir, 'Walking With the Muses.'



Supermodel Pat Cleveland Revived Studio 54 In Celebration Of Her New Memoir

I’ve dreamt of traveling back in time to Studio 54 ever since I was a teenager and stumbled across the image of Bianca Jagger atop a white stallion on the dance floor. I’m pretty sure Pat Cleveland’s party was the closest I’ll ever get. Last night, when the famed model and cultural icon took over the ballroom of the Jane Hotel to celebrate the launch of her new book, Walking With the Muses, it felt like the ‘70s were in full force. Entertainers donned gold bikinis and skirts of bedazzled bananas, club kids (both old and new) were dressed to the nines, and the woman of the hour was a vision in a sparkly beaded gown and feathered headdress.

Having grown up in Harlem, Cleveland was first discovered by Carrie Donovan, then a fashion assistant at Vogue, while riding the subway in 1966. But she’d already had her sights on the fashion industry; she hoped to become a fashion designer, and often made and wore her own clothing. It was her creative sense of style that captivated Donovan, and after their meeting, Cleveland visited the Vogue offices, and was profiled in the magazine as a young designer to watch. Her striking features caught the attention of Ebony magazine, who cast the teenager in their national runway tour, officially launching her modeling career.

(L) Pat Cleveland by Guy Bourdin, rocking Josephine Baker-style bananas. (R) Cleveland shot at Studio 54 in 1977 by Guy Marineau.

She became known not only for her unique look, but also for her kinetic energy and boundless personality. When Cleveland took to the runway—dancing, moving, shaking—everyone took notice. And at last night’s event, she proved that she hasn’t lost her spark.

After being introduced by designer and close friend Zac Posen, Cleveland performed a rendition of “Yes, Tonight, Josephine,” an homage to one of her own icons, the dancer, singer, actress, and activist Josephine Baker. “I’ve always loved performing, and for me fashion was always a type of performance,” she said of her modeling days. “But now I’m stretching out and exploring other forms of performance as well.”

Images from Pat Cleveland’s Baker-inspired performance last night, June 9th, at the Jane Hotel.

Coming of age during the Civil Rights era, she was one of the few models of color at the time, and helped to redefine standards of beauty in the fashion industry and popular culture. But it wasn’t always easy, and in 1970, she became so disillusioned with racism in the U.S. that she decamped for Paris, becoming a house model for Karl Lagerfeld at Chloé and spending weekends with the designer and his friends in St. Tropez, trips that she details in the book. She returned to New York City in 1974, working regularly with designers from Halston (she is often cited as his absolute favorite model) to Stephen Burrows and danced away the nights at Studio 54. Her stories are littered with other notables of the time—from Muhammad Ali and Mick Jagger to Anjelica Houston and Diana Ross. It was just as fabulous as you might imagine, and then some.

“Your flaws are not flaws, you can’t let society dictate beauty.”

For the last five decades, Cleveland has kept a record of everything—the glamorous trips, the photo shoots, the runway shows, the love affairs. Her journal entries, old calendars, and faded photographs provided much of her material for her memoir. “I’ve been writing everything down since I was 16,” she notes. The process of compiling and editing down her wealth of stories was a rewarding one. “I really loved writing about my mother, it was wonderful to celebrate her,” she says of some of her favorite parts of the book. Cleveland’s mother, Ladybird Cleveland, was an equally inspiring figure, an artist and leading activist in the Harlem Renaissance. Clearly, she paved an extraordinary path for her daughter, which Cleveland in turn did for so many others.


(L) Alva Chin, Pat Cleveland and Iman. (R) Donna Jordan and Pat Cleveland at Andy Warhol’s Factory.

When speaking about her impact on the industry, Cleveland is remarkably humble. “The most important thing to know is that your flaws are not flaws, you can’t let society dictate beauty,” she says. “If you are beautiful on the inside, it will radiate on the outside.” If she’s proven anything, it’s that embracing who you are is the secret to success. That, and being insanely fabulous.

Event images courtesy of MAO Public Relations. Additonal images via

Stay tuned to Milk for more glamorous and inspiring supermodels.

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