Sunday, June 28, 2020

Weekend Review: Walking with the Muses

Walking with the Muses / Pat Cleveland
NY: Atria, c2016.
336 p.

This memoir of a model who was most famous in the 70s and into the 80s is a dishy story of high fashion, the underbelly of celebrity and the social lives of the charmed. But it is also a sincere story of how a young girl from New York City became a ground breaking model who walked in all of the biggest shows.

Pat Cleveland was born to a single mother in 1950, and her life was shaped by her mother's artistic talents and their Harlem surroundings. Things changed when her aunt moved out and an increasingly controlling stepfather moved in. Cleveland is open about her experiences but doesn't dwell on the dark sides. She states them and moves on. This happens a few times in the book, when really awful things occur, and it does give an impression of a person who isn't able to help others in extremity. That was the only reservation I had about this book; but a reader can't see the full story, and thus can't judge. 

Otherwise, the book follows Cleveland's trajectory from teenage model travelling with the Ebony Fashion Fair, to supermodel and the toast of Paris. There are names dropped all over the place, but not just to impress; they are all people that she met, worked with, socialized with, or crushed on herself. She was firmly embedded in the world of fashion, where everyone who was someone congregated. And not only fashion people; actors, musicians, artists like Warhol, they were all there. 

Some of her stories about Paris with Lagerfeld and his circle are hilarious; some of them are poignant, some quite shocking. And early stories about travelling the US with the Fashion Fair are sadly predictable. But she's always telling stories; this is like a collection of anecdotes from her past that all feature well known figures, with her own wry eye on it all.

She draws comparisons between her experience starting out in the US, as a biracial model who was struggling to break into the big leagues, and her rapid success in Europe where her free and jazzy style of walking a runway made her into a noted personality. 

Alongside all the secrets of the fashion world and its personalities -- many of which are detailed here -- there is always also the young Pat, looking for meaning in the world. Money, drugs, bad boyfriends -- they are not what she is looking for, and when she does settle down with her true love it's a charmed conclusion. She reflects the joys of her fashion world as well as the sordid details, and I think that is what really lifts this book up. 

The love and respect she has for the women who held her up in the beginning comes through, and stamps the story with her own perspective. If you like reading about the fashion world, and wonder what it was like to start out as a biracial, teen model in the 60s, you can't go wrong with this book. Her enormous success doesn't seem to have altered her essential sweetness, and from recent interviews with her on podcasts like Dressed: a Fashion Podcast, she seems to be the same person even now. 

It's a fascinating look at the interior world of a very successful model and thus at all the stars of the fashion world of the 70s and early 80s. A must read for fashionistas.

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