Fashion

This Photobook Pays Homage To Fashion’s Most Iconic Black Models

Supreme Models is former model Marcellas Reynolds' first book, an unapologetic homage to the fashion industry's most iconic black models. The celebratory offering is filled with seventy female trailblazers spanning multiple decades, rife with women who laid the groundwork for a new generation of black women breaking the industry today.
 
Model-turned-journalist-and-stylist Reynolds first had the idea for the book after reading a lacklustre tribute devoted to renowned faces in the modelling industry. Quickly noticing a distinct lack of black female models, he tells Refinery29: “I read it from cover to cover and it dawned on me that there were only two black models in the book. I was a little outraged actually. I did some research and there were no art books that were devoted to black supermodels.”

The L.A. native began producing the book in 2011, enlisting the help of some friends he accrued during his successful modelling stint in the late '90s: “I knew all these models; we shared our lives and stories. I knew A-list models would have incredible stories to tell.” Delving into their stories firsthand, he hoped to fill a void: “What was missing from the art books that I had, was that they always talked to other people like the editors, directors and photographers but not the models themselves.”
 
Including a legion of lesser-known faces who enriched the landscape was at the crux of this project, he continues: “I wanted [to include] models like Karen Alexander who you may not know and faces like Kersti Bowser, who in the early ‘80s to early ‘90s influenced black culture because she was in almost all issues of Seventeen magazine. Black girls grew up hanging onto her every word, wearing what she wore in the magazine and behaving how she did.”
 
One of the faces representing the influx of contemporary models is 19-year-old Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech, who won the prestigious accolade for Model of The Year earlier this month at the Fashion Awards. While her recognition is certainly a milestone in the industry, egregious declarations like ELLE Germany’s “Black is Back” cover line on the November 2019 issue (alongside the misidentification of various black models inside the magazine) is a startling reminder of the struggle black models still endure. Although change may be slow - “I feel like for every step forward there is a step back” Reynolds says - there is a shift taking place due to the gradual acceptance of “girls of every hair texture” and a multitude of “skin tones breaking though” he adds.
 
Scroll through to discover a few faces that Marcellas credits as game-changers in the modelling industry, from the inimitable Pat Cleveland to Naomi Sims.
 
Supreme Models: Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionised Fashion by Marcellas Reynolds, £40, is available now.

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1 of 5
Pat Cleveland
 
“Pat Cleveland is a gift to this earth and we don’t deserve her. She was otherworldly beautiful. The young image of her is one of my favourites, there’s something so pure about her. But talk about a runway diva! Pat brings anything she wears to glorious life and for me; she is one of the top 3 runway models ever.”
2 of 5
Beverly Peele 
 
“People always want to compare Tyra and Naomi to each other but Naomi’s main competition when she was working was Beverly Peele. Peele was a stealth model and she low-key killed the modelling game. She has over 250 major magazine covers, appeared in almost every major fashion show during her runs and worked for every major designer during her stint. Peele had major campaigns with Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph Lauren. During her moment, Beverly Peele was the number 2 black model. When you compare models to Naomi, if you’re going to do that, it should be with Beverly Peele.”
3 of 5
Leomie Anderson
 
She’s beautiful, outspoken and part of a new generation of models that speaks up for themselves. They speak up for themselves and in doing so they speak up for a generation of other women. Even though they’re speaking up for themselves whether they’re saying ‘you can’t treat me like this’ or ‘this isn’t fair’ they’re speaking to their contemporaries and speaking for their contemporaries, because if things change for them, it also changes for everyone. I love that about girls like Leomie and Adwoa.”
4 of 5
Daphne Maxwell Reid
 
“Daphne Maxwell Reid is arguably best known for playing Will Smith’s Aunt Viv in 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but she’s so much more than that. She was the first African American homecoming queen at the prestigious North-western University in Evanston, Illinois. An Eileen Ford discovery, Daphne made numerous appearances in Seventeen magazine which led to her history-making turn as the first black woman on the cover of Glamour magazine. During our interview Daphne said, "My whole career and life has been luck, guided by a higher power. A higher power, and taking advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves with a sense of professionalism." Daphne Maxwell Reid is the perfect example of a model not defined by her beauty who continues to redefine herself each day.”
5 of 5
Naomi Sims
 
“Naomi Sims was one of the world’s highest-paid models of any race in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. As a top model during her relatively short career, Sims was one of the few models who did runway shows for high-end designers, magazine covers and fashion editorials and starred in television commercials. And let us not forget she made MILLIONS as a businesswoman when she started her eponymous wig company! When Naomi Sims appeared on the cover of Ladies Home Journal in 1968, which had a readership of 14 million subscribers, she changed the face of modelling and showed the world dark skin and natural hair is beautiful.”
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