Vogue is the world’s number one fashion magazine. The magazine’s first issue came out over 120 years ago in 1892, and since then the magazine has been the first to announce the newest trends, and discover arising models and actors. Thousands of women and some men subscribe to the magazine every year. To appear on the cover of Vogue would help these models careers take off. However, it was a different experience for women of color. For African American women, it was particularly difficult to get jobs.
The first African American women to appear on the cover was Donyale Luna. The March 1966 issue (Fig.1) shows the famous Vogue name in bright blue, capturing the attention of thousands of readers all over the world (Wilson, 2017, n.p.). The then eighteen-year-old Donyale Luna strikes a provocative pose drawing the readers in with her big brown eyes. After this cover Luna’s career expanded, she starred in numerous movies produced by Andy Warhol and was featured on popular British magazines at the time such: as Twen, Paris Match and, Britain’s Queen and later the French edition of Vogue. Time magazine recognized her in 1966 in an article titled “The Luna Year.” In the article Time identified, “Now rising into ascendancy is a new heavenly body who, because of her striking singularity, promises to remain on high for many a season” (“The Luna Year,” 1966). She was called the “it girl” of the 60’s and was noticed for her determination and peculiar personality. Designer Stephen Burrows recalled, “She was just one of those extraordinary girls” (Cazzaniga, 2013, n.p.). No one at that time looked like her. She was eye-catching and different which is precisely what well-known photographer David Bailey was looking for when he photographed this iconic cover. Unfortunately, her role as an innovator is forgotten mainly due to the fact many people believe that Beverly Johnson was the first African American to appear on Vogue. Johnson was the first African American to appear on the American edition, which was published eight years after Luna’s. Also, Luna’s career was cut short when she died at the young age of thirty-three, from overdosing on drugs while living in Italy. Although she was on the earth for such a short period, she paved the way for many African American models such as Beverly Johnson and Naomi Campbell.
Eight years later Beverly Johnson was the first women of color to be photographed on the cover of American Vogue. The photo was taken by Francesco Scavullo, who accepted Johnson’s blackness and highlighted her beauty instead of hiding it. The August 1974 (Fig.2) cover shows a stunning Beverly Johnson that stands out from the typical Vogue cover (Carlos, 2017, n.p.). Her appearance on the magazine changed the way society saw beauty. After the issue was published every major American fashion designers and photographers started using African American models. Johnson’s cover instantly took her from a working model to a superstar the next day, but the journey getting there was not an easy one. She was rejected by countless model agencies. Her manager suggested that the reason she was not getting any major covers was because of the color of her skin and suggested bleaching her skin. Johnson did not become discouraged instead she got new managers and worked harder to become one of the most successful models of all time. Reporter Nubia Murray acknowledges, “After more than 30 years in the fashion industry she is still one of the most beautiful women in the world” (2008, p. 34). After her groundbreaking cover, Johnson focused on civil rights and opening more doors for women of color in fashion.
Beyonce is one of the most influential artists of today. She is known for singing and speaking freely about the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which was the base of her Lemonade album that came out in 2016. The September 2018 issue (Fig. 3) shows Beyonce looking directly into the camera with a strong, unapologetic look. Beautiful flowers in all different colors adorn her head, the flowers mostly cover the Vogue title, so the main focus is on Beyonce (Sewing, 2018, n.p.). Twenty-three-year-old African American photographer Tyler Mitchell took the photo. Not only is an African American on the cover of Vogue’s most important month, but the first Vogue cover to be shot by an African American photographer. Beyonce stated: “It is important to me that I help open doors for younger artists. There are so many cultural and societal barriers to entry that I like to do what I can to level the playing field, to present a different point of view for people who may feel like their voices don’t matter” (“Beyonce,” 2018). It is of great importance to Beyonce that the next generation of African Americans have the same chances as the rest of the world.
Today, women of color are seen more frequently on major fashion magazines and high fashion runways all over the world such as New York, Milan and the fashion capital of the world Paris. There is still a long way to go to equal the playing field for women of color in fashion, but these three remarkable women have helped shape what the world is like today for minorities.
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