Black Supermodels are multi-faceted, and some are
even multi-millionaires. More importantly, they are role models to young minorities
– proving that the impossible is indeed possible.
Grace Jones, Veronica Webb, Naomi Sims, Naomi
Campbell and Djimon Hounsou are fine examples of how a small opportunity can
turn into a lifetime of great happenings.
Born in Jamaica in 1948, Grace Mendoza was a
gentle giant. She relocated to New York in 1965, and captivated the fashion
world under the moniker Grace Jones. An entrancing hair cut, particularly dark
skin tone and a grand stature put all eyes on her as she dominated runways. Using
the catwalk to further her singing and acting career, Grace had several successful
singles including “Pull Up To My Bumper,” I Need A Man and My Jamaican Guy.
With her inimitable look, she quickly became The
Queen of Gay Discos on the music scene, and was the muse for many artists, including the great Andy Warhol. She went on to be named one of VH-1s
100 Greatest Women in Rock n Roll. In
the mid-80s she was honored for her acting skills as a Saturn Award Best
Supporting Actress nominee three times in a row. A more familiar pop culture role may be when
she played alongside Eddie Murphy in the 1992 hit Boomerang.
With a sister whos an oncologist and another who
is a mathematician, many thought Veronica Webb was insane when she dropped out
of school to become a model. But she had great reason for doing what she did.
She didnt choose to become a model so much for the glitz and glamour, but for
the way the models were animated on the runway.
During her tenure on the catwalk, she posed for
exquisite magazines such as ELLE, Vogue and Essence and showed off fashions from Karl Lagerfield and Isaac
Mizrahi. She even played a role in highly successful films such as Jungle Fever (1991), Malcolm X (1992) and In Too Deep (1999). Aside from her jobs
as fashion model and actress, she went on to become a magazine editor, broadcaster,
spokesmodel and writer.
The Naomi was Naomi Sims. Born in the trenches of Oxford, Mississippi in 1949, Naomi
was forever teased for her towering 5’10” figure and skin tone. But as most models have done, she
turned the taunting into a tenacious career. After graduating high school in Pittsburg, PA, she studied merchandising at the Fashion Institute of
Technology in New York, and later psychology at New York University before dropping out to work. Despite the fact that modeling agencies turned her down left and right in the beginning, Ms. Sims was the
first model of color to gain worldwide recognition in the late ’60s. She landed her contract with the newly formed Wilhelmina Modeling Agency after mailing out her own 1967 New York Times cover (which she landed herself via the fashion editor of the paper), and booked enough gigs for Wilhelmina Cooper to take on the young model.
Over the years, Naomi has graced
the covers of numerous magazines including Cosmopolitan, Life, and Essence. Unlike many models who venture into acting, she
turned down many roles, including the 1972 film Cleopatra Jones due to its stereotypical script. She quietly left the modeling
world at the age of 24 and built The Naomi Sims Collection, an empire of budding hair
weaves and cosmetic products. She has authored several books, lending her
expertise on all things beauty related.
The all-too familiar Naomi Campbell was introduced
to the world in 1970 in England and to the modeling world around 1985. She was
ultimately the first woman of color to cover Vogue Paris, Vogue UK, Vogue Nippon and Time magazines. She has ruled the runways of all major designers in
the United States and abroad.
Known to the Hip-Hop world for her music video
appearances (Jay Z, Prince, Usher and P. Diddy to name a few), Naomi initially became
part of the music industry in 1978 where she had a cameo in Bob Marleys music
video Is This Love? She even released her own album Baby Woman, which was extremely successful in Japan. She sang on Vanilla Ices single Cool as Ice,
and even had a song on the 1994 soundtrack for the film Heavens Girl.
Ms. Campbell is also the creator of several perfumes.
Since 1999, Naomi has released many seductive fragrances including Naomagic,
Mystery and Cat Deluxe at Night. She has also been involved with various charitable
organizations, and has worked with Nelson Mandela in Sub-Saharan Africa. As of
late, she was a part of the giving effort that contributed over one million
dollars to displaced Hurricane Katrina victims in Louisiana.
Forced to leave Benin, Africa at age 13 to attend
school in France with his brother, Djimon Hounsou had dreams of being in
theater. With an undying dream, he dropped out of college and left his home in
Lyons for the streets of Paris. A few homeless months turned into several years,
and Djimon believed that everything was working against him. Little did he know
a famed fashion designer was in search of him.
Thierry Muglar saw earlier
photos of Djimon and searched Paris until he found him. Djimons life went from
imperfect to impressive, as he became a top model on runways worldwide. In 1989, Madonna saw him modeling in Los Angeles
and enlisted him for her Express Yourself video. Since then, Djimon has
appeared in numerous videos and television shows including Alias, Beverly Hills 90210 and
ER. Hes landed commercial campaigns,
and of course hes become a big screen movie star.
His breakout role was in the 1997 blockbuster Amistad, which garnered him a Golden
Globe Award nomination. His movie roles afterward seemed to grow larger and
gain him even more recognition. In 2000 he played a significant role in Gladiator, and four years later he
became the first Black African to be nominated for an Oscar for In America. For his role in the film Blood Diamond, he received three coveted
nominations (including another Oscar nod in the Supporting Actor category) and the
National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actor.
While waiting for more entrancing roles to come
about, Djimon has gone back to his roots as a model for Calvin Klein underwear.
A highly sought after model and actor, Djimon is also a humanitarian. Between
posing and acting, he is a Global Ambassador for Oxfam, a group working to
fight poverty, hunger and injustice worldwide.