(1990 Revlon Adl - Beverly Johnson, Louise Vyent and Iman)
That Flew Her Over Barriers and Through the Woods.
She Found a Home and Left a Trail for Others to Follow.
Dorothea Towles Church - First African American Model
What was her defining moment to boldly go where no African American woman has gone before? Did that voice inside her say, "Why not me?" With obvious intellect, she graduated from Wiley College at 18, and in 1945 enrolled in the Dorothy Ferrier Modeling School, where she was the only "colored girl."
Naomi Sims, Pioneer Black Model of the 1960s and 1970s
Now suppose Naomi Sims hadn't contacted New York Times Photographer Gosta Peterson, after being turned down by agencies ... often told she was too dark. She didn't let growing up in foster care after her mother's death, or financial struggles that stopped her studies at FIT - Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and psychology classes at New York University ... be the reason for failure. Failure never crossed her mind.
What would've happened to the industry if the first African American modeling agencies: Brandford Models and Grace Del Marco Models hadn't open their doors in 1946?
She filled the void by establishing a modeling agency to create a new market for non-white women where they didn't have to pass for white to get jobs. Nevertheless, the African American models who won accounts reinforced society's Anglo-Saxon norm with their light skin and long, straight hair. They did not reflect the diversity of the African American community they represented. Her models appeared in ads for Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi-Cola, Shick, Anheuser Bush, Clairol and Revlon.
DeVore started the Grace Del Marco Modeling and Charm School in 1948 to offer her "refinement training" to a broad spectrum of teens and women. "DeVore trained them (not only to be professional models) but to be ambassadors of black womanhood to the larger white society. She believed that white Americans would be compelled to alter their perception of the black woman after encountering her students." (Meet Me at the Theresa: The Story of Harlem's most Famous Hotel by Sondra K. Wilson.)
Ophelia DeVore's impressive alum include Actresses Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson; Recording Artist Faith Evans and Susan L. Taylor, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus - Essence Magazine.
(19-year-old Diahann Carroll)
All three magazines continue to appeal to wealthy, middle-class and working class readers in the 21st Century.
(Photo of Donyale Luna - right - Lipstick Alley)
But DeVore found an edge. She used France as the launching pad for her models. DeVore landed a photo shoot for Helen Williams in 1959 with Christian Dior and improved the model's U.S. bookings.
By 1961, Williams' hourly rate was $50 to $100. DeVore could bill even inexperienced black models at the rate of $15-$30 and hour. (Life. Vol. 67. 1969. p. 36. October 17.)
By the early 1950s, an estimated 200 African American models worked in New York City through Brandford Models and Grace Del Marco Models and several more agencies: Sepia Arts, Bailey and Gwyn-Lo.
"Do not neglect your gift which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid hands on you. Be diligent in these matters, give yourself wholly to them so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."
Our trailblazing models also carved out success as "divas-in-charge" aka entrepreneurs with beauty companies, (Naomi Sims, Beverly Johnson, Wanakee Pugh...)
... modeling agencies, (Ophelia DeVore, Bethann Hardison...) lifestyle empire, (B. Smith - food, beauty, home decor and television syndication)
(Kimora Lee Simmons) and television franchises... (Tyra Banks).
From Glamour Fashion
In August 2008, The Tyra Banks Show examined the state of race in the modeling industry with Beverly Johnson and a few of her modeling friends, Veronica Webb and Chanel Iman...
They took to the New York City streets celebrating the "All-Black Model" issue of Vogue Italia with the "Who's Who" of black models: Beverly Johnson, B. Smith, Pat Cleveland, Chanel Iman, Selita Ebanks and Veronica Webb ... releasing hundreds of black balloons into the air. The show aired on Sept 11, 2008 right in the middle of New York Fashion Week.
For another first, Vogue Italia photographed Plus Model Toccara Jones, of America's Next Top Model (Cycle 3) fame for this history-making issue.
Vogue Italia chose an exclusively black model issue to honor Black Barbie and the September 29, 2009 launch of the So In Style Barbies collection touting authentic physical features and promoting knowledge, mentoring, beauty and fashion among African American girls.
(President Barack Obama and Family)
“I thought, it’s ridiculous, this discrimination,” said Photographer Steven Meisel. “It’s so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race — every kind of prejudice.”
