Most people agree that the fashion world has a long way to go until it achieves racial equality. Magazines and runways could be way more diverse, BUT we've made some big strides since the first black model appeared on the cover of British Vogue in 1966. Before Naomi and Tyra became household names, there was a generation of women who paved the way. In honor of MLK day, here is a list of black supermodels who have helped the fashion industry inch towards equality.
The Somalian supermodel and activist has carved out an unconventional career for herself. Her gynecologist mother and diplomat father made education a priority, and she had no interest in fashion before she was discovered. After rising to fame in the 70s and 80s, she graced countless covers and was a muse for YSL's African Queen collection. She retired from the business in 1989 and married rocker David Bowie three years later. Her more recent activism has brought attention to women's rights in Africa.
Born in Buffalo, Beverly Johnson began modeling in 1971, when she was 19 years old. She started out at the Ford agency but was told she'd never get a cover because of her race. Undaunted, she moved to the Wilhemina agency. Not long after, in 1974, she became the first black woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue. Over the course of her career she has appeared in countless magazines and in films such as The Parent 'Hood and Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns.
Donyale Luna was the first black model to appear on a Vogue cover. Born in Detroit, she was featured on the March 1966 issue of British Vogue. She was unusual, and was known to tell people that she was from Mars. Time magazine declared 1966 "The Luna Year" because she was seen in so many magazines. Donyale lived in Europe throughout her career, because she felt that people didn't make as much of an issue about her race there. Despite her success she led a troubled life and died of an overdose in 1979. She left behind a husband and infant daughter. These three trailblazing ladies were instrumental in waking up the modeling industry and redefining notions of beauty. The path towards racial equality has been a long process, and they deserve major props for taking the leads on this hard fought campaign for change.
Feature image photographed by Paola Kudacki and uploaded by The Coincidental Dandy via Flickr
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