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A Beautiful Friendship: Pat Cleveland and Stephen Burrows

In art, the presence of a live muse sets the legendary apart from the merely great: the muse elevates, breathes the active into the inanimate. In fashion design, the rigidity of boning and the sinews of fabric within the most beautifully-made garments are testament to this life within a designer's livelihood.

These collaborations have been integral to the design process from the birth of couture through to our prêt-a-porter-dominant times. Difficult though it is to imagine 80s Lagerfeld sans de la Fressange, of 70s superstar Willi Smith separated from his sister Toukie, of 90s Tom Ford without Carine Roitfeld, of Alexander McQueen absent Isabella Blow, it's impossible to imagine Stephen Burrows's masterful designs without the sumptuous force that is Pat Cleveland.

Their enduring relationship has taken them around the world, across decades, and transcended generations (Ms. Cleveland's daughter Anna von Ravelstein has emerged as a tandem muse to Mr. Burrows).

For those who don't know, New Jersey-born Burrows is renowned for his expertise with cut and drape, and is one of the founding fathers of modern American fashion. With his choice to eschew corporate investments, in favor of retaining creative control, Burrows has never compromised his beautiful vision.

The iconic Ms. Cleveland is a former Ebony Fashion Fair model, aspiring designer, and iconic Supermodel (note the capital "S"), whose influence on global fashion is a force to be reckoned with.

B.Couleur recently sat down with Burrows and Cleveland in his atelier, amidst artful sketches, and divinely-appointed rolling racks, to discuss friendship, fashion, and the fabulous life.

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B.COULEUR: Let's start at the beginning: How did you meet? Did one of you seek the other out?

Burrows: It was providence! A Vogue editor brought Pat to a [shoot] of my clothes, when I was at Bendel's [ed note: where Burrows got his start]. Carrie Donovan, of Vogue, booked Pat as one of the models, along with Cher. Pat came, and I fell in love with her, and she fell in love with me, and we've been friends ever since.

Cleveland: At that time, I was designing myself, and when I met Mr. Burrows, I said 'I don't ever have to do a thing again, because he's doing everything the way I would love to do it. And he's so genius, oh my God. I met my master'. And then I thought, 'this is it. I'm giving up designing, because he is it'.

Burrows: And of course Pat looks like my sketches, and that's visually why I fell in love with her, and she's been a muse of mine ever since!

Cleveland: They were kind of like little cartoons, with very elongated figures, and..

Burrows: With long legs...

Cleveland: And very colorful...

Burrows: With little heads...

Cleveland: And very fantasy-like...

Burrows: Pat is the epitome of that.

B.COULEUR: What's the foundation of your special connection?

Cleveland: I believe that we love colors.

Burrows: And we like nice people.

Cleveland: Yes!

[Laughter]

B.COULEUR: How does your unique artist-muse relationship work, and how has it evolved over the years?

Burrows: I think of Pat when I'm designing. She's my body, and now her daughter is too, so it's almost like having twins!

Cleveland: We're loyal to each other too. I love Stephen so much, because he's a really true designer. He never copies anybody, but everybody copies him. You know, if I'm going to wave a flag, that's the flag I want to wave.

We used to travel all over the world, and people would be so astonished: 'what is that? Oh my God!' And then you'd see a little copy out here, and out there, and then BOOM, those designers would get on the map because of something Stephen created. I've seen it all! [laughs] But anyway, he just had the colors that woke people up at a time when people needed to see a little color.

Burrows: A lot of color.

B.COULEUR: Mr. Burrows, I read that you transitioned into designing for theatre at one point, and then returned to prêt-a-porter. What inspired these changes?

Burrows: Well, you're just making a costume instead of something to wear regularly. My friend, Vy Higginsen, produced a play called "Mama, I Want to Sing", and she always wanted me to do the costumes, but at the time it started, in 1984, it wasn't possible. Then in 1986, we were able to pull that together and I did the lead's costumes. I didn't do the whole company's.

