In recent decades, the worldwide modeling industry has seen a slew of powerful African and African-American figures. Though the fashion industry’s gatekeepers were not always hospitable to black-skinned models, these trailblazers found a way to prove their worth and offer possibilities for others to follow in their footsteps.
These well-known models used their beauty and individuality to advocate for topics and strong campaigns.
In honor of these heroes’ courage and endurance, here are eight Black models who transformed the fashion world’s narrative.
1. Donyale Luna (1945 -1979)
Peggy Ann Freeman, also known as Donyale Luna, is referred to as the ‘First Black Supermodel.’ In addition, she was the first African-American model to grace the cover of British Vogue.
David McCabe spotted Luna when she was 14 years old in her hometown of Detroit. Her modeling career got off after Harper’s Bazaar, a magazine that had never featured a black person on its cover, put a line-drawing sketch of Luna on its cover in 1965. Soon after, she signed a one-year exclusive contract with Harper’s famous photographer, Richard Avedon.
Despite her brief career, the trailblazing model was responsible for a revolution, bringing diversity to the primarily white fashion business and paved the way for world-renowned black supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Halima Aden, among others.
2. Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid (1955 – Present)
Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid is a Somali-American model who started her modeling career at Vogue immediately after moving to New York at the age of 20. She has featured on five Vogue covers since then and has been an inspiration for photographers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Irving Penn, Calvin Klein, and Gianni Versace.
In 1989, she announced her retirement from modeling and launched Iman Cosmetics.
Iman has also been an active and dedicated philanthropist, serving as the first global ambassador for the emergency relief charity CARE. She has also been a huge help in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
3. Tyson Beckford (1970- Present)
Tyson Beckford is a model and actor from the United States, as well as the first African-American male supermodel.
A talent scout noticed him in a city park in 1992 and booked him as the face of Ralph Lauren’s Polo men’s clothing line. Tyson has been a powerful influence in the modeling profession and a devoted supporter for the HIV/AIDS cause since then.
4. Naomi Campbell (1970 – Present)
Naomi Campbell is an English model, actress, and one of the most well-known black models in the world. She was one of six models of her generation who were dubbed “supermodels” by the fashion industry and the international press.
Campbell was discovered by Beth Boldt and launched her modeling career on the cover of British Elle before the age of 16.
She was the first black woman to grace the covers of French Vogue, Time magazine, Russian Vogue, and over 500 other publications. She has also appeared in advertisements for Burberry, Prada, Versace, and many more well-known companies.
Her accomplishments and impact in the fashion world have significantly aided the world’s acceptance of black models today.
5. Alek Wek (1977- Present)
Alek Wek is a British-South Sudanese model and designer. She was born in Sudan but migrated to Britain with her family in 1991 to escape her country’s civil conflict.
Alek was scouted at the age of 18 while wandering through an art gallery and was one of the first mainstream dark-skinned African models to feature on fashion magazine covers and fashion shows in the mid-1990s.
She has graced the covers of Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue, as well as ads for Victoria’s Secret, Chanel, Kelvin Klein Givenchy, and Fendi.
Alek has been a strong supporter of UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, since 2011 and was named a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2013.
6. Diandra Forrest (1989 – Present)
Diandra Forrest is an African-American model and actress who made history by becoming the first female with albinism to sign with a major modeling agency.
Forrest dreamed of becoming a great model as a child and eventually joined Elite Models NY. She opted to make her distinctive traits her strength as the first albino model to do so.
She is now a well-known fashion figure, having been on the covers of numerous magazines and music videos. She has also spoken on many major venues on her inspiring journey to prominence and accomplishment.
Forrest uses her position to discuss albinism and accepting one’s differences.
7. Corey Baptiste (1991 – Present)
Corey Baptiste is regarded as a ‘one-of-a-kind’ among black male models and one of the most successful male models in the fashion world.
During his final semester at John Jay College, the young model was scouted by his buddy and manager, Brandon Wilson. He started modeling in 2009 and signed with VNY in 2010.
He is known as one of the money guys, an elite group of male models who are believed to be designer favorites, usually booking campaigns and catwalk shows and earning large sums of money. Corey is the group’s lone black model.
He has worked with numerous major brands and continues to achieve success, despite occasional racial discrimination. As a result of his personal experiences, he uses his platform to aggressively speak out against discrimination in the fashion industry.
8. Winnie Harlow (1994 – Present)
Winnie Harlow, aka Chantelle Brown-Young, is a Canadian fashion model, spokesperson, and activist. Her skin condition, Vitiligo, which she has had since the age of four, distinguishes her from her black counterparts and has given her an exceptional advantage in the fashion world.
Harlow was tormented and bullied as a child due of her unusual appearance. Shannon Booodram, a Toronto journalist, pushed her to pursue modeling. Even though she did not win America’s Next Top Model, her involvement on the show enhanced her career and brought her popularity.
She now works with well-known labels such as Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, and Victoria’s Secret, and has graced the covers of numerous magazines.
Her dedication and support for vitiligo and alternative beauty, as well as diversity in the fashion world, are notable among her accomplishments.