The Real Top Model: The History of African American Modeling

In honor of Black History Month I think it is time to remind everyone who the first top models were and the strives they make to perfect the industry:


Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Sara Lou Harris

Born in North Carolina, Harris became one of the biggest African American model in the country. Breaking barriers early in the fashion industry she became the first African American model in the New York buyers Fashion show

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Naomi Sims

The world’s first African American supermodel, Sims was one of the first models at Wilhelmina Modeling Agency. Getting her start in the 1960s and 70s, she later started a wig hairline for women of color.

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Pat Cleveland

Growing up in Harlem, NY, Pat attended High School of Art and Design and had hopes of becoming a fashion designer. She was discovered by Vogue Fashion Editor, Carrie Donovan on the subway steps in NYC. She walked the runways of Yves Saint Laurent, Halston, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta.

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Donyale Luna

The first African American model to cover British Vogue, Luna appeared in several movies shot by Andy Warhol. This beauty even posed in Playboy.

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Dorothea Towles

The first successful African American model in Paris, Towles was born and raised in Texas. She graduated college in biology and pre-med. She followed her sister to Europe in the 1940s and her career began. Her first gig was walking for Christian Dior. She also was the first African American model to have a major contract with Maybelline cosmetics in 1959.

"For once I was not considered black, African American or Negro. I was just an American."

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Beverly Johnson

The first African American women to appear on the cover of French ELLE, Johnson grew up in Buffalo, NY. She has appeared on more than 500 covers and also is the first African American model to grace the cover of VOGUE.

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images


YSL’s muse, Mounia was the first model that YSL featured on his haute couture runways. Born in Martinique, her exotic look was one that the fashion world was not familiar with. YSL was also one of the first designers to employ African American models, something that many other haus frowned upon at the time.

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Waris Dirie

Escaping an arranged marriage in Somali at the age of 13, Dirie moved to London where she was discovered. She started her modeling career with doing campaigns for brands such as Chanel, Levis and L’Oreal. She is also known for speaking on female genital mutilation, which she experienced as a child. She later became a UN ambassador to abolish FGM.


Louise Vyent

You may know this Dutch model from the movie, Boomberang. In her modeling days she graced the covers of Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar & Victoria Secret.



While at university, this Somalian beau was discovered and took the world by storm. No matter what generation you come from you know this household name. During her modeling career you could catch her face on the cover of magazine such as VOGUE and down the runways of designers such as Halston, Calvin Klein, YSL & Donna Karen. That didn’t stop there she saw the poor representation of African American in the cosmetics sector and created her own makeup line. ( I am sure she inspired Rihanna) Appearing in countless movies and tv shows, she is also the window to the late David Bowe.


Karen Alexander

Compared to other models, this Jersey native knew what she wanted to be growing up. After visiting numerous modeling firms she was finally signed to Ford, where they believed in the end she was not “commercial enough”. She would later prove everyone wrong and be on the covers of VOGUE, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar just to name a few.

"I really don't have the same modeling options of, say, Cindy Crawford or Christy Turlington - although I don't mean to single them out. My agency will say, 'Oh, they aren't using a black girl.'"


Gail O'Gail O'NeillNeill

One of the model elites, Gail went to school for Journalism and was discovered soon after. Born and raised in Westchester, she would graced the covers for millions of magazines, being features in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. After her modeling career was completed, she would go on to become a correspondent on The Early Show.


KAra Young

Young’s golden complexion sure turned heads in the modeling world in the 90s. Born in San Francisco, she would later grace the covers of VOGUE and Playboy. She appeared in advisements for Revlon, L’Oreal and Maybelline.


Kiara Kubukuru

Kiara moved to California as a child due to political unrest in Uganda. She would later be discovered in a shopping center at 16 years old. She would be later represented by the top modeling agencies and featured in campaigns for Gucci, YSL, Balmain & most famously known for being a Cover Girl.



This Chicago native, is known for her Sports Illustrated SwimSuit feature. She was discovered by YSL and became his muse. She would later tap into acting where she be featured in movies such as Woody Allen’s Celebrity to Queen Latifah’s Beauty Shop.


Veronica Webb

One of the 90s beaus, Webb was the first African American model to have a major cosmetics contract, Revlon. She also modeled for the first Victoria Secret Fashion Show. She was also close friends with designer Alaia, who taught her French.


to be continued….