Sunday, February 6, 2011

Black Butterflies: Trailblazing African American Models Soared to New Vistas

It Began with a Dream ...

 (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.  
For This Black Butterfly, a Dream Doesn't Stop at "No."  
She Soars Over Uncharted Terrain with Grace 
Purpose and Determination.


Dorothea Towles Church - First African American Model
Before Dorothea Towles Church followed her older sister to Paris -- an aspiring classical pianist who was performing with the Fisk University Choir -- there was no African American model in 1946 commanding the couture runways for French designers ... Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Pierre Balmain.

(Dorothea Towles Church)

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."   

Her new-found modeling skills gave her confidence to approach French designers.  Struck by her sophistication and elegance, Christian Dior hired her to fill in for an in-house model on vacation.

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.

Her perseverance paid off.  Gosta photographed her for the cover of the New York Times August 1967 fashion supplement and cracked opened the industry door.. 

A clever Naomi then coaxed former Model Wilhelmina Cooper, who was starting her own agency, into adding her phone number to the fashion supplement photo she was sending to advertising agencies.  If they liked what they saw they would call and Wilhelmina would get the commission. 

They liked what they saw.  A year later she was earning $1,000 a week.  Her breakthrough came when she did an AT&T commercial wearing a Bill Blass design.  Shortly thereafter, she became the first African American supermodel to grace the cover of Ladies Home Journal in 1968 and Life Magazine in 1969.  Her appearance on Ladies Home Journal helped fueled the "Black is Beautiful" movement emerging in 1969 and the early 1970s.    (Donyale Luna - Vogue Cover)

Where Naomi proudly wore her African American culture and beauty as a badge of courage, they appeared to be thorns for another emerging model, according to reports.  Donyale Luna identified herself as a Mexican, Egyptian, Native American ... and a European with African roots at the end of a long ethnic list.  

Her fiery determination took her to a Paris agency where she made history becoming the first African American to appear on the cover of British Vogue in 1966.   

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?  

Artist Edward Brandford began his agency with business associates Barbara Watson and Mary Louise Yarbo.  Around the same time, a former model, Ophelia DeVore opened her agency door.

 (Ophelia DeVore)

When a fair-skinned DeVore began modeling at 16, she passed for Norwegian and secured several lucrative contracts in Europe.  Prior to 1946, light-skinned African American women had to pass for white in order to achieve employment and training in the fashion industry.  DeVore attended the Vogue Modeling School as a white woman.  

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.) 

 Meet Me at the Theresa: The Story of Harlem's Most Famous Hotel 

(Palmer Memorial Institute) (Students taking a charm course at the Palmer Memorial Institute, an elite boarding school for African American girls in South Carolina.) 

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)

A year earlier, Ebony Magazine  (1945) hit the news stands and six years later, Jet Magazine (1951) joined the marketplace. 

A medium for African American beauty and success, the magazines showcased talent in business, entertainment, medicine, law, etc. and inspired others to achieve despite the segregation climate.   
Essence Magazine, a fashion magazine for African American women, joined these stellar periodicals in May 1970.  

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)

At first, their models' bread and butter came from photo shoots for Ebony and Jet Magazines, advertisements for African American hair/beauty products and from church/organization fashion shows until the mainstream market started taking notice.   In the late 1940s, models of color billed at $7.50 per hour, half the rate of white models.   

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.)

(Helen Williams)

(Model - Sarah Lou Carter Harris)

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.   

Fast Forward to 2011, almost 65 years later, Grace Del Marco Models & Talent for Print, Television and Film is still going strong representing an ethnic spectrum of models.  At the helm, Dee Simmons-Edelstein runs the agency as the Executive Director and VP of Ophelia DeVore Associates.  Its website states: "... Grace Del Marco has chosen the path of promoting varied ethnicities of men and women to champion cultural advancement."

A former top model for Grace Del Marco Models, Simmons-Edelstein was the first model of color to appear as a principal in a U.S. commercial for Artra Cosmetics. 

"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."
1Timothy 4:14

 (Alva Chinn)

Miracles and Blessings ... iCafe Woman
Moderne divas, Happy Black History Month!  I'm so excited because Kiki's letting me host today's text-webisode ... Black Butterflies:  Trailblazing African American Models Soared to New Vistas.  

