Archive for the ‘models’ Category

a_cosmetics102Naomi Sims (1948-2009) was a black American supermodel from the 1960s, one of the first. Before there was Naomi Campbell, there was Naomi Sims. In November 1968 she became the first black woman on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal, the first to appear on a mainstream women’s magazine in America. She later went into business selling her own line of wigs and make-up designed for black women and wrote books about beauty and modelling. She died yesterday of cancer at age 61.

She was born in Mississippi but her family later moved up north to Pittsburgh, where she lived in a largely poor white neighbourhood. By 13 she was already 5 foot 10 (1.78 m) . She was picked on and became a loner. Growing up in an age before Twiggy and “Black is beautiful”, she was too tall, too thin and too dark to be considered beautiful. But her upbringing and her Catholic faith taught her to always walk with pride and dignity.

In 1966 she went to New York to live with her sister and study at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her scholarship money was not enough, so she turned to modelling to put herself through school.

The model agencies all said no because she was black. So she called fashion photographers herself. One of them, Gosta Peterson, agreed to meet her.  His wife, it turned out, was the head of the fashion pages of the New York Times. In August 1967 she appeared in the Times.

After that success she went back to the model agencies but they still said no! So she talked one of them into letting her use their name and sent her layout in the Times to 100 advertising agencies. To the model agency’s utter amazement the calls started coming in! By November 1968 she was on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal.


life1969Her dark skin worked to her advantage: This was just when “Black is beautiful” was becoming a catchphrase and black tokenism was cutting edge stuff.

Within two years she was in all the fashion magazines. She made anything she wore look great and had her own way of walking down the runway that was beautiful to watch. She modelled for Halston, AT&T, Virginia Slims, Life magazine and others.

In 1972 Hollywood wanted her to star in “Cleopatra Jones”, a blaxpoitation film. When she read the script she said no: she was shocked at how racist it was.

In 1973 she made the cover of Cosmopolitan and then quit modelling.

Four years before she had said, “There is nothing sadder than an old, broke model.” So she went into business making wigs. She found out how to make hair that looked like straightened black women’s hair and then designed wigs in all the latest styles. In the 1980s she branched out into perfume, skin-care and make-up. By the 2000s, however, large white companies started to push her out.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s she wrote five books. One of them,”All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman” (1976),  is still in print.

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FatouN'DiayeFatou N’Diaye (1980- ) is a French actress and model who was born in Senegal. She is not the dancer of the same name. Since 2001 she has appeared in both French film and television. Her best film to date is probably “Nha fala” (2003) though “A Sunday in Kigali” (2006) seems to be better known.

She was born in Saint-Louis in Sengal. Her native language is Wolof. When she was eight she left Senegal with her mother to live in France.

In 1997 at age 17 she was discovered by photographer Oliviero Toscani, who is famous for the United Colors of Benetton ads. He urged her to become a model. She is tall, thin and pretty

She is 5 foot 10 inches tall (1.78 m) and her measurements are 31.5-23-35 (80-58.5-89 cm), giving her a waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of 0.66.

She did do some modelling, but her heart was set on acting. She wanted to go to drama school,  but then director Daniel Vigne asked her to play the lead in a made-for-television film he was making – even though she had no acting experience!

She spent  a few days with an actress who taught her the tricks of the trade and then did her best.

The film was “Fatou la Malienne” (2001). It was the true story of a woman from Mali who lived in France but was forced to get married. It got her noticed: 8 million people in France saw it.

After that she worked with the famous French actor Charles Aznavour. She loves jazz and he was able to tell her about all the jazz greats that he once knew.

In 2002 she had a small part in “Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre”, starring Monica Bellucci. It was her first experience of a big film production.

In 2003 she starred in “Nha Fala” (“My Voice”), directed by Flora Gomes. It is a Portuguese-French-Luxembourger musical comedy (yes) set in France and Cape Verde.  It is in both French and Portuguese Creole.

She plays a mixed-race character who comes from a family where the women die if they sing. When she leaves Cape Verde for France she promises her mother that she will not sing. Not only did she forget her promise, she became a singer! People were amazed at how well she could sing. She came back to Cape Verde to prepare for her funeral – but she did not die!

