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Models as muses at the Met

Renee Minus White | 4/12/2011, 4:37 p.m.
Models as muses at the Met

Beverly Johnson embodied the athletic ideal of the 1970s. A tall, lithe and muscular champion swimmer from upstate New York, Johnson began modeling while attending law school. Johnson was the first African-American model to grace the cover of American Vogue in 1974. Erroneously described in the press as the African princess plucked from the wilds of the savannah, Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid was discovered in 1975 by wildlife photographer Peter Beard in Nairobi while on her way to school. The daughter of a diplomat and a doctor, Iman possessed extraordinary beauty, unrivaled grace of movement and a levelheaded sense of self that, in many ways, helped redefine existing standards of beauty established by a white majority. Although by no means the first Black model to achieve success, Iman was arguably one of the most successful models of her era.

A modeling agent in London discovered Naomi Campbell while she was a teenager attending class in the performing arts. Among the most recognizable print, editorial and runway models of the late 1980s, Campbell gained a reputation for her sleek, panther-like walk and exceptional runway presence. Born and raised in the Sudan, Alek Wek was discovered in the mid-1990s in London, where her family had relocated to escape political upheavals in her homeland. By her late teens, Wek was fast becoming an international runway star with a strong editorial presence. Standing 5-foot-11, with elegantly attenuated limbs and a compelling unique look, Wek appeared in music videos in the mid-1990s for Tina Turner and Janet Jackson. In 1997, Wek was named MTV's Model of the Year. In 2007, Wek wrote an autobiography recounting her family's struggle to escape the war-torn Sudan and her journey from hardship to hard-won success. There are many more Black models, like Toukie Smith, Bethann Hardison, Pat Cleveland, Norma Jean Darden, Alva Chin and Veronica Webb, who all stood out in the fashion industry early on. Good show!