Anna Cleveland has been on the fashion scene since she was born and for over two decades she has graced the covers of Vogue and many other major publications as well as appearing in numerous advertising campaigns. Her relationship with the designer Jean Paul Gaultier has flourished over the years and for the last six months, Anna has put her modelling career on hold to star in Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show at the Folies Bergère in Paris.
Cleveland’s atypical beauty comes from her distinct ancestry; she is African American, Cherokee, Irish, and Swedish. Anna’s mother, Pat Cleveland, is an icon of the 1970’s fashion scene. She was the first African American model to pose for the greatest photographers, such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, and her pictures appeared in the most prestigious fashion magazines. She was a close friend of the Studio 54 crowd and she was the muse of great artists such as Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, as well as Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Halston, and many others. Modelling allowed her mother to travel the world, mix with countless artists and celebrities, and Anna, grew up on the catwalks alongside her mother from a very early age.
1. Anna, how did you first get into modelling and at what age?
The first photo shoot I did was when I was two months old. Then I did my first show when I was five or six in the Piazza di Spagna in Italy. If you have ever seen those steps you would realize the extensive training I received for my first runway show. The training was never ending; it was an enormous challenge to walk down those slippery steps with bright lights shining in my face.
2. What was it like for you growing up so close to the fashion industry and with your mother who has always been and still is so involved?
I grew up in an environment of creativity. Everything you dream of, you can achieve. The fashion business is beautiful because when you look past the business and politics, it is a place of creativity and invention.
Photographers - STUDIO L’ÉTIQUETTE @ARTANDCOMMERCE
Makeup Artist - LILI CHOI @CALLISTEAGENCY
Hair Stylist - FRANCO ARGENTO @THEWALLGROUP
Manicurist - HANAÉ GOUMRI @THEWALLGROUP
Choreographer - JORDAN ROBSON @CLMAGENCY
Set Designer - CÉDRIC COLONGES
Producer - BILLIE ALEMAN @NEWLIGHTFILMS
Talent - ANNA CLEVELAND @NEXTMANAGEMENT
All Makeup by M.A.C COSMETICS
3. Your mother was known for her famous walk and you have seen her on so many runways. How has your mother influenced your style on the catwalk?
I remember coming to Paris and watching my mother at a Kenzo fashion show; the stage was a circus with animals and clowns and every character imaginable. It was a « show » and I could feel my mother’s excitement rising and yet she was peaceful amidst the creative chaos. I carry that with me in my heart.
4. When was your first big break in the fashion industry?
My first big break was when I was twelve and Karl Lagerfeld flewme, and my mother to walk down the runway of the Chanel show in Paris; it was an unforgettable moment and I was the youngest girl ever to walk down the runway. Also, when I was twelve, another big break came when French Vogue did a twelve-page layout with me and again I was the youngest girl to do so.
5. Today, the fashion world celebrates difference and diversity. What is your opinion on diversity in the fashion industry?
Finally, diversity is being embraced more and more. In my opinion we are slowly becoming a more integrated industry. Gender roles are becoming less and less defined. We are finding more ways to express ourselves as individuals.
6. How has modelling changed since the early 70’s when your mother started her career?
Modelling has changed since the 70’s because with social media, the industry is more accessible to a much broader spectrum of people; it’s no longer just for the « elite ». Today fashion is a spectacle for the entire world to see.
7. Your family history is so diverse, could you please tell us about your family history?
I come from a background on the stage. My grandmother used to make feathered costumes for Josephine Baker. My great aunt was one of Josephine Baker’s teachers and she recognized Baker’s talent and told her to move to Paris, which she did! Her performances were controversial in her time. Today, I am performing on the same stage at the Folies Bergère that Josephine performed on.
8. What encouraged you to start your collaboration with Jean Paul and the Fashion Freak Show? Did you have any doubts about putting your modelling career on hold?
I was born to be a showgirl and that is why I took a leap of faith to explore uncharted territories. I have always loved the thrill of acting. Jean Paul took a leapt of faith too into doing something new as well.
9. How do you define your friendship with Jean Paul? Could you briefly tell us how it started?
I always dreamed of finding a home where I could be suffused with art and creativity and Jean Paul took me under his wing when I first moved to Paris. I started doing fittings with him and I’ve been with him throughout the creative process. We would play and find new characters. I became the in house model for Jean Paul and there I discovered true friendship, loyalty, and being part of an artistic family. He allowed me to show all the different facets of my life and to grow.
10. What are some of your favourite destinations having travelled the world?
Currently my favourite place to be is Lago Maggiore in Italy at a small healing meditation center called Albagnano where they teach the art of tantric self-healing.