N’Diaye says the film is about expressing yourself. Some see it as a metaphor for colonialism, about how trying to be white goes against being your true self – which is why her being mixed-race is important.

In 2006 she played the female lead in a French-Canadian film, “Un dimanche à Kigali” (“A Sunday in Kigali”). It is abouat a man who comes to Rwanda and falls in love with a woman there. Separated by the genocide he tries to find her.

Her next leading part was in “Tropiques amers” (2007), the first French television series about slavery in the French Caribbean. It is a historical drama set in Martinique in the late 1700s.

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Alek Wek

awek1Alek Wek (1977- ) is a supermodel from Sudan. She is known for being dark-skinned with very short hair. She was at her height from 1997 to 2004, though she models even now in her early 30s.

She is a Dinka from southern Sudan, near the middle of Africa. Her father was a schoolteacher; she was the seventh of nine children. Growing up she did not know she was poor and black. Her family was together and she was happy. She did, however, have a skin disease, psoriasis, and thought she was ugly. The doctors could find no cure.

Then the war came.  She saw bodies on the way to the well. When soldiers shot out their front door one night, they knew they had to leave. Her father got hurt and went to Khartoum, the capital, for an operation.

At age ten she talked her way onto a military plane leaving for Khartoum, where her father lay. As she got on board she turned to look and saw the sadness in her mother’s eyes. Soon the rest of her family got to Khatoum, but then her father died of the operation.

Her mother just wanted her children to wake up every morning safe and be able to go to school. So she got Alek to London where one of her older daughters lived. Alek arrived in London in 1991 at age 14.

Soon after she got to London her psoriasis went away.

Four years later while shopping in south London she was discovered by Fiona Ellis, a scout for Model One. She did not take it seriously and, besides, her mother said she should complete her schooling first. She was going to the London College of Fashion at the time.

But Model One kept calling and Wek saw that they were serious.  She had some pictures taken and then offers started coming in. It changed her idea about herself. She talked her mother into it.

She signed with Ford in 1996 and became a fashion model. Whenever someone asked for black models she never went. She found that sort of thinking backwards and disrespectful.

Her big break came when she appeared on the cover of Elle in November 1997. The rest is history. That year MTV named her model of the year. I-D magazine went further and named her model of the decade.

Oprah said of Alek Wek:

If you’d been on the cover of a magazine when I was growing up, I would have had a different concept of who I was.

Although I am glad she is out there helping to stretch people’s idea of beauty, I do not think she is beautiful myself. She is striking  and hard to forget, has a great smile and looks like a work of art, but I would not call her beautiful: No, I honestly do not think it is her dark skin, but her eyes. They seem too squinty or something and for me eyes makes the difference between pretty and beautiful.

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halleHalle Berry (1966- ) is an American actress, the first black woman ever to win an Oscar for Best Actress. In America she is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful black women alive, even now in her 40s. She was Miss Ohio USA in 1986, a Bond girl in “Die Another Day” (2002) and has long been a face for Revlon.

While she is beautiful, I would not go to see a film just because she is in it, like I would with Gabrielle Union.

She won the Oscar for playing the lead  in “Monster’s Ball” (2001), where we see her make love to the white racist prison guard who put her husband to death. Angela Bassett refused the part because of how it made black women look. Berry took it and won an Oscar.

After the Oscar win and her success playing Storm in the X-Men films (2000-2006), she was given the lead in “Catwoman” (2004). Few black actresses are given the lead in any film  aimed mainly at white people, at least not without appearing opposite a white person. Unfortunately, “Catwoman” was terrible – so terrible she won a Razzie Award for it, which she accepted with good grace.

She does not try to just get by on her pretty looks. When she was going to play a crackhead in “Jungle Fever” (1991) she talked to crackheads and went for ten days without a bath. I can still remember her performance.

Apart from the Oscar she won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for what I think is her best film  by far: “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (1999).  She was perfect. She is something of a latter-day Dorothy Dandridge herself.

