The first black cover models: Where are they now?

Here, we, salute the firsts, and give you an update on where they landed after their glam-filled youths. Where are the world's first black cover girls and guys now? Read on to learn more.

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Almost 50 years after model Donyale Luna graced the January 1965 cover of Harper’s Bazaar, black cover girls — and guys — remain woefully underrepresented.  Month after month, issue after issue, magazines tout beauty solutions that are largely irrelevant to women who aren’t white, and don’t bother to reflect the full spectrum of their readers in editorial spreads. There is (some) yield when it comes to (some) celebrities. Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, and Rihanna are among the rarefied list of black stars that land multiple covers. But the fact remains, models that aren’t Caucasian have a slim chance of becoming magazine cover girls. In spite of these odds, even during some of most contentious moments in America’s racial history, black models have broken through. Iman, Renauld White, Beverly Peele, Louise Vyent, Jourdan Dunn, and Chanel Iman are just a few of the models that have smiled, winked, and pouted from fashion’s top covers. Here, we, salute the firsts, and give you an update on where they landed after their glam-filled youths. Where are the world’s first black cover girls and guys now? Read below to learn more.

The Model: Donyale Luna

The Covers: Harper’s Bazaar January 1965, British Vogue March 1966

Where She Was Then:      

When photographer David McCabe spotted the 18-year-old stunner born Peggy Anne Freeman in Detroit, he invited her to try her hand at modeling in New York. Once in Manhattan, Luna met Harper’s Bazaar’s top editor Nancy White. Taken by Luna’s beauty, White had an illustrator sketch Luna’s portrait; the portrait became the magazine’s inaugural black cover. Months later, Luna left New York for London where she almost instantly became a photographer’s muse. In March 1966, she landed the cover of British Vogue—the first African-American to do so. Luna’s groundbreaking covers catapulted her to “It” status. Sammy Davis, Jr, Salvador Dali, and Michael Caine were among her social set, and in the late ‘60s and ‘70s she enjoyed a hyphenate career as a model and actress appearing in films helmed by Federico Fellini, Otto Preminger, and her friend Andy Warhol. In 1977, she gave birth to her only daughter Dream, whom she had with Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga.

Where She is Now:

Drugs got the better of the model on May 17, 1979, the day she died of an accidental heroin overdose. Luna was 32 years old.

The Model: Katiti Kironde

The Cover: Glamour August 1968

Where She Was Then:      

Upon the encouragement of then-Editor-in-Chief of Mademoiselle Magazine (a family friend), Kironde entered Glamour’s “Top Ten Best Dressed College Girls” contest. She won, becoming the magazine’s first African-American cover girl. The August 1968 issue she graced remains Glamour’s bestselling issue of all time. Kironde admits she didn’t get the magnitude of her cover’s meaning at the time. “Did I say this is a triumph because I’m black? No.” At 18, she says, she was just thrilled to be on a magazine; and ignored the petty comments that came along with the distinction. “Some people said ‘she’s on the cover because she’s the daughter of an Ambassador.’” Kironde’