Before tastemakers, influencers, and content creators existed, models held court as the true arbiters of beauty and as style muses for countless top global fashion designers. The world enjoyed being keenly inspired by their take on image and style on glossy magazine covers, coveted catwalks, and slick television commercials. And, with deep admiration, we sought after their looks, which defined our dreams and held court in our hearts.
As we think about beauty through the decades and true beauty reigning supreme, we must shine a light on Beverly Johnson, the “girl next door” from Buffalo, New York, who forever changed the game in 1974 when she became the first African-American model to grace the cover of American Vogue.
The tall, athletic beauty who was a competitive swimmer and thought someday she would be a lawyer is known to us as the face that changed everything. Women and little girls alike were moved to see someone who looked like them on the cover of the infamously “Waspy” fashion magazine.
Johnson’s career is defined by flawless natural beauty and a spirit of entrepreneurialism that, in turn, she coined the term modelpreneur. She is a supermodel, bestselling author, philanthropist, and the founder of Beverly Johnson Enterprises. She represents brands and delivers luxury at every moment.
When I met with Johnson in Los Angeles to discuss her career, she wore a custom gold sequin dress that was fit for the flair of the divas of her day. As a proud African-American woman, she remains true to her spirit and character without fail, as the gown's designer is African—a point she makes clear.
Johnson is audacious, gorgeous, and deliberate. It's no wonder we call her The Beverly Johnson. While talking to Johnson, we can still glimpse the little girl from Buffalo, who, too, is in awe of the magic that she, her colleagues, and her peers have created. She recalls their names and careers with wonder, delight, and awe.
There were so many beautiful faces—frankly, too many to name. Still, we all can recall the feelings of watching 1970s legends such as Naomi Sims and Pat Cleveland, 1990s icons like Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb, and Tyra Banks, and today's elegant Joan Smalls—each delivering a candid and personal stamp on fashion.
Their unique beauty has carried generations of those of us who love style and image through the decades, offering us all lasting inspiration. Its inimitable art—the clever fashion (not always expressed through luxury status labels) paired with natural beauty, and so many styles have returned today—and are now replicated by so many.
As Beverly Johnson shares with us, "radiance comes from within."
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