Mom-daughter models: 'Your flaw is your best feature'

Model mom: That flaw is your best feature
Model mom: That flaw is your best feature

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Story highlights

  • Anna Cleveland walked in shows during New York Fashion Week
  • Her mom, Pat Cleveland, is a legendary model from the 1960s and 1970s

New York (CNN)When model Anna Cleveland twirled down a New York Fashion Week runway this week in a navy Zac Posen gown with triangular waist cutouts, it was hard to mistake her famous fashion-family lineage.

For five decades now, another woman has sashayed down fashion-show runways around the globe with a similar theatrical flair: her mother.
Pat Cleveland became a catwalk enigma during the Age of Aquarius of the 1960s and '70s. With her mixed ethnic heritage -- white, black and Native American -- she danced the lines of race just as she danced down the runways of Paris and New York with a finesse akin to Josephine Baker.
Pat jump-started her career as a model for the Ebony Fashion Fair when she was just 15 years old. Her curly, free-flowing black hair and her signature runway twirls quickly set her apart. Soon, she was not only posing for Ebony but for the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair.
She was painted by Salvador Dali, partied with Andy Warhol and modeled for Halston alongside of-the-moment beauty icons like Anjelica Huston and Shelley Hack.
"Girls wanted to be boys. We had cigarettes; we had the pill," Pat Cleveland, whose full name is Patricia, said of her androgynous stage name and free-spirited approach.
Though she is credited with revolutionizing both the runway and perceptions of beauty of that era, she said she had more than a fair share of doors slammed in her face.
Now, as her daughter navigates the same high-fashion industry, CNN sat down with the mother-daughter duo to talk about beauty. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CNN: Anna, what was your first memory of fashion?
Anna Cleveland: I remember my first pair of shoes that my mom got me, and they were these pink, little plastic shoes. And I remember putting them on and that sound of, like, "Tic, tic, tic, tic" -- there was something about that sound. ... It made me feel really good: empowered, confident somehow.
CNN: What did you mother teach you about beauty?
Anna Cleveland: One thing that I think was interesting growing up as a kid, I got made fun of a lot because I was different. I was a flagpole, and all the girls had beautiful breasts, and I had no breasts! She told me you don't have to fit into a category.
Pat Cleveland: First of all, look at the goddesses. Throughout history, there have been different types of beauty. There are so many forms of the feminine, and just take that and say, "Here I am, this divine, feminine creature."
Anna Cleveland: I think it's finding one feature of yourself, one feature that really makes you happy.
Pat Cleveland: And it's always your flaw that is your best feature.
CNN: What's that feature for you?
Pat Cleveland: I know I have (had) very curly hair. It was always a problem for me, but it kind of became my flying carpet. I kind of have a crookedy nose, and my nose is one of my (distinctive) features. You grow into it.
Anna Cleveland: My longness, my nose. I have very long features. I learned to love that looking back at Modigliani paintings. I found that "Oh, this person resembled me a little bit." And I started to realize this long feature is who I am, and I better accept and roll with it.
Pat Cleveland: Truly. New looks rock the boat, and they break the mold. That's what you got to do: You got to rock the boat a little bit.
CNN: And you certainly did that, Pat.
Pat Cleveland: In the 1960s, it was really difficult in America because it was black and white, and I was standing on the fence like, 'Oh, do I need to tip this way or that way?'
Anna Cleveland: It's so beautiful to be a mixture of everything. You feel like you can fit in wherever you go.
CNN: The fashion industry is often criticized for the opposite -- for unrealistic body image.
Pat Cleveland: What I want to say about body image is that every beautiful woman is beautiful first -- like a flower -- from the inside. But you have to recognize that beauty. And now we have all sorts of images -- thank God -- and everything is eclectic and just so individual. Beauty is finding your own individual state of being. So, you can either water yourself with love or hate yourself.
CNN: So why this? Why fashion?
Anna Cleveland: Life is about creating something that you love and finding what you love. Being my mother's daughter, I went through a phase where I thought, is it really my thing, or is it her thing? At a certain point, I kind of rejected it. And in that time, I found how much fashion brought me to life and it was something that inspired me.
CNN: Both of you have been described as "muses" for various designers.
Anna Cleveland: I never thought that. Being a muse is being amusing. It's taking a vision and creating reality. I think for me it becomes not of myself, it becomes for them. You're an extension of them. I like to call it chameleon-izing. I like to play different characters; this dress makes me feel like a catwoman; this dress makes me feel like a princess, etc.
CNN: What does it take?
Pat Cleveland: It's an attitude, and it depends on society. Having owned a modeling agency, I've seen different types of beauties come in because of the political atmosphere, so you have to think it's a global state of affairs as to what kind of beauty will be prominent at what time. I think everyone will have a chance at some time.
CNN: Pat, any last general advice to mothers with or without children in the fashion business?
Pat Cleveland: You have to be nourishing, be present and have gravity. When they get off track, pull them back.

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A photo posted by Anna Cleveland (@anna_vrc) on