B.COULEUR: What inspired your return to fashion in 2002?

Burrows: I like doing it. I love designing, and if I can make a business out of it, I will! I tried to then, and...it's all about finding funding, especially today, and so I'd get started, but if I [couldn't] find the funding – I didn't want to sell my name and I didn't want to be dependent on someone I didn't trust – I would just let myself go out of business until I found another funding possibility. Today it's all about finding funds to at least start a business. What used to cost $5,000 now costs $5 million, and it's not that easy to start up today. It's much different.

B.COULEUR: You mentioned Ms. Cleveland's daughter, Anna. How does she figure into your creativity?

Burrows: They're two different personalities, but their bodies are very similar [laughs], and that's what I "get off" on – besides the fact that she's a wonderful girl. She loves clothes, and we love being together, and it's like family.

B.COULEUR: What's it like for your daughter to follow in your footsteps, not only as a model, but as a muse?

Cleveland: Oh my God! When Stephen dressed her the first time, I was just in awe of the situation. We were in Amsterdam, and there was this big show and Anna hadn't done anything grown up. Stephen put her in this red dress...

Burrows: She was only 12!

Cleveland: She was so little, but he made her feel so important and she went out there and did that show, and it was just a love story blooming. It was just so gorgeous!

Burrows: I don't even remember what dress it [was]! Chiffon?

Cleveland: A little red jersey dress. Or was it chiffon?

Burrows: Didn't it have a low back? That was her first fashion show.

B.COULEUR: What was it like for you to share the triumph of the Grand Divertissement in Paris, in 1973?

Cleveland: His clothes are so simple and colorful, and everything was so pompous and overdone...

Burrows: By the French...

Cleveland: It was so Old World, and Stephen was so New World. No one had ever seen anything like it.

The way the clothes moved, it was like watching the breeze come through the room. It was like a fresh breeze was in the air. Everything was stuffy, and then there was Stephen!

When his models came out, everybody just stood up and started stamping and applauding and throwing their programs in the air. It was amazing. All he had was a spotlight and his talent.

Burrows: I couldn't tell if they liked it, or if they didn't like it – the French. Anyway, all the programs [went] flying up in the air...

Cleveland: And that was at the end of Stephen's segment.

Burrows: That was the end of my segment. I was second.

Cleveland: And after that, everyone sat down.

[Laughter]

Burrows: That was an interesting experience. [In the moment], it wasn't history making like they make it out today. For us, it was just a benefit.

Cleveland: To go to Paris!

Burrows: To go to Paris and do a benefit for the palace of Versailles. It's only today that [it resonates] as this big event – of course the Americans won the event – but it wasn't a battle, it was just to put on a benefit.

Cleveland: We were there with good intentions, to help. But now, it's like 'oh, the battle'. But it did make a shift, because the Parisians acknowledged the American designers.

Burrows: For having talent, not just copying them.

Cleveland: It put America on the map!

Burrows: They thought, before that, that there was no real design. That we just copied them – which was in a way true. But we have our own voice now.

Cleveland: And a younger feeling to it!

Burrows: And that was the beginning of it, on the world fashion stage – [the idea] that Americans have a voice and [we] can be original.

B.COULEUR: Did the Parisians go first, and the Americans second?

Burrows: No, we went first

Cleveland: We were the guests

Burrows: So, the Americans went first.

Cleveland: And the Parisians were the finale.

Burrows: They had Josephine Baker, and it was great to meet her.

Cleveland: We got to meet some of our "preferred stars".

Burrows: Yves St. Laurent...well, Pat already knew him, but I didn't. He told me that my clothes were fabulous.

Cleveland: Yeah, he had seen them on me for years, and Yves just loved Stephen. He didn't talk much [but he'd say] 'Oh, I like that!'

B.COULEUR: Over your career, how have things changed for designers. You mentioned financing, but what else?

