Photo: Courtesy of Atria.
As one of the liveliest women to ever set foot on a runway, Pat Cleveland has spent the past five decades bringing collections from the likes of Halston, Stephen Burrows, Karl Lagerfeld, and Alber Elbaz to life with her own brand of uniquely spirited energy. And that’s not all: Cleveland has evolved from a shy teenage newcomer to a catwalk chameleon and the toast of Paris (or so says Lagerfeld, in one scene), and is an artist, muse, mother, and everything in between. “[My mother] had made so many sacrifices for me, and she married someone she didn’t love just to have a steady income. In ‘settling’ she had been forced to abandon her own artistic gifts and stifle her need for self-expression,” writes Cleveland. “I understood why, and didn’t blame her, but I vowed never to let it happen to me. No matter how desperate things got, I would never marry for money. I and I alone would be responsible for me.” And that responsibility led to an awful lot of adventures, and as of today, a just-released aptly titled autobiography, Walking With the Muses.
Taking her reader through 50 years of fashion from the intersection of the Civil Rights movement, the disco era’s decadence, and the grandeur of Hollywood’s late-’70s renaissance, Cleveland provides a glimpse at some of design’s most important moments—and her own personal history. “I knew I’d never have Grace Kelly’s little nose or Rita Hayworth’s figure,” writes Cleveland, “but I could have bright red lips, lots of hair, and a job with Halston.” Notable cameos abound—Muhammad Ali (“the most famous man on the planet, who to me seemed like a sweet Southern boy next door,” writes Cleveland), Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Halston, Donna Jordan, Andy Warhol, Yves Saint Laurent, and Anjelica Huston, just to name a few—but the story is pure Cleveland, including the origin story of her famous walk (“the idea was to get a straight line from my neck to my knee, so it looked like I was leaning back on something the way you would lean on a bar”). Candid, upbeat—through even the darkest moments—and honest, without being mean-spirited, the book fills in the blanks on one of fashion’s most enduring characters.
Why now? “I’m not getting any younger, and while your memory is still a good tool, you might as well use it to have some fun!” said Cleveland during a phone interview. “It’s a love story to the people who have come into my life—that’s why I called my book Walking With the Muses; it’s something to celebrate those relationships and to say we had lived our young lives together.” Trimming down from a few decades’ worth of diaries and personal writings allowed Cleveland to revisit her past and tap into her creativity. “Writing is a fun thing for me, because I’ve been doing it almost all my life in different ways, whether writing with a paintbrush, with colors, or scribbling a poem—it just turns out I wanted to finish something [this time].” Tackling everything from her time spent as an art student to personal moments with the men she describes as loves of her life, there isn’t an area where she holds back—and that suits her just fine, as long as her readers are along for the ride. “It’s all about inspiration. People need that, so that they can build and go forward—I just keep moving toward the next inspiration, and when the mood hits, I just stay in it. That’s what I want to add, when the mood hits, listen, stay in it, enjoy it, and be in the moment.”