Sharmain Beddoe-Howard – The Queen of Cool
Words by Carolyn Bridgeman, Gabby Cleveland, Julian Beltrano
EARLY LIFE & CAREER
On October 26, 1960, Sharmain Beddoe-Howard was born in Boissiere Village, just east of Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, where she lived with her parents and three siblings Ann Marie, Katina and Adam.
Five years later, with her walking-doll in hand, Beddoe-Howard, alongside her grandmother, arrived in Canada, where she was reunited with her parents, who had moved to Toronto in 1963.
At the ripe age of 16, Beddoe-Howard was headhunted on the streets of New York and recruited by a modelling agency. This would mark the beginning of Beddoe-Howard’s modelling career.
After quickly dominating the North American fashion arena, Beddoe-Howard set off to tackle new territory in Europe, where she worked with some of fashion’s most extraordinary designers, from Yves Saint Laurent to Vivienne Westwood.
Beddoe-Howard says, “One of my favourite people to work with was Yves Saint Laurent. He was a genius who never took measurements. You would have to put a leotard on, and he would sort of line you all up, look at you, and put the measurements together by visualizing them on his model.”
However, modelling wasn’t always as glamorous as it appeared to be, according to Beddoe-Howard. During the pre-digital age, before the 1980s, Black models and models of colour were blocked by systemic racism within the industry.
“I would be told my legs are too long, that I’m not Black enough or that I’m not light enough,” says Beddoe-Howard.
While Black models were approved for the runway, appearing on magazine covers was still considered controversial, says Beddoe-Howard. “To become a really good Black artist, you had to build this facade. But why does an artist have to come from the street?” muses Beddoe-Howard.
And while the fashion industry has seen some improvements in terms of greater diversity and representation, persistent problems of systemic racism remain an ongoing issue within it. For example, Naomi Campbell has 8 Vogue covers, in comparison, Gigi Hadid has 35 covers.