Burrows: Fabric technology. The way business is conducted. All of the celebrities calling themselves designers. It's unbelievable. They last for two seconds and then they're gone.

Cleveland: It's not the true art.

Burrows: This puts real designers out of business...

Cleveland: And they don't think you're a designer, unless you're a celebrity. There was a period when designers were celebrities!

Burrows: Now they just take the name "designer" and attach it to their names, and they don't even [design]!

Cleveland: They don't even know how to sew, or cut a pattern, or drape a dress. Designing is creativity. It's creating sculpture for the body.

Burrows: Another designer does it for them, and they put their names on it.

Cleveland: And they usually copy from the past!

Burrows: That's a little disappointing. It's a phenomenon that can't be explained.

Cleveland: It'll pass.

Burrows: We hope it'll pass!

B.COULEUR: There's been a lot of debate about the lack of diversity in modeling recently. Do you think this will change, and why do you think that there was so much more diversity on the runways in the 70s and 80s when this decade and the last were more homogenous?

Cleveland: Diversity of type for me means personality. They've wiped out the personality of the individual.

Burrows: They've taken the models' personalities away. They just want a stick figure to walk down the runway.

Cleveland: And because of economics, they bring in a lot of girls from countries that are doing poorly economically, and they sell ten for the price of one.

[Before] every design house had [its] own models, and now, it's the "blank sheet".

Both: No personality!

Cleveland: But you have a lot of beautiful personality girls in your shows.

Burrows: Well, we're different! I like personality. That's why we used those girls back then – each individual.

Cleveland: Different types.

Burrows: And you would want them to show personality on the runway. Today they don't want that.

Cleveland: But, in your shows they do! It was gorgeous to see a living person wearing the clothes, instead of a robot. Sometimes I do those shows, where I have to blend in, and it's really hard on the soul. It's like you become a robot.

B.COULEUR: Do you ever get the urge to break out?

Cleveland: Oh yeah! I've done it, and then I've had designers say 'this is not the Pat Cleveland Show'. And I'll say 'then why did you hire me?'

[Laughter]

B.COULEUR: Do you think it's a lot about the business? I read that toward the end of the 90s, a lot of executives decided the models were getting paid too much.

Cleveland: There was a bit of greed going on there, through the 80s.

Burrows: They get paid more today than they ever have been!

Cleveland: But it was more the agents. It's the agents that take half of the models' money.

B.COULEUR: In the history of modern fashion, there have been a few epic fall-outs, like Lagerfeld and de la Fressange, Galliano and Amanda Harlech, have you ever had the threat of a rupture?

Both: No!

Cleveland: we're friends! We're family! We grew up together.

Burrows: Nothing like that ever happened with us.

Cleveland: We don't need that.

Burrows: No fighting!

Cleveland: Stephen is very good at keeping people at ease. It's like listening to President Obama. He has an idealistic way of doing things, and he's not pressing it on anyone, but he likes people to be considerate of each other and reflect what we're here for. That's why the clothes are so beautiful – they reflect something gentle and beautiful. It's like catching hummingbirds in a jar and letting them go.

B.COULEUR: What are your most memorable collaborative moments, stylistically or otherwise:

Cleveland: Traveling!

Burrows: Testing! What we used to do in the beginning. We don't do that much anymore...

Cleveland: We do sometimes. We do beautiful pictures.

Burrows: There was a photographer in our group, named Charles Tracy, and we all started in the business around the same time and all became friends. We would go on trips to Puerto Rico, Brazil, and do tests.

Cleveland: Just take the clothes, and have fun and be creative, and just live it. Live it! See how they'd work.

Burrows: We used to love doing that.

Cleveland: [We went to] Paris, we went to Holland together and did a show there. Beautiful things. We had beautiful adventures....It's like the life you live in the clothes. You have a little fashion family.

Burrows: We used to run around in a little pack of people all dressed in my clothes.

Cleveland: This entourage arriving like peacocks.

B.COULEUR: If you could time travel back to the beginning of your careers, what would you change?