Duh, I'm sorry... I didn't introduce myself. I'm Brianna, one of the regulars here at iCafe Woman Moderne. I'm 20 and also a model in New York City. In about 30 minutes, it's going to get insanely loud in here because a group of black teen models... all newbies... are showing up to meet me. So I thought. All but two have signed with agencies.
She was one of "Brandford Lovelies," the first 12 models signed to the agency. Sara Lou changed the stereotypes from servant to high fashion in the late 1940s. She was the first Negro model in the New York Buyers' Fashion Show.
By the early 1950s, Watson supervised models of color whose faces appeared in ads for: Beech-Nut Gum, Ipana Tooth Paste, Colgate, Tampax, Remington Rand, Tetley Tea, Noxema, Lucky Strike, and Lysol.
(Four generations of models from left: Liya Kebede, Iman, Bethann Hardison and Naomi Campbell)
I loved how Naomi Sims turned down the starring role in the movie Cleopatra Jones because she didn't like the negative images portrayed. She wanted to send a positive message to African American girls and women. She saw a need for more natural-looking wigs and ran with it. She retired from modeling after five years in the business and started her own successful wig company.
This blossomed into the launch of a perfume that expanded into cosmetics for ethnic women, with Sims giving birth to a beauty conglomerate by the 1980s. As founder and CEO of the Naomi Sims Collection that grew into: The Naomi Sims Beauty Care System (sold online), she oversaw a multimillion-dollar range of wigs, skin care products, and cosmetics specifically designed for black women.
(Pictured left to right: Amina Warsuma, Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Charlene Dash, Alva Chin, China Machado, Billie Blair and Bethann Hardison)
From Afro Globe:
In her book, Skin Deep: Inside the World of Black Fashion Models and Black and Beautiful: How Women of Color Changed the Fashion Industry, Barbara Summers, a former model and authority on the history of black models, highlights these comments from the event.
"The most dramatic moment came when Bethann Hardison stalked down the runway in a tight-fitting yellow silk halter by Burrows holding a floor-length train by a tiny ring on her pinky. When Hardison reached center stage, she made a dramatic turn and haughtily dropped her train."
"The audience exploded in a frenzy of approval. They stomped, screamed and tossed their programs into the air. The aristocratic Paris audience was happily stunned by the showmanship of the black models from America and the no-fuss backgrounds and elegant wearability of the American collections ..."
Summers points out that although the African American models were the stars of the show, the working conditions were deplorable. They endured 11 hours of rehearsing without food and little water, and received less than twenty-five dollars per day for spending money and three hundred dollars in salary for the show, less than the white models.
Katiti Kironde, a college student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, won the Glamour Magazine cover in August 1968 for Glamour Magazine’s Top 10 Best-Dressed College Girls issue."
Blazing the Trail - AKA Alpha Kappa Alpha by Pita Ohiwerei 8"x10" Art Print Poster
Every Little Girl's Dream - AKA Alpha Kappa Alpha by Lester J. Kern 8"x10" Art Print Poster
Chanel Iman Robinson
(Chanel Iman Robinson)
Iman began modeling at age 13 with Ford Models in Los Angeles. In 2006, she won third place in Ford's Supermodel of the World contest in New York City. Vogue named her as one of the world's next top supermodels in 2007. She walked the Victoria's Secret catwalk in 2009 and became a Victoria's Secret Angel in 2010.
Her face has adorned many covers including: Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Flare, Lulu, (Korean Magazine), Italian Vanity Fair, etc.
She also walked the runways for Christian Dior, (Towles first designer) Yves St. Laurent, Vera Wang, Versace ... In 2009 she walked the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, and in 2010 became a Victoria's Secret Angel following Tyra Banks trail.
(Vogue May 2009)
Like Mother, Like Daughter
(Pat Cleveland and daughter Anna Ravenstein. Cleveland returned to the runway five years ago, walking at the Bill Blass and Stephen Burrows shows in New York and is now in her late fifties.)
Born Beautiful: The African American Teenager's Complete Beauty Guide
Barbie African-American Miss February Birthstone Beauties
Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women's Activism in the Beauty Industry (Women in American History)