‘Invisible Beauty’: Portrait of a fashion revolutionary

(2.5 stars)

Supermodel and actor Tyson Beckford has a warning about Bethann Hardison, the mannequin turned modeling company proprietor and activist who’s the topic of the documentary “Invisible Beauty,” and who was as soon as his mentor. “Once you meet this person,” Beckford says, “it’s going to change your life.” Coming early in a movie that units out to just do that — introduce you to a one that will change the best way you see the world, if solely a little — it’s nonetheless a daring declare to make about somebody we haven’t but met. But by the top of the movie, you won’t be shocked that Beckford says it so confidently.

Hardison, who co-directed “Invisible Beauty” with Frédéric Tcheng, the director of “Halston” and a number of other different fashion documentaries, is a individual whose ambitions run excessive. After breaking into the fashion business within the late Nineteen Sixties as a mannequin for designer Willi Smith, Hardison — skinny, androgynous and darker-skinned than most different Black fashions of her day (and so they’re weren’t many) — turned one of a small group of runway pioneers, together with Beverly Johnson, Iman, Pat Cleveland and others within the Nineteen Seventies, finally transitioning into mannequin administration in 1980.

After a quick stint with the company Click, Hardison opened her personal store in 1984, centered on advancing the careers of a extra racially numerous expertise pool. She completed that purpose however closed Bethann Management in 1996. Hardison had greater fish to fry but: In 2013, she famously launched an open letter accusing the fashion industry — and several designers by name — of racism.

Those milestones are however a few of the highlights of a exceptional profession and life — with a deal with racial reckoning — that “Invisible Beauty” dutifully covers. Hardison, who’s now 80, is proven at work on an as-yet-unpublished memoir, and this movie at instances seems like a cross-promotion for that ebook. In addition to Beckford, testimonials come pouring in from mannequin Naomi Campbell, author Fran Lebowitz, photographer Bruce Weber, fashion critic Robin Givhan of this newspaper and others.

On digital camera, Hardison is frank, talking of her romantic relationships and a difficult relationship along with her son, the actor Kadeem Hardison — for whom she was not essentially the most attentive or current mom — with at instances shocking candor.

But it’s Hardison’s work — the struggle for higher illustration and fairness for folks of colour in fashion — that’s the movie’s, and Hardison’s, true focus. “I ain’t just an agent,” she says, noting that the very last thing she needs carved on her tombstone is “Here lies Bethann: She had an agency.”

So what does she need? Late within the movie, she makes her goal plain: to alter not the fashion business, however the world. As Givhan says in a single interview clip, fashion isn’t nearly sporting good garments. It’s a template for the judgments we make about folks, for the ability and the roles and the respect that we give — or withhold from — them. In quick, illustration in fashion issues.

By the top of “Invisible Beauty,” it’s apparent from all of the accolades that she made a distinction within the lives of a new technology of Black fashions. About that, nevertheless, she doesn’t care. “I’m not trying to help Black people,” Hardison says. “I’m trying to educate White people.” For that viewers, this movie ought to be required viewing.

Unrated. At the Angelika Film Center Mosaic and the Cinema Arts Theatre. Contains robust language and nudity. 115 minutes.

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