To say you were the first black muse for the designer Yves Saint Laurent is a pretty big deal. Well, lucky model Mounia gets to hold that title.
Born in Martinique (an island in the Caribbean Sea), Mounia was the first black model Yves Saint Laurent used in his haute couture shows, and was considered Laurent’s favorite model. Saint Laurent was one of the first designers to employ black models. He always challenged the standards of beauty and set the stage for some black models like Iman.
In 2008, W Magazine talked to Mounia about Saint Laurent. She remembered this about him, “I was his first black muse…He helped open the door for black models. Sometimes I was his confidante, and I would sometimes inspire his creativity.”
The Versailles models of 1973 are Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison, Billie Blair, Jennifer Brice, Alva Chinn, Norma Jean Darden, Charlene Dash, Barbara Jackson, China Machado, Ramona Saunders, and Amina Warsuma.
Imagine, it’s 1973 in the Palace of Versailles (in France) and a fashion show down is about to go down — the Grand Divertissement à Versailles fashion show to be exact. The fashion show was to raise money for restoration of the palace. Five American designers (Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, and African-American designer Stephen Burrows) and five french designers (Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior’s head designer Marc Bohan, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Pierre Cardin) were showing. At a time when American designers weren’t as big as they are now, this show was a pretty big deal.
For the fashion show the American designers decided to make a big decision and use eleven African-American models to model their designs. The French used no African-American models. Through this fashion show and the diverse models, the designers: Halston, de la Renta, Blass, Klein, and Burrows put America on the map fashion wise.
The Versailles models of 1973 were and still are remembered to have strutted the way for many other models to be able to show in Europe and make a statement.
Referred to as “The Catwalk Queen” by Essence.com, Pat Cleveland (born Patricia Cleveland) got her start by being discovered on the subway in New York City. Cleveland was heading to school at Manhattan’s LaGuardia Performing Arts School, just like any other day, but she caught the eye of someone that would change her life forever — Vogue Editor Carrie Donovan.
Three years after being discovered, Cleveland moved to Paris, and took over the fashion scene. “The black/Cherokee/Irish stunner danced all night at La Palace, inspired the likes of Halston, Steven Burrows and Yves Saint Laurent, and set the standard for runway walking with her ethereal dance-prance,” says Essence.com. My favorite thing about Cleveland is her beautiful curly hair. Her hair was called “flying carpet”.
Making her way in runway and magazines, Cleveland strutted the way for other models to come. Especially ones with amazing hair.
It’s always funny to see commercials from the past, but I thought this was interesting. Seeing as how natural hair is back for African-American woman, it’s pretty cool to see what commercials were out for them. I like how this commercial showed how the beauty of the afro was embraced, and just seeing how it is embraced now is pretty awesome.
You remember the group Sonny and Cher, right? You remember those elaborate designs that Cher wore? Well, they were designed by Sadie Hayes. Sadie Hayes designed all of Sonny and Cher’s costumes. Cher wanted Hayes so bad that she “lured” the designer away from her job with an exclusive clothing store after admiring her work according to Ebony magazine.
Hannan Saleh is a fashion photographer that has just been introduced to me, but she is not new to the fashion photography scene. You might have seen her work in Essence magazine, Vibe, or Uptown magazine. I’ll admit though, it has been hard finding info on this fashion photographer, but luckily I found a video about her. So, here’s Hannan Saleh, a fashion photographer strutting the way for many more to come.
Born Peggy Anne Freeman, Donyale Luna was the first African-American woman to appear on the cover of a Vogue magazine.
In March 1966, Donyale Luna was featured on the cover of the British edition of Vogue magazine. Six years later, model Beverly Johnson appeared on the cover of American Vogue becoming the first African-American model to appear on the cover of American Vogue.
Luna grew up in Detroit, Michigan in a not so great home life. The year before she got discovered by photographer David McCabe, her father was murdered. Luna also remembers her life back in Detroit saying, “Back in Detroit I wasn’t considered beautiful or anything, but here I’m different.” Standing at a lovely 6’2″, Donyale Luna took the fashion world by storm in the sixties.
In 1966, Life Magazine had an article in one issue called “The Luna Year”. In the article they described the model as “A new heavenly body” and “Unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at the moment”.
Luna also acted in Andy Warhol’s film “Camp”. Unfortunately, Luna died in 1979, because of a drug overdose. The time we did have Luna, she definitely strutted the way for models who were never to sure of their look when they were growing up. Even though she wasn’t considered beautiful growing up, she changed the minds of many pursuing her dreams.
Before Halle Berry was one of the faces of Revlon, before Queen Latifah was one of the faces of Cover Girl, and before Gabrielle Union was one of the faces of Neutrogena — there was Veronica Webb. In 1992 Veronica Webb signed a major cosmetics contract with Revlon, and became the first African-American model to do so.
For Webb, it all began in 1985 when Webb was at work, and a talent scout approached her encouraging her to try modeling. Photographer Bruce Weber photographed her and the rest was history. Webb moved to Paris to walk in many shows for designers such as: Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Comme des Garcons. When Webb returned to the US, she began being in films.
Webb later on had her hand in journalism. Webb became the editor-at-large for Interview magazine and has written articles for Elle, Details, The Paper and the New York Times. I never knew of Webb until I seen her as the co-host of Tim Gunn’s show “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style”. I realized how young and fabulous she looked for someone in their forties, and I figured that she must have been a model.
Webb strutted the way for many models who wanted to do more than just model. Webb showed that models can definitely do more than model, and she definitely strutted the way for the many other beautiful faces we see representing us for make-up companies.
At just 23-years-old, LaQuan Smith has battled cancer, dressed superstars like Lady Gaga and Beyonce, and has shown at New York Fashion Week.
Born in Queens, New York, Smith always had a love for fashion and design. When Smith was 13, his grandma passed on her sewing machine to him, and the rest is history. A few years later Smith had a horrible battle with cancer, but is thankfully still alive. Smith was able to regroup and refocus on his passion for fashion and design. He interned for the magazine Blackbook for a year, then a year later he started his self-titled clothing line.
On February 15, 2010, Smith made his New York Fashion Week debut. The audience was made up of only 75 attendees. Fashion buyers, top fashion press, and celebrities were all present for Smith’s show. Other attendees included: Andre Leon Talley and Vogue Style Director, Alexandra Kotur. Did I mention this was his first New York Fashion Week show?!
Since his first NYFW showing, Smith has been able to show nationally and internationally. He created a diffusion line called “LQS” that was inspired by the everyday women he ran into while traveling. He got to debut “LQS” in Johannesburg, South Africa. Smith is definitely an inspiration showing that when life knocks you down, you shouldn’t give up on your dreams. Smith has definitely strutted the way for others who have had some sort of struggle, but still held on to their dreams.
Naomi Sims (1948-2009) was the first black model to appear on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in November 1968. Since that cover she has been known as the first black model, but there have been a few that came before her such as, Donyale Luna and Dorthea Towles Church. Sims went to New York in 1966 to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology on a scholarship. To get extra money, she decided to try modeling, but every agency turned her down, because her skin was too dark. Even though she didn’t get signed she still found a way to get out there. “Naomi was the first,” the designer Halston told The New York Times in 1974. “She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers.”
Sims modeled for about five years, until she decided to retire from modeling. She later on starting making wigs for African American women, and that soon expanded into a multi million dollar beauty empire. She also made five books about modeling and beauty. I didn’t know it, but Sims personified the phrase “Black is Beautiful” which is now a national movement started by Procter & Gamble. I’m glad Sims strutted the way for future models, turned entrepreneurs, and also showed us first that our black is truly beautiful.