June (Ferandun) Terry is a dynamically creative senior who brings Black history to stylish life each day of the year. She’s worked for decades as a clothing designer, African fashion and textiles consultant and off-Broadway costumer and set designer. Her work as a costumer can currently be seen in the play “Know Thy Enemy.” An AP interview with Terry was aired last month in which she shared her reflections as she prepared to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
You may have seen Terry around town–perhaps at a cultural or political function or out dancing with friends on a weeknight. At age 78, she gets around and turns heads wherever she goes, always dressed impeccably and crowned by her signature white afro. In fact, Terry made Black history as the first model to wear an Afro in a print publication (Ebony magazine, 1968). In 1970, Terry’s affinity for her heritage was acknowledged when she was given the name, “Ferandun” (meaning “love”) by Nana Yao Opare Dinizulu, a venerated African music, dance and religion pioneer here in New York.
Not everyone back then connected with Africa, and even among those who did, some declined to adopt an outward symbol of heritage such as the Afro or dashiki. Terry worked at many fashion shows where she was the lone person in traditional African garb. “Oh, it was something else!” she recalls. “There were a few instances where the other models refused to have me in the dressing room with them because my hair wasn’t pressed and I was wearing African clothes,” she says laughing. “And after all that, I’d usually get the loudest applause!”
Black women who did publicly embrace their culture were encouraged by Terry’s striking and tasteful presentation, her confidence and her pride. Black beauty was not celebrated on billboards or in television ads, so it was to women such as Cicely Tyson, Odetta, Rosalind Cash, Paula Kelly and June Terry that they turned for validation and inspiration.
The fabulous Terry wasn’t always a fashion and style leader, however. Born in Spring Lake, New Jersey, and raised in Washington, D.C., Terry moved to Brooklyn in the 1940s and later worked as a nurse and in banking. Through those years, she reared five girls and one son, making sure that they were widely exposed to what the environment had to offer, from attending the best public schools in the city to participating in protest marches on Washington. Her son is now a diving instructor for the Los Angeles Fire Department, and two of her daughters, twins Yvonne and Yvette, have long worked as petite-size models for major magazines, supplementing their incomes as marketing and advertising executives. (Look for a brief profile on them in the March issue of O magazine.)
As Terry’s name became known across the country, she developed a following and was able to travel and meet people far and wide. She remembers, for example, the time “in 1969 or 1970” that Jimi Hendrix came to her dressing room at Manhattan Center, saying, “Someone told me the lady from the magazine was here and I just had to meet you!” “Of course, I was thrilled to meet him also because I so admired his talent!” she says. “He asked if it was alright if he went back and got some of his band members who also wanted to meet me. We all spent a couple of hours talking and laughing. Later, I stood in the wings watching as he performed and he dedicated a song to me. It was a wonderful moment!”
Terry frequented the city’s jazz clubs, as well, and felt fortunate to meet and spend time with legends such as Miles Davis, Horace Silver and Ron Carter. She’s visited various African countries, making her first trip in 1971 to Ghana. Her travels helped to enhance both her love and knowledge of African culture, and she soon became an expert consultant in the areas of African fashion and textiles. Taking to heart some of the concerns of the people she’d met, she worked over the years to help raise funds to open a hospital in Ghana and was proud to be present for its dedication in 2006.
Although Terry modeled for many publications and in numerous fashion shows, her greatest contribution has been as a clothing designer. She’s dressed thousands of great ladies and gents both in and out of the public eye.As a pro- ducer, she’s staged fashion shows across the nation, in the Bahamas (where she lived for a decade), on campuses and at community and corporate events. She has done lots of craftwork with children and enjoys their energy and their curiosity about Africa.
Terry’s love of grandeur inspired “The Kings and Queens of Africa,” a spectacle of colorful costumes that provide a captivating history lesson, complete with drum and dance. The pageant, (the final one was staged recently), delighted thousands across the nation for decades, and Terry says that one of her most popular male models has been with the production for 31 years! For information on the play “Know Thy Enemy,” call (212) 368-9314. It runs through March 8 at The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players Theater, 207 West 133rd Street.