As we reach the end of Black History Month, there are so many great moments to celebrate in black history. Among the pioneers for equality are women of color, particularly black supermodels. While diversity is still far from where we hope it will be, some very beautiful, resilient women have made great strides. Let’s take a moment to celebrate some of those who broke down doors to pave the way for women of color in the industry today:
American model Donyale Luna was the first black model to be on any Vogue cover in 1966 (Photo: British Vogue)
Donyale Luna – Seemingly the black model that time forgot, this Detroit-born beauty moved to Europe to become the toast of the fashion industry abroad, becoming the first black model to grace any Vogue cover ever when editor Beatrix Miller put her on the cover of the British version in 1966. Photographed by legendary photographers such as David McCabe and Richard Avedon, she tragically passed in 1979.
Activist Naomi Sims was the first model to appear on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in 1968 (Photo: Ladies’ Home Journal)
Naomi Sims – An advocate for the Black Is Beautiful moment until the day she passed, this tireless supporter of equality was the first black woman to appear on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal, gracing the cover in November 1968. Even after her passing in 2009, her pioneering spirit is remembered in the industry, widely remembered for personally approaching photographers and legendary model agent Wilhelmina Cooper to further her career, a practice unheard of at the time.
Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles fashion show in 1973 was groundbreaking in its usage of diverse models (Photo: Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles)
The Versailles Models of 1973 – When top African American models Bethann Hardison, Billie Blair, Alva Chinn, Pat Cleveland, Jennifer Brice, Norma Jean Darden, Charlene Dash, Barbara Jackson, Ramona Saunders, and Amina Warsuma boarded a flight to Paris in 1973, they didn’t know they were about to make history. Legendary American designers Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, and Anne used only those beautiful models of color in the historic Grand Divertissement à Versailles fashion show, a bold move that stunned an international audience and created history.
Model Pat Cleveland is known for one of the best runway walks in history (Photo: Vanity Fair)
Pat Cleveland – One of the models of Versailles went on to become a celebrated model on the scene in the 70’s, serving as a muse to esteemed designers such as Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, and Stephen Burrows. Pat continues to work even today, appearing in campaigns for Lanvin and in current magazine spreads, sometimes accompanied by her daughter Anna, a rising star in the industry. She’s the creator of “the twirl,” considered one of the best runway walks in history.
Beverly Johnson is known as the first black supermodel (Photo: Vogue)
Beverly Johnson – Widely regarded as the first black supermodel, Johnson was the first black woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue in August 1974. Since that time, she has become a businesswoman, actress, and author with a successful career.
Somali supermodel Iman appeared on the cover of many international magazines, like German Cosmopolitan (Photo: German Cosmopolitan)
Iman – Discovered by legendary photographer Peter Beard while she was still a university student, Iman moved to the United States in the 70’s and became a runway legend in the 70s and 80s, walking for legends like Halston and Yves Saint Lauren, and landing countless magazine covers in the 1980s. After two decades of modeling, the model turned business mogul, launching IMAN Cosmetics in 1994 to address the beauty needs of women of color.
To this day, supermodel legend Naomi Campbell continues to make history (Photo: LIFE)
Naomi Campbell – Still considered one of the greatest fashion and runway models of all time, Campbell was discovered in her school uniform by a model scout in London when she was merely 15. She’s since gone on to grace over 500 magazine covers, including the distinction of being the first black model to appear on the cover of TIME. She’s a successful businesswoman and philanthropist, and can also add actress to her accomplishments, currently starring on the TV series, Empire.
Veronica Webb was the first black model to sign a top beauty contract (Photo: Revlon)
Veronica Webb – A runway legend who came to prominence in the age of supermodels like Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford, Webb was the first black model to sign a lucrative beauty contract, signing a groundbreaking contract with Revlon in 1992. Webb has gone on to become a mother and fashion designer.
Household name Tyra Banks was the first black model on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1997 (Photo: Sports Illustrated)
Tyra Banks – The first black model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1997, this groundbreaking model was also the first black model to appear on the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalog, as well as becoming one of their original Angels. She’s since become a business mogul, actress, author, launching America’s Next Top Model and its subsequent spinoffs across the globe.