Our trailblazing models also carved out success as "divas-in-charge" aka entrepreneurs with beauty companies, (Naomi Sims, Beverly Johnson, Wanakee Pugh...)

(Wanakee Pugh)

... modeling agencies, (Ophelia DeVore, Bethann Hardison...) lifestyle empire, (B. Smith - food, beauty, home decor and television syndication)

fashion empires ... 


(Kimora Lee Simmons) and television franchises... (Tyra Banks).

 (Glamour Fashion)

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. 
 (Toccara Jones)

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. 

Barbie Designer Stacey McBride-Irby created and designed the So in Style collection. (Stay tuned for more info. in a future text-webisode.)

But there's more...  January 2011, the So in Style Barbies have teamed up with Designers Angela and Vanessa Simmons and launched the So in Style Pastry Barbies collection.  You can now find So in Style Barbies wearing Pastry designs with a mouse click on Amazon and at Target and Walmart and Toys r Us.

Vogue Italia All-Black Model Issue

(From left, Liya Kebede, Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn, and Naomi Campbell)

According to Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani, she was inspired by President Barack Obama's campaign and the lack of diversity on the runways. 

 (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.”

(Naomi Sims)

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. 

 (Barbara Summers)
I've been modeling for about a year now and already been in ads, magazines covers and commercials here and overseas.  I thought I was here to talk about my career.  But Kiki told me that it was important for us to know who came before us, understand their struggles, so that we can appreciate where we're going and pay it forward to the little ones looking up.
(Naomi Sims)

The last thing I wanted to do was research.  First I thought ... what a pain ... until I read about Dorothea Towles Church, Naomi Sims, Donyale Luna and Sara Lou Carter Harris who was the first African American Glam Girl for the Lucky Strike ads, but her posters were only distributed in the black neighborhoods.  

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.

Then I read about how Brandford created a new standard for black models known as the "Brandford Look," a svelte woman with long hair and skin not too dark that women wanted to be and advertisers wanted to market.  

In 1953, Barbara Watson, Brandford's director, bought the agency for $10,000 and changed its name to Barbara Watson Models.  She immediately fought for her models to become more mainstreamed. 

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.

It's amazing how these 1940s, 1950s and 1960s models kept it together not being able to drink at certain water fountains or eat at certain restaurants even up North.

 (Four generations of models from left:  Liya Kebede, Iman, Bethann Hardison and Naomi Campbell)

Our cultured pearls paved the way for Bethann Hardison, Alva Chinn, Pat Cleveland, Beverly Johnson, Iman, B. Smith, Peggy Dillard, Karen Alexander, Gail O'Neill, Roshumba Williams, Beverly Peele, Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb, Tyra Banks, Kimora Lee Simmons... and today's diamonds:  Victoria's Secret Model Chanel Iman Robinson, Liya Kebede, Jourdan Dunn... and the list goes on.

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.

Changing the Look of Fashion - 1973 Versailles Fashion Show

(Versailles Fashion Show - 1973)

2011 Luncheon Tribute for the Versailles Models at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Pictured left to right:  Amina Warsuma, Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Charlene Dash, Alva Chin, China Machado, Billie Blair and Bethann Hardison)

What changed the course of the modeling industry was the battle of the fashion titans, the famed 1973 Versailles Fashion Show to celebrate the restoration of the Palace of Versailles, where French kings lived from1682 until 1790.  It wasn't the only thing aging, the French ornate custom-made traditions squared off with the American new ready-to-wear collections and the signs of the future.  

Five French couturiers:  Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Pierre Cardin went up against American Designers:  Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Halston and Ann Klein.

 (Pat Cleveland)

But it was when the all-black/multi-racial models stepped onto the catwalk and stole the show with their stylized way of strutting down the runway.  In that moment the fashion industry changed forever.  Black models soared in the seventies and eighties appearing on numerous magazine covers, cosmetic ads and commercials for the first time. These Black Butterflies shined like cut diamonds.

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.

On Monday, January 24, The Metropolitan Museum of Art brought back our queens and celebrated the November 28, 1973 Versailles Fashion Show Models in a tribute luncheon co-hosted by fashion design greats, Stephen Burrows and Oscar de la Renta. 

