Since the 1950s, Black models have been an integral part of the fashion industry trailblazing a path that is hard to forget, but often overlooked. Last month, Models.com launched the first edition of the multi-part series showcasing Black model pioneers through the decades that may or may not have been on your radar. Whether you’re a model junkie or looking to learn something new, the exhaustive list highlights how these pillars of model history started off in the industry, climbed to notoriety, and their claims to fame.
Michelle De Swarte
South London born and raised Michelle De Swarte was scouted in a mall by a Select booker and soon after moved to NYC. De Swarte booked her first editorial with Harper’s Bazaar in her first month of living in the city, and eventually walked for Gucci and worked with Tommy Hilfiger and Missoni. The model transitioned into comedy and now does stand-up skits while appearing in the Netflix show “The Duchess”.
From exotic dancer to model, Jamaican native Nadine Willis found herself in the fashion world after being discovered by Pulse Agency in Kingston. Willis first moved to London to find an international agency but after multiple rejections, she was finally signed and her career took off a few weeks later. The driven model booked editorial in Vogue Paris and eventually bagged an exclusive campaign with Gucci, becoming a Tom Ford favorite.
Chrystèle Saint Louis Augustin
Born in Paris, Chrystèle was discovered at an open call for United Colors of Benetton when she was still in high school and went on to become a muse for Gaultier, Chanel, and Dior. She was one of the first black models to demand to wear her hair in its natural state and appeared in music videos with musician Maxwell.
Model, author, and designer Lois Samuels was born in St. Elizabeth’s Parish, Jamaica, and paved the way for other models from her home country, working in the mid-90s with photographers like Steven Meisel, Ellen von Unwerth, and Peter Lindbergh. She was the first Black model to land a cover for Vogue Germany in 1997 and was part of iconic ads for Calvin Klein Jeans.
Ann Fiona Scollay was a Kenyan/Swiss model and one of the top runway girls in Europe from the 80s until the mid-90s. Known for her incredible walk and versatility, she was a favorite of Emanuel Ungaro and a regular on the catwalks of Dior, Gianni Versace, Chanel, YSL, Ferre, Givenchy, Paco Rabanne, and Giorgio Armani. After battling with personal demons, Ann Fiona passed away in Kenya in April 2015.
Born in Sweden with an Ethiopian background, Anna Getaneh was based in Brussels when she took a train to Paris and landed on the front steps of an agency. A month later, Gateneh was signed and working for Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, and eventually for all 7 markets. The Ethiopian model’s, interest in design and fashion grew from her experiences on the runway and she eventually opened her own company African Mosaique to promote African fashion and talents.
Mounia, aka Monique-Antoine Orosemane, was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, the daughter of a French former police detective and a Martinican mother. It was in the late 70s while working as a flight announcer at Orly Airport in Paris that Mounia was spotted by Hubert de Givenchy and Jean Bousquet of Cacharel, who both encouraged her to pursue modeling. The first Black model to walk the Givenchy runway and work for Coco Chanel, Mounia is most famously remembered as the favorite muse of Yves Saint Laurent.
Before Alva Chinn was a Halstonette, she studied at the University of Massachusetts and then moved to New York to start her modeling career. Chinn was discovered through word of mouth upon meeting Oscar De La Renta during an Ebony photoshoot, which led to her introduction to Halston and joining the Halstonette entourage. Chinn worked for the likes of Valentino and participated in the legendary Battle of Versailles show that changed American fashion and showcased Black models in a way that had never been seen.
Elizabeth of Toro
Princess Elizabeth of Toro had a versatile background before transitioning into the modeling world. Born in Western Uganda to the royal family, Elizabeth went on to graduate from Cambridge University with a law degree, becoming the first East-African woman to be admitted into the English Bar. Upon her father’s passing, she went back to Uganda and became the most powerful woman in the country which made international headlines. Soon after, Princess Margaret asked Elizabeth to walk for a charity show in London which was the start of her vast modeling and acting career. The Princess of Toro was featured in British and American Vogue, becoming the first Black woman to grace the cover of Harpers Bazaar and later undertook acting making a debut in “Bullfrog in the Sun” and eventually became Uganda’s ambassador to the United States.
LeJeune Hundley’s start came through the pageant circuit, winning the “Miss American” beauty contest and then Miss Cannes Film Festival in 1960. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, LeJeune’s ambition to succeed was fuelled after her mother was fired from a longtime school cafeteria job in 1959 due to her fight to enroll her two younger daughters into integrated schools. LeJeune modeled briefly for the House of Dior in Paris before returning stateside and in October 1962 she became one of the first Black models to appear in American Vogue. A graduate of the Ophelia De Vore School of Charm, LeJeune balanced modeling for 7th Ave designers with working at De Vore’s legendary Grace Del Marco Agency.