Cleveland: I chose everything.

Burrows: It [was] too fabulous, I wouldn't change anything.

Cleveland: it was divine order. You know, I was the mistake. It was supposed to be Norma Jean who was supposed to meet Stephen. I was born a mistake, and I'm continuing to make mistakes. I'm the flawed one, but I end up in the most perfect situations.

'I thought you were Norma Jean!' Carrie Donovan said to me. I said 'No, I'm Pat', and she said 'well, okay, let's take you up there.'

It was actually Joel Schumacher and Maning Obregon, the illustrator who used to work with Diana Vreeland, who brought me up to Vogue. Joel Schumacher convinced Carrie Donovan to bring me to Stephen.

Burrows: [Softly] Oh! I hadn't heard that.

Cleveland: She said ' don't know...she's so skinny'. I went up there as a designer, and Joel and Manny said 'no, no! We love her!' Because I reminded them of a boy that used to dress like a girl...

Burrows: Juan?!

Cleveland: [Laughter] yes. And they said, 'we have to use her for the drawings.' I was so shocked. Suddenly, I was at Vogue and I was no longer designing. I was suddenly modeling. I was there, hoping to get over to Givenchy in Paris, and then: 'no, no! You're going to model, and you're going to meet Stephen', and then I saw his drawings...Oh my gosh. Those drawings. And I said, 'Oh my gosh! They're so beautiful...'

Burrows: Another great body, besides Pat was Alva Chinn.

Cleveland: She had great shoulders...You had all these top, very impressive, young women

Burrows: Naomi Sims, Iman..

Cleveland: That went on to become these divas. You had everyone.

Burrows: And remember bald Pat Evans?

Cleveland: Pat Evans was an African American model who had taken her hair off, to represent black beauty without all that artificial stuff. She was gorgeous. They were all totally different!

Everything went along with the music, actually...

Burrows: And Amina...

Cleveland: Amina! The first female rapper. Such characters.

B.COULEUR: You mentioned music. What type of music do you like to play?

Burrows: Mambo, rhythm and blues, the Philadelphia sound...

B.COULEUR: Ms Cleveland, will you describe Mr. Burrows in a few words?

Cleveland: A genius, brilliant, lively, giving, a rainbow, futuristic, continuously excellent, everything, everything that signifies creativity. He just sees the light. He sees colors that no one else can see. He's a seamless seam. Numero uno!

B.COULEUR: Mr. Burrows, will you describe Ms. Cleveland in a few words?

Burrows: Loving, artistic, beautiful, ethereal, she's a poet, and very loyal.

Cleveland: I love you. He's my second skin.

Burrows: And an inspiration! Always positive. Always looking up, always going forward.

Cleveland: Let's go forward.

B.COULEUR: Do you feel that you've encountered racism in fashion?

Burrows: I've only encountered it once. There was a store in the south that came to my show that didn't know I was black, and when they found out, they left.

Cleveland: Oh my gosh!

Burrows: But that's the only time that I knew about.

B.COULEUR: Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?

Burrows: Go to school, and take some business courses on the side, because you've got to know about business for funding. [It's also wise to] learn something about profit and loss, and cash flow. Just so you know something about the business. It's not all glamour – you're trying to make money off of a product you're trying to sell people, and you should know about the business side of it, because it involves putting the artistic and the business together, so you can have something commercial. So that you can have a healthy business. It's not all glam like it appears in the magazines. It's a lot of hard work.

B.COULEUR: Have either of you had a fairy godmother or a fairy godmother, in your career?

Cleveland: Carrie Donovan.

Burrows: I guess Geraldine Stutz would be mine. She was the President of Bendel's.

Cleveland: And also Mrs. Johnson.

Burrows: From Ebony. That's where Pat started – Ebony Fashion Fair.

 

Pat Cleveland Story
Photographer: Marko Kalfa
Creative Director: Laurean Ossorio
Hair & Make-up: Andrea Mackay


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