The debut film Invisible Beauty, which premiered at Sundance, skillfully portrays the impactful journey of fashion pioneer Bethann Hardison. Co-directed by Hardison herself and renowned filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng, the documentary weaves together half a century of both cultural developments and personal milestones.
Utilizing an array of personal photos, archival clips, and interviews, the narrative is enhanced by Hardison’s insightful voice-over. The experience is further enriched by a sensitive piano score from Marc Anthony Thomas, alongside other evocative musical choices that revive the transformative eras of the 1960s and 1970s.
The documentary transcends mere nostalgia to underscore Hardison’s continuing impact and the societal changes she’s been instrumental in shaping.
Far from being just an observer in fashion’s evolving inclusivity, Hardison has often been the catalyst for change. The film highlights landmark events such as her role in the historic 1973 Battle of Versailles fashion show and her groundbreaking move to start her own modeling agency as the first Black woman to do so in 1984.
One striking scene features Hardison in 1992, addressing the media alongside iconic models like Iman and Naomi Campbell, highlighting the fashion world’s diversity issues. This moment is made even more potent by its black-and-white portrayal.
Captured through the expert lens of cinematographers Mia Cioffi Henry and Frédéric Tcheng, the documentary seamlessly transitions between personal tales and larger social contexts. While Tcheng is no stranger to fashion-focused films, his joint effort with Hardison creates an enthralling story that engages on multiple fronts.
It brings to life Hardison’s mantra that enduring change requires constant activism, summed up by her statement that activism must be sustained. This is not just a visually appealing film; it carries a message urging social transformation.
The movie provides a comprehensive view of not only Hardison’s professional trajectory but also delves into her personal experiences and intricate relationships. A memorable moment in the film is when Hardison amusingly inquires about when the film will start, only to realize it’s already underway. Contributions from her son, actor Kadeem Hardison, enrich the layered narrative about his remarkable mother.
Appearances by cultural figures like Fran Liebowitz offer glimpses into Hardison’s personal life, juxtaposing her responsible parenting style against the backdrop of New York’s chaotic 1970s party scene. Interviews with fashion industry heavyweights like Iman, Naomi Campbell, and others shed light on her pervasive influence, while testimonials from young Black designers emphasize her lasting mentorship.
An enchanting recurring scene in Invisible Beauty shows Hardison, a woman more prone to doing than pondering, wrestling with composing her memoirs on an electronic tablet. She finds comfort and validation in her astrologer’s wisdom, revealing she’s a Libra and equating her autobiography with her long-term advocacy for others.
The film also uncovers Hardison’s early influences, notably her father, who was an intellectual and later became an Imam. Hardison’s decision to break free from her father’s expectations marked a pivotal moment in her life, setting the stage for her future groundbreaking work in the often non-inclusive fashion industry.
As the film concludes, it leaves viewers eagerly awaiting Hardison’s forthcoming memoir, prompting the question of whether her essence can be as vividly encapsulated in print as it is in this cinematic gem. Invisible Beauty stands not just as a prelude to her upcoming book but as a self-contained masterpiece, offering an intimate glimpse into the life of a woman who dared to blaze her trail, regardless of personal sacrifice.