Day 4: The Race for Cover



19black-600 NY Times

Relax?  ONE THOUSAND, FOUR HUNDRED issues of American Vogue and only FIVE covers graced by people of color? You better work Supermodel!

With the refrain: “We already have our black girl“, still being heard, we still have much work to do.  Images like Naomi above and Sessilee Lopez in Harpers Bazaar which don’t fetishize, isolate or stereotype are thankfully on the rise.


“But what changes fashion? What would finally move American designers to include more black models on their runways? That THIRTY percent of the country is nonwhite? That black women spend TWENTY-BILLION a year on clothes? That an African-American is the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party?

The answer is the individual eye.”

Cathy Horyn, in the New York Times, June 19, 2008, covering the soon-to-be-released Italian Vogue last summer.


This famous eye belongs to Donyale Luna a full FORTY-TWO years before Steven Meisel‘s eye cast the now famous Italian Vogue issue. Donyale was the first black supermodel to make cover girl status in 1966 on British Vogue.  A Detroit native, she was notoriously strange from birth.  Salvadore Dali loved her, she was the wife of Maximilion Schell and she was a fan of LSD.

1969. Naomi Sims appeared on the cover of Life magazine, with a cover headline “Black Girls Take Center Stage”.  The recent death of Naomi Sims reflects 40 years of change.

Beyonce is center stage, Michelle Obama is center stage, Oprah is center stage, Tyra is center stage…perhaps our standards of beauty are changing from within and more cover girls of color are around the bend…again.

EIGHT years later after Donyale Luna, girl-next-door type, Beverly Johnson, made American Vogue.


“They don’t put blacks on the cover.  You should be happy with what you have.  Who do you think you are?”

In 1974, Beverly Johnson finally heard otherwise.  Although she is a thrilling legend and this was a thrilling event, she looks like ONE PERCENT OF THE BLACK GIRLS I KNOW.

THIRTY-FOUR years later, in 2008, while Italian Vogue was most likely being staged and shot, American Vogue gave us this controversial cover with Le Bron James and Gisele for its “Size and Shape Issue.”


Was it racist? Was it just “game face”?  Could you see a white hockey player and Naomi?  Would it still rankle?

In a business (the magazine biz) that is struggling, when an issue such as the Black Italian Vogue sells SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY FOUR PERCENT more issues than the previous one did…maybe we begin to wake up from our black and white world to multi-colored splendour.

BTW! Kudos to my friend Claude Grunitsky and his Trace magazine‘s annual “Black Girls Rule” issue on stands NOW!

front_cover_issue85 Trace BGR

Cover girl Arlenis Sosa on being a model of color and a role model… 

“For me, it’s just about being me. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, brown or white. Everyone has an opportunity. I just want to work. It’s tough for top models. You have to be responsible and get things right because you know someone behind you is looking up to you. Journalists ask me all the time will I change. I just want to be the original me. Be natural. You don’t have to change.”

from: the blog

Click here for the event “Fashion Beyond The Pale”

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