Did you see them?  Wow!  Age is so just number.  IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) they're even more beautiful with seasoning.  The models honored were:  Amina Warsuma, Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Charlene Dash, Alva Chin, China Machado, Billie Blair, Bethann Hardison, Barbara Jackson and Ramona Saunders.

Six years after Donyale's British Vogue Cover, Beverly Johnson became the first African American model on U.S. Vogue in 1974.

Glamour Magazine's former editor-in-chief for 31 years, Phyllis Whitney, once wrote Johnson a note congratulating her on her ability to transcend racial barriers in the industry.   

Johnson hadn't even realized she was the first black model on the U.S. Vogue cover until a reporter told her.

It became clear to her that she had a part in changing the course of history and moving it forward, so future ethnic models could live their dreams and flourish.  She could be the girl-next-door on one cover, and the sultry diva on another.   Johnson's face appeared on more than 500 magazine covers and by 1975 every major American fashion designer began using African American 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."

 Yeah, we made strides, but breaking through the racial barriers had its challenges.  Dior asked Towles to bleach her hair blonde, which she did, and made a head-turning statement on Paris runways and streets.  She once overheard someone referred to her as a Tahitian.

Towles asked Designer Pierre Balmain if she could borrow clothes from his latest collection for an Ebony shoot.  He turned her down flat fearing that his white clients would no longer want to do business.  So she took it upon herself to start purchasing clothes from the designers' collections.  

Towles returned to the U.S. with a bunch of suit cases full of designer clothes.  She wasn't playing.  She signed with Grace Del Marco, but didn't achieve the same success in the U.S.  

That didn't stop her from producing fashion shows for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., recruiting the Soros as models with instruction on how to walk from her.

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.

Liya Kebede
 (Liya Kebede)

(Vogue May 2009)

Kebede wears many hats like those before her.  She's also a mother, activist/philanthropist, designer and actress.  Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a film director spotted her attending school at Lycee Guebre Mariam and introduced her to a French modeling agent.  

After completing her studies, she joined a Parisian agency and then moved to New York City.  Her popularity skyrocketed when she appeared on the cover of Paris Vogue's 2002 edition, which dedicated the entire issue to her.  In 2003 Kebede was named the Face of Estee Lauder Cosmetics and the first Ethiopian to serve as their representative in the company's 57 year history.  She's been featured in numerous ad campaigns including:  Revlon, Gap, Yves Saint-Laurent, Victoria's Secret, Emanuel Ungaro ... 

According to Conor Kennedy, an Elite Model Management Booker.  Kebede is one of a very few African models featured in major fashion photo shoots and runway shows.  He said in 2003:  "It's like there's only room for one very successful black model at a time. 

 In July 2007, Forbes named her eleventh in the list of the World's 15 Top-Earning Supermodels. In 2008, Kebede was featured on one of the four covers of Vogue Italia's all-Black Issue.  

Kebede was appointed in 2005 as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.  She then founded the Liya Kebede Foundation, whose mission is to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality in Ethiopia and around the world.

Lemlem, her clothing line launched in 2008, which means "to bloom" in Amharic -- features hand-spun, woven and embroidered women and children's clothing.  Kebede founded the line to help preserve the art of traditional weaving and bring sustainable economic development to Ethiopia.

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.)

You might also like these products:

Pure Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (Organic) 16 oz 

Wild Growth Hair Oil 

Born Beautiful: The African American Teenager's Complete Beauty Guide
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The Inkwell

Barbie African-American Miss February Birthstone Beauties
Barbie African-American Miss February Birthstone Beauties

Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women's Activism in the Beauty Industry (Women in American History)
Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women's Activism in the Beauty Industry (Women in American History)

1 comment:

Tee said...

This is a very informative article. I found it because I am looking for any reference to Brandford Models or Barbara Watson Models because my father, William Sudderth, was a model with this agency back in the '50s (and possibly late '40s). My family has lost a number of photos and would like to find out if there is an archive to look through and possibly attain some pictures of my dad. If this is possible or if there someone I can contact, please respond to this comment. Thank you so much in advance!