She has been married twice: first to baseball player David Justice (1992-1997), then to singer Eric Benet (2001-2005). She is now in a long-term relationship with Canadian model Gabriel Aubry, who is white and ten years younger than her. They have a daughter together, Nahla, born in 2008.

Life with Aubry seems to be a happy one, but her past with men has not always been so happy. One boyfriend hit her so hard that to this day she cannot hear well out of her right ear. When Justice asked for a divorce she was in such pain she came close to killing herself – only the thought of her mother finding her body pulled her back from the edge.

She is diabetic, the kind where you need to take shots all the time.

She is 5 foot 5 (1.66m), too short to be a model.

She is named after Halle’s department store in Cleveland, where she grew up. Her mother is white, her father is black. Her father left when she was four. He came back once but then was gone again for the rest of her childhood.

When they moved out of Cleveland to live in the suburbs people called her “zebra” and put Oreo cookies in her mailbox. Her mother told her that when people look at her all they will ever see is someone black: they will not know that her mother is white – nor will they care.


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Yasmin Warsame (1976- ), also known as ياسمين ابشير ارسام, is one of the most successful Canadian fashion models of all time. She was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, the same place that Iman is from, but later she fled to Canada. She has grace, class and one of those beautiful, perfect faces. She now lives in New York where she works for IMG, modelling for top designers in both New York and Paris.

Michael Kors calls her the new Iman. Fashion magazine in 2004 named her “The Most Alluring Canadian”.

About black beauty she says:

I believe that “Black beauty” is underrated and isn’t appreciated, so that’s what I want to represent in this modelling industry. I want to inspire young girls and women all around the world to follow their dreams, especially women of colour.

I just love her.

yasmin_warsame1She is tall and thin: she stands 1.78 metres tall (5 foot 10) and her measurements are 81-61-89 cm (32-24-35 inches). She has a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.69, giving her more of an hourglass figure than most fashion models.

She has one of those faces that can look either unmistakably African or like a brown-coloured white woman, depending on how she is made up – which probably matters in something as white as the fashion industry. She is known for her high cheekbones.

Her family left Somalia for Toronto, Canada. There she studied psychology at university and got into modelling. Unlike most models she did not start modelling till her 20s and did not become well-known till after she had already had a child.

yasmin06When she was four months away from giving birth to her son, she was booked to model for the Sears catalogue. Sears said she was too “couture”. So in the summer of 2002 she moved to Paris, the centre of all things couture. There she had only one thing on her mind: “Walking down the runway… and not falling.”

Paris proved to be her big break: there Steven Meisel took pictures of her for a feature in Italian Vogue. From that she went on to model for top designers.

She has also appeared in ads for Revlon, Chanel, Banana Republic (as a token), Neiman Marcus and others.

She has appeared on the magazine covers of Surface, Trace, Canadian Flare, French Revue de Modes, Italian Amica, British, American and Spanish Elle and Italian and American Vogue. Among others. She was in the all-black issue of Italian Vogue in July 2008.

In 2007 she was a judge on “Canada’s Next Top Model”.

One her best moments modelling:

It was when I sent my mum (in Somalia) a large amount of money. I spoke to her and she was almost in tears. That was the moment that made modelling so worth it.

Among her friends are the models Iman, Belinda Baidoo, Oluchi Onweagba and Ubah Hassan.

She says:

I hope my face is not my only fortune…I believe I had a life before modelling and will always have a life after modelling.

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Donyale Luna (1945-1979) was an American fashion model from the 1960s. In March 1966 she became  the first black woman ever to appear on the cover of British Vogue. She also appeared in a number of films by Warhol, Fellini and Otto Preminger.

She was beautiful and troubled, tall and strange. Like a shooting star she was here and then she was gone. She died of drugs at 34.

She was 5 foot 10 (1.78 m) and her measurements were 31-21.5-36 (79-55-91 cm), giving her a waist-to-hip ration (WHR) of 0.60. That is extremely low for a fashion model, but this was just before Twiggy changed everything.

