For years, the only notable models of color were Beverly Johnson, Naomi Sims, Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell and Iman. Only a handful of women worked as pioneers to pave the way for future generations.
It was not just a matter of convincing an editor or photographer to hire them but they also had to sway society’s perception of beauty. Changes that came in the 1960s and 1970s lent a helping hand. Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of feminism, African American women began to have more industry roles in music and film but fashion magazines still seemed hesitant to include models of color.
In 1973, as a public relations idea to raise money to repair the Palace of Versailles, organizers planned a charity fashion show that would pit French designers against American designers. In this era, Paris was seen as the only credible fashion capital while New York was still making its name in the world of fashion. The American designers arrived in Paris with over 30 models, of which 11 were black. Black models, simply because they were cheaper to hire at the time, made it more economically sound to fly them overseas. The French collections were overlooked compared to the New York clothes as they came with a fresh approach due to the black models on the runway. How they moved on the runway left a lasting impression on the audience and put American fashion on the map.
The following year another historical moment occurred when American Vogue featured a black model, Beverly Johnson, on their August 1974 cover. It took almost eight decades in American Vogue’s history before a woman of color appeared on the cover. When the magazine hit the newsstands, it had a major impact on the industry. By the following year, other magazines began following in Vogue’s footsteps. Johnson went on to grace the cover of Vogue three more times and over 500 other magazine covers in her career securing her spot as one of the top earning models of that era.
Today, there are no African American models on the top earning’s list, meaning there is still a clear hierarchy in the fashion industry placing others above them. With so many top black models relevant in today’s generation, such as Naomi Campbell, Duckie Thot, Tyra Banks, Jasmine Tookes, Joan Smalls, Chanel Iman, Alek Wek, Jourdan Dunn, Liya Kebede and Iman, it is absurd that not a single one of them is included in at least the top 10 of Forbes annual list.
According to Forbes magazine, “Though fashion is taking steps towards inclusivity, Liu Wen (No. 8; $6.5 million) remains the only non-white model among the top 10. But change is coming. A recent survey by FashionSpot found non-white models accounted for more than 30% of the models cast in Fall 2017 advertising campaigns for the first time. This means models of color are now booking not just low-paying catwalks but lucrative adverts, too.”
This gives hope that the 2018 list will include many new faces of African American descent as projected by Forbes. Some rising colored models to watch are Nyadak “Duckie” Thot and Chanel Iman. Thot is an Australian model who finished in third place on the eighth cycle of Australia’s Next Top Model and made her runway debut at the Yeezy S/S 17 show. She is best known for being a face of Fenty Beauty. Iman is best known for her work as a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Vogue Paris declared her as one of the top 30 models of the 2000s.