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Sunday 21 September 2014

Vogue’s first black cover girl Beverly Johnson believes the fashion industry had better racial representation 40 years ago

Freya Drohan

Published 30/07/2014 | 13:57

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Today is the 40th anniversary of Johnson's inaugural Vogue appearance, the first time an African American woman graced the cover.

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Beverly Johnson was told by recently deceased model boss Eileen Ford that she would never land a cover of Vogue.

She walked out the door and joined the books of Wilhelmina Models, and soon received a call to tell her she was to be the August 1974 cover girl.

She recalled the life changing moment  to Women’s Wear Daily,

Model Chanel Iman walks the runway during the 2011 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory on November 9, 2011 in New York. The show will be broadcast on November 29 on CBS.    AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Model Chanel Iman walks the runway during the 2011 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory on November 9, 2011 in New York. The show will be broadcast on November 29 on CBS. AFP PHOTO/TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
British model Jourdan Dunn presents a creation by Burberry Prorsum during the 2014 Spring/Summer London Fashion Week
British model Jourdan Dunn presents a creation by Burberry Prorsum during the 2014 Spring/Summer London Fashion Week
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13:  Model Joan Smalls walks the runway at the 2013 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Lexington Avenue Armory on November 13, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Swarovski)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Model Joan Smalls walks the runway at the 2013 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Lexington Avenue Armory on November 13, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Swarovski)

“I was in my first New York apartment on the East Side — mattress on the floor, candles. I threw on my jeans and ran to the newsstand. Of course, I didn’t have any money on me. I told the guy that it was me on the cover and he kind of rolled his eyes like, ‘Oh lady please, if you were on the cover you would have enough money to buy the magazine.’”

Forty years later, the trail blazer laments the fact that there aren’t as many African-American models or industry professionals as there once was.

“Sometimes we live in this very elitist bubble called the fashion industry,” she says.

“We have become really oblivious to what’s going on in the world. I like to think that is the reason.”

Along with her catwalk alumna Bethann Hardison, Iman, and Naomi Campbell, Beverly will be playing close attention to the models on the catwalk this September.

Earlier this year, Gawker’s women's interest blog Jezebel compiled an infographic after New York Fashion Week.

The website revealed that out of the 150 fashion shows, in which over 4,600 outfits appeared, 80% of the models were white.

Black models made up just 9.75%, while Latino and Asian models together made up less than 10%.

The article was aptly titled ‘Diversity Talks But White Faces Walk’.

In an era where models are celebrities in their own right, with millions of followers on social networks, it is refreshing that the prevalent women of colour are vocal about their under representation in the industry.

British model Jourdan Dunn has spoken out repeatedly about being rejected for “being coloured”, so too has Victoria's Secret model Chanel Iman who once told The Times that she was turned away by a fashion house who had “already found one black girl” and “didn’t need any more”.

There are a variety of opinions as to why most models on the catwalk and in magazine spreads fit into the young, white and thin category.

The blame is shifted from magazine editors to casting directors and to the influential people who monitor the business figures and statistics, as unfortunately it is the ‘single white female addicted to retail’ demographic (thank you Kanye West) who is most often the one spending her money on fashion and understandably likes to relate to the models she sees.

Casting director James Scully recently spoke out on the issue, lambasting major fashion houses for their predominantly white models.

Ultimately, he said it comes down to the designers who sometimes just want their garments shown on “a certain type of girl”.

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