February marks Black History Month, and in celebration, throughout the month I’ll be featuring historical profiles of prominent African Americans in fashion, beauty and music, as well as features on African American products, companies, and persons you should know.
Today’s top Black models enjoy fame and fortune that would have once seemed impossible. Turn on your television and you’ll find the New York born Jessica White as a Maybelline spokesmodel; or visit your local newsstand, and international model Chanel Iman might be gracing the cover of your favorite glossy. And what is modeling without the near 25 -year dominance of supermodel Naomi Campbell?Lucrative deals with cosmetics conglomerates, high profile print campaigns and bankable business ventures (shout to Tyra) are just a few opportunities now available to prominent African American models.
But long before these ladies entered our living rooms, there was model and entrepreneur Naomi Sims paving the way. Naomi Sims would become widely known as the first Black Supermodel.
During the 1960’s, a time when Black fashion models were rare, and dark-skinned models were even more scarce, Sims used her moxie and ingenuity to create opportunities which would lead to her appearance on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal. It was the first time a Black model appeared on the cover of a mainstream women’s publication. Modeling gigs with top designers Halston, Teal Traina, Fernando Sanchez and Giorgio di Sant’Angelo soon followed; and so did the ushering in of 70’s Black runway starts including Pat Cleveland and Beverly Johnson. Two of Sims modeling covers, a 1969 cover of LIFE and a 1967 New York Times Magazine cover have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “The Model as Muse”.
Sims, however, did not only have a major impact on the fashion world, but was also an important entrepreneur. Sims would go on to create the Naomi Sims Collection, a multimillion dollar wig-making business that specialized in designs for African American hair. The Collection later expanded to include cosmetics and beauty salons. Sims also penned at least 5 books on beauty and modeling.
Sadly, in August 2009, Naomi Sims passed away from cancer at the age of 61. However, her vast contributions to the worlds of fashion and beauty will never be forgotten.
Sources: Time magazine: Appreciation: Naomi Sims, the First Black Supermodel by Kelli Goff. New York Times: Naomi Sims, 61, Pioneeering Cover Girl, Is Dead; Huffpost via New York Times: Naomi Sims, 'First Black Supermodel, Dead at 61