Review: Invisible Beauty

Changes don’t happen overnight. They happen gradually and hopefully steadily. A process on a personal level can happen relatively fast but what on a global level? Then it takes a lot of time, effort, determination and passion. Just ask Bethann Hardison. Ever since her first job as a model in the ‘70s, she’s been fighting for more inclusivity and diversity in fashion. When she became a model agent in the ‘90s, that fight and courage grew even more when she discovered the first male supermodel Tyson Beckford and started to mentor worldwide famous models of colour, Naomi Campbell and Iman. After calling out blatantly racist casting sheets, changing the face of the fashion industry and becoming a force to be reckoned with when it comes to creating diversity, she’s finally getting her long-overdue praise and flowers in Invisible Beauty, the stunning documentary she and co-writer/co-director Frédéric Tcheng.

7-year-old Bethann Hardison in Invisible Beauty // CREDIT: Bethann Hardison

The most influential figure in the fashion industry you might not have heard off

The documentary opens with many influential fashion and entertainment industry figures praising Bethann. From Tracee Ellis Ross to Zendaya and Whoopi Goldberg to Fran Liebowitz, they all give short testimonials about what this fashion trailblazer meant to them. We see more comprehensive interviews with people such as Iman, Campbell and Beckford to get to know even more about Bethann. Her teenage years were rough due to the strict upbringing by her father, but Bethann isn’t afraid to admit that that is what makes her so determined.

After attending FIT and NYU, she became a saleswoman in the clothes district, and it didn’t take long before she was noticed by the big fashion names, even if it was unintentional. Black designer Willi Smith was the first one to give Bethann a model job, and her androgynous appearance, expressive look and outgoing personality made Bethann a popular model in the ‘70s as she walked alongside the likes of Pat Cleveland, Beverly Johnson and Iman.

She realizes that while some black women and people of colour are walking the runway, the % could and should increase even more. She wants to tackle that racism and lack of representation from the inside, so she decides to become a model and booking agent. In 1984, she launched the Bethann Management Agency. Her agency has received worldwide fame for discovering the most dynamic and diverse models from different backgrounds, including Kimora Lee Simmons and Veronica Webb.

Her impact became even more significant when she co-founded The Black Girls Coalition with Iman in 1988 to support African American models in the fashion industry. Bethann’s influence on the industry can’t be underestimated, and when she sees that it is all going in the right direction and that the people around her can take over the baton, she retires to Mexico to decide what she wants next in life. However, when the white homogeneity and “heroin chic” take the industry by storm, she’s forced out of ‘retirement’ with a bombshell press conference…

A young Bethann Hardison in Invisible Beauty // CREDIT: Bethann Hardison

The traditional but effective way of documentary-making

Invisible Beauty is being told in the usual straightforward and traditional way. We see testimonials from the biggest people in the fashion world and Bethann’s son Kadeem. Of course, there’s Bethann, who gives us a very up-close look into her personal and professional life. The interviews are accompanied by runway show footage, press conferences and pictures from her childhood. We gain more insights into what was happening in the fashion industry, Bethann’s revolution and the relationship between media and the fashion industry. We all know that the images and videos we see shape how we see the world, and this documentary is the perfect reminder of that.

A must-see documentary full of passion, fashion, diversity and determination!

Bethann’s fire has been blazing for almost five decades, and she will continue for as long as possible. Her love for fashion, drive for change, and bubbly, outspoken personality are some things we all have to admire and praise. Her enormous contributions to the (fashion) world don’t all fit in this documentary (or in the book Bethann’s writing), but the stunning Invisible Beauty certainly tries and succeeds in showing us Bethann’s remarkable life in the most inspiring, affecting and fun way possible!

Invisible Beauty was part of the Sundance Film Festival London 2023 and will be out in the US on the 15th of September.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Read our interview with Bethann Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng here.

Also Read: Vanessa Oliveira Discusses Documenting Afro-Brazilian Culture

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