She was born Peggy Freeman in Detroit. Her father was a mean man who was murdered when she was 18. She said he was not her true father, but a man who came from Mexico with the name of Luna.

She was discovered in Detroit by photographer David McCabe. Her mother wanted her to stay in Detroit and become a nurse. She went to New York and became a model. When she walked through the doors of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, they called her “an extraordinary apparition”. They put a drawing of her on their cover in 1965. It made her name.

She did not like New York:

There were bad things. People were on drugs or hung up on pot. There was homosexuality and lesbianism and people who liked to hurt.

So in December 1965 she fled to London and Paris, where she made $60 an hour (48 crowns an hour), a good rate in those days.

britvogue1966She was the first black woman on the cover of British Vogue, but her hand covers half her face so that you cannot tell she is black: she could be Italian or Middle Eastern. Reportedly that was done so its regular readers would not be upset.

But it was not just Vogue that had a hard time accepting her race. She did too. She did not like it when people brought up the fact that she was black. In 1968 when asked about breaking down doors as a black actress, she said:

If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Negroes, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less.

She lived the high life, hung with the Rolling Stones and discovered LSD. But then she began to act even more strangely. Beverly Johnson said she “doesn’t wear shoes winter or summer. Ask her where she’s from – Mars? She went up and down the runways on her hands and knees. She didn’t show up for bookings. She didn’t have a hard time, she made it hard for herself.” Her modelling days were soon over.

She appeared in some films: “Satyricon” (1969) by Fellini, “Camp” (1965) by Warhol and she played the lead in “Salome” (1972). You can see her on “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson” for December 12th 1966.

She appeared in Playboy in May 1975 in a picture of her naked taken by her lover, Luigi Cazzaniga. Their daughter still lives in Italy where she is a dancer.

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Jessica White (1984- ) is an American fashion and print model. Tyra Banks has called her “the model of her generation”. Although best known as a swimsuit model in Sports Illustrated, where she has appeared for each of the past five years (2003-2008 – a record for a black model), she is also a serious fashion model, having appeared on the runway for top New York designers like Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and Tommy Hilfiger.

She is that black girl in the Robin Thicke music video “The Sweetest Love” (2008).

She is the first – and so far only – black model to land not one but two make-up contracts: first CoverGirl at age 16 and then Maybelline in 2007.

She has also modelled for RocaWear, Sean John, Baby Phat and Victoria’s Secret, among others, and appeared in Harper’s Bazaar (twice), Teen Vogue and King and on the covers of Surface and Trace.

She is 176.5 cm tall (five foot nine and a half). Her measurments are 34-24-34 (86.5-61-86.5 cm), giving her a waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of 0.71. She is thin with large breasts and long legs.

She grew up in in a rough part of Buffalo, New York. When she was seven her father got very sick and died. By 12 she was drinking and getting into fights; at 13 she began to smoke pot and at 14 she was raped by someone she knew. But that same year she went to modelling school and was discovered two years later. She went to Paris to become a model. Within six months she was modelling for CoverGirl, Chloe (Spring 2001) and the Gap.

jessicawhite32In 2002 she moved to New York and modelled for the top fashion designers there. A year later she was in Sports Illustrated. That made her name.

Even though she was making unimaginable amounts of money, she was spending it even faster and went broke. She did not even have proper shoes for the snow in New York. She became a drunk and got hooked on cocaine too. She was growing up lost:

I felt like it was more important to them for me to make the money and become famous instead of concentrating on the person who had a soul who was lost and needed some help and foundation, and I wasn’t getting it.

In 2008 she moved back to Buffalo. “I never thought I would be back in Buffalo,” she said. “I had decided I was moving to London, marry some English guy and have some cute little biracial babies. It has to be God that I’m back here.”

She still models, but she is proudest of her work with troubled girls, girls who are like how she used to be. She wants to open a halfway house for them.

It was turning to God that got her off of drink and drugs. Now she has a different view of life:

The biggest part is realizing I’m not just here to take pictures – God makes all of that happen – but because I am a Christian, it is to shine and make a statement just for God.

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Robin Thicke - The Sweetest Love

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