Before Naomi Campbell nailed it with her luxe-legs strut and Tyra Banks passed on her Victoria’s Secret Angel wings to Chanel Iman, a celestial creature named Pat Cleveland unequivocally paved the (run)way for them all with her stunningly exotic beauty and gravity-defying twirl in the gritty, glam-trodden sixties and seventies. In her riveting memoir, Walking With the Muses (Atria/37 Ink, $26.99), Cleveland takes us on an international roller-coaster ride from New York City to Paris to Tokyo and a plethora of other hot spots. (She swims near sharks in Mombasa, Kenya, escapes the police in Acapulco and rides a camel in Luxor, Egypt.)
What shines through this chic romp is Cleveland’s resilience and indelible charm, inherited from her single mother, Lady Bird Cleveland, a struggling artist and night nurse’s aide at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital. Money is tighter than the cinched belt on her leggy daughter’s 25-inch waist, but after Lady Bird takes her to meet Eunice Johnson, Cleveland gets booked for Ebony Fashion Fair in 1966. Because Cleveland is underage, Lady Bird lands herself a gig as her daughter’s personal dresser, and then the inseparable duo travels on a Greyhound bus for three months. Ninety fashion shows later, Cleveland is primed for the big time.
When she’s sent by her New York agency to Milan, her quick-packing skills come in handy: The Italian modeling agency she’s working with is a front for sex trafficking! After she arrives in Paris, her career takes a stiletto turn, thanks to a historic event that changed the face of fashion from fair to fabulous: The Battle of Versailles is held in 1973 on the outskirts of Paris. By then, Cleveland has perfected her signature walk, which includes spinning like a whirling dervish even at the edge of the runway. Afterward Paris burns all right, with Cleveland at the epicenter of every fashion season. Alas, runway girls rarely secured lucrative print campaigns and it was difficult for Cleveland to do so early on. In 1978, however, she achieves a personal goal: snagging a Vogue cover, albeit Vogue Italia. Cupid comes through too—she marries photographer Paul Van Ravenstein and they have two children, Anna and Noel. In the final analysis, Pat Cleveland is to fashion what Billie Holiday is to the blues: a muse for all ages.
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