Thirty-five years ago this month, Beverly Johnson — photographed by the legendary Francesco Scavullo — landed the cover of Vogue. It was August 1974 and she was the magazine's first black cover model. Johnson tells the L.A. Times' Caroline Ryder:
"You could kind of feel it in the air during the shoot. I knew it was going to be a good picture."
What's interesting, notes Ryder, is that Vogue was actually a little behind the times; Johnson had already made a name for herself at Glamour, which had been featuring black cover models since 1968.
Still, Vogue, as it does now, had a reputation, a cachet: "When the magazine came out I had no idea at all that I was the first black woman to be on the cover of Vogue," Johnson says. "I was just overjoyed to be on the cover because that's what you strive for as a model. That's when you know you have arrived."
But Johnson's career was not without its rough patches:
On shoots Johnson often felt like "the token black," she says. Hairstylists often "didn't have a clue about black hair — I was always teaching the white hairdressers and makeup artists how to do me. There were no black hairdressers and makeup artists." On catalog shoots, her white counterparts would earn more, even though Johnson's photos often would be the ones that sold the most product.
Still, Johnson is a pioneer. After her, many black models had the chance to appear on the cover of Vogue (some examples here). And despite recent cover appearances by Jennifer Hudson and Michelle Obama, considering that in 2007, the October, November and December issues of Vogue had zero black models; it's clear that there is still work to be done.