“I don’t smoke cigarettes, so if somebody makes me infuriated I totally turn away and start sketching,” she laughs. “I’m like ‘talk to you later!” You can hear the colour talking to you – you’re just writing your soul across the canvas.” Does it feel more personal exhibiting your artwork than say, modelling, an interpretation of someone else’s vision, I ask. “No no no! There’s no difference, with both it’s just tattooing a spirit onto yourself.” Her mother, Lady Bird, was a celebrated painter herself, but Cleveland had other plans and pursued fashion design in her youth. “I was sewing and pinning and trying to get out of the house trying to make clothes to escape in,” according to Pat. “I call that the great escape: fashion.”
Cleveland’s flamboyant tastes caught the attention of Carrie Donovan, an assistant fashion editor at Vogue, on a New York subway as a teenager (“I was wearing one of my crazy houndstooth hats and mini-skirt that nobody had at the time,” she recalls.) Though her journey from Harlem to modelling for every major fashion house in her heyday was met with racism at every turn, once being told early on in her career ‘you just don’t look like an American.’ Her response? “I thought to myself if I have American, Cherokee and Irish heritage in me I’m definitely American!” she says. “My father’s from Sweden, my mother’s half-black, Irish and everything else and so I thought you know, whatever, who cares – I’ll go to Paris! Everybody is beautiful in their own way, everybody deserves to come up front and take [centre] stage.” Her fate was decided – she would find her own place on the runway.