Former top model, Naomi Sims, has lost her battle with breast cancer yesterday (August 4, 2009) at the age of 61. Who is Naomi Sims and why is this newsworthy? Miss Naomi was considered by many to be the “first black supermodel” for appearing on the cover of Ladies Home Journal in November 1968. This was remarkable considering women of color were barely featured within pages of mainstream magazines let alone magazine covers. Sims modeled for “IT” designers of her time like, Halston & Giorgio di Sant’Anglelo and appeared on many covers including Cosmopolitan, Life and New York Times. In fact the covers she graced for Life (1969) and New York Times (1967) are on display in the Metropolitan Museum’s “The Model As Muse” exhibit. When she retired from modeling, she started a multi-million wig-making business that focussed on the needs of African-American women. She even parlayed her career into the publishing world as well by authoring several books discussing modeling, health and beauty. Though the fashion industry has come a long way from when Naomi Sims first broke down barriers, they are still far from equal. Even in this day and age, women of color have often been not equally represented from runways to magazine covers and to major cosmetic campaigns. In honor of Naomi Sims, I have counting down my Top 10 Black Supermodels of all time.
Let the countdown begin…
10. Alek Wek
Hailing from Sudan, Alex and her family fled their chaotic village and relocated to the United Kingdom. It was at an outdoor market in London where she was first discovered. She first sparked attention when she appeared in Tina Turner’s “GoldenEye” music video. Since then she has been featured on major ads for Clinique, Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan to name a few. She also hasn’t forgotten about her music video roots and can be seen in Busta Rhyme’s “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” and Janet Jackson’s “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” video. Since a model’s career is very short, Alek has recently turned to designing handbags, writing books and humanitarian rights- she has worked on the U.S. Committee for Refugees.
9. Roshumba Williams
6-foot-tall Roshumba Williams, a Chicago native, was discovered as a teenager in Paris by Yves Saint Laurent and taken under his wing. The late designer was very supportive of black models like Roshumba and Iman. During the 80s when many black models had long hair, Roshumba stood out with her signature short-cropped hair-do- a style she still sports today. Some of her notable achievements were being the face of Cover Girl, Maybelline campaigns and often featured in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue. Since retiring from modeling, Roshumba has penned, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a Model”, been a correspondent for LIfetime and NBC and hosted Oxygen Network’s reality series, Style.
8. Beverly Peele
While Beverly Peele didn’t knock down any ceilings during her eight-year career, she did manage to appear on more than 250 magazine covers throughout her career. During the 80s and 90s when models were more glamorous than Hollywood actresses, she came into prominence by having that girl-next-door quality while being very edgy and high-fashion. For her uncanny ability to appeal both commercially and editorially, she was featured in ads for Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Versace while showing up in music videos for Heavy D & The Boyz and George Michael’s “Too Funky” video. Since retiring from modeling, she’s hit a few rough patches which include being charged for identity theft in 2006. She was convicted and sentenced to three years probation for buying appliances and furniture with a credit card she found. Later that year, she spoke on the Tyra Banks show to warn about the dark side and pitfalls of the modeling world to young and aspiring models.
7. Kimora Lee (Simmons)
Long before marrying/divorcing Russell Simmons and running Baby Phat, Kimora Lee signed an exclusive modeling contract with Chanel becoming Karl Lagerfeld’s muse. Guess what? She was only 13. I know, pretty remarkable. She caught everyone’s attention in the fashion industry when she closed Lagerfeld’s haute couture show in 1994 decked out as a child bride. Not bad, considering her mother initially signed her up for modeling to improve Kimora’s self-esteem. She was often bullied and teased at school for her height and her half-asian heritage. Since hanging her stilettos, she has dabbled in acting (Beauty Shop) and reality TV (ANTM Cycle 1 judge).
6. Liya Kebede
Ethiopian born supermodel, Liya’s big break came when Tom Ford selected her Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2000 show. She then established herself as a permanent runway fixture on the New York, Milan, London and Paris circuit. She became such a popular entity in the fashion world that Paris Vogue placed her on the cover of their May 2002 issue and dedicated the entire issue to her. Of all her achievements, the most notable was when she was the first black model for cosmetic powerhouse, Estee Lauder.
5. Veronica Webb
One of my favorite models of all time, Veronica Webb was discovered on the streets of New York City by a make-up artist. At the time she was just a 20-year-old design student. Shortly thereafter, Veronica began working the catwalk for Azzedine Alaia, Issac Mizrahi, Karl Lagerfeld and Todd Oldham. She later became friends with these designers and even lived with Alaia during her stay in Paris. Not only was she a hit on the runways, she became an in-demand editorial model landing covers on Vogue & Elle magazines. Her most notable achievement was being the first black model sign a major cosmetic contract. This occurred in 1992 with cosmetic giant, Revlon. Since retiring from the runway, she’s become a multi-hypenate (model-actress-writer-journalist-television personality). She’s recently appeared as a guest judge on BravoTV’s The Fashion Show with good friend, Mizrahi. Personally, I think she should join the cast next season as Kelly Rowland’s replacement. Sorry Kelly. You know I love you but a fashion critic, you are not. Why do I love Veronica so much? Not only do I find Veronica drop-dead gorgeous, I find her articulate and bitchy. What can I say, I have a thing for bitches.
4. Tyra Banks
Speaking of bitches. haha. I kid. While I do have a love/hate relationship with Miss Banks, I cannot deny what she’s achieved as a model. She definitely deserves the title of supermodel. Anyone who’s watched an episode of America’s Next Top Model, knows about her career. She started out as a high fashion model and then transitioned to the more lucrative side of commercial modeling. Since her transition, her notoriety exploded and was featured on countless covers. She has the distinction of being the first black model to land the cover spots of GQ, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and the Victoria Secret’s catalog. Since retiring from professional modeling, she’s become a mini-Oprah. She has a successful talk show, a long-running reality show, a failed singing career and an on/off acting career. Congrats Tyra for embracing how campy you can be and for being the ultimate go-getter.
3. Beverly Johnson
Before gracing more than 500 magazine covers, Beverly Johnson was a champion swimmer. She became the first black model to grace several magazines including French Elle Magazine and German Cosmopolitan Magazine. Of all the “first black achievement” covers she landed, it would be her cover for American Vogue 1974 issue that would cement her place in history. This would pave the way for future black supermodels (Tyra Banks & Naomi Campbell) that would come after her. Like Naomi Sims, Beverly Johnson launched a successful wig line. The now fifty-something ex-supermodel is the co-host for TV Land’s “She’s Got the Look”- a reality modeling competition show for women 40 and beyond.
2. Iman Abdulmajid
This Somali-born beauty first hit the modeling scene in 1975 after being discovered by photographer, Peter Beard. Iman paved the wave for all African-born beauties wanting to break into the high-fashion world. In her career, she became the first black model to appear on the cover of German Vogue and became a muse to Yves Saint Laurent. She remained on top of the modeling world for more than a decade. Today she is better known as David Bowie’s wife, author and cosmetic entrepreneur. She launched a successful make-up line for women of color named IMAN cosmetics. In addition, she has become a high-profile humanitarian by being a Global Ambassador for the Keep A Child Alive campaign and for I AM AFRICAN, strive to put an end to AIDS in her native Africa. This isn’t to say that she’s all serious and doesn’t have a funny bone. You’ll only have to a watch one episode of “Project Runway Canada” to see her at her best. Heidi Klum could use a couple of pointers from Iman.
1. Naomi Campbell
Known for mostly throwing cell phones at her assistants than modeling these days. No one can argue that Naomi is arguably the premier black supermodel of all time. She ruled the catwalk during her hey day at a time when supermodel craze was at it’s peak. During this infamous “Supermodel Era” she was part of the “The Trinity” which included Naomi and her pals, Linda Evangelista & Christy Turlington. They ruled the fashion industry and were paid record-breaking salaries which had never been heard of in the modeling industry. Campbell was also the first black model on the cover of French Vogue. For that reason and for many more which include: that killer body; signature walk; and infamous bitchy attitude, Naomi Campbell tops my list. Love her or hate her, you gotta RE-COG-NIZE. PS. She’s also the highest paid supermodel EVAH.
Hope you liked my list and be sure to leave some feedback. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are and who your favorites are. Below are some of my new favorites who are making their name in the industry today.
Left to right. Selita Ebanks, Sessilee Lopez and Chanel Iman