First of all, what exactly is a “supermodel”? We all know who the supermodels are. One’s interest in fashion could be nil, but the names of the select few are still familiar. The media — electronic and print — makes sure of that.
But at what point is the person (nearly always a woman) elevated from “successful model” to “supermodel” status? Few of us know that.
According to one definition, the term “supermodel” refers to “a highly-paid, elite fashion model who usually has a worldwide reputation and often a background in haute couture and commercial modeling. They usually work for top fashion designers and labels.
“They have multimillion dollar contracts, endorsements and campaigns. First-name recognition is an indication of supermodel status in the fashion industry.”
One supermodel joked (?) that they do not work for less than $10,000 a day.
It is possible that the first supermodel was reed-thin Twiggy back in the 1960s. That is when the term began gaining popularity.
As is the case in most fields, it was, and continues to be, more difficult for Black models, but some persevere and become recognized as “supermodels.”
Although her name is not heard often today, DONYALE LUNA was the first Black model to scale the heights in the modeling world.
Interestingly, she was born Peggy Anne Freeman — in Detroit. It is said that she, unfortunately, made a point of not fully acknowledging her ethnicity.
Luna was written about in Harper’s Bazaar, Time and Vogue magazines, and was the first Black model to appear on the cover of the British edition of Vogue. Compliments came from high places. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy once said to her, “You are a beautiful woman.”
Sadly, Luna had a lot of personal issues, including substance abuse.
When it comes to being multifaceted, TYRA BANKS stands apart from virtually all of the other supermodels of today, Black or White.
In addition to having gone to the top and beyond as a high fashion model, Banks simultaneously hosts two popular television programs, the weekly “America’s Next Top Model” and her daily talk show, “The Tyra Banks Show.”
Banks, who, like Oprah Winfrey, is a shrewd businesswoman, began modeling while in high school. However, her modeling kicked into high gear in Paris.
In no time the beautiful newcomer was doing runway and/ or print work fashion and advertising industry giants, including Christian Dior, Donna Karan, CoverGirl, Perry Ellis and Oscar de la Renta. Her magazine covers include Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Elle.
when she became the first African-American woman to grace the cover of Vogue magazine (the American edition). That was in 1974 and it paved the road for the Black models who came after her, including Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb and Iman.
In fact, the New York Times recognized Johnson as one of the most influential people in fashion in the 20th century.
That being the case, it is interesting that Johnson originally aspired to become an attorney. Friends suggested she give modeling a try while she was studying criminal justice at Northeastern University. First assignment: Glamour magazine. The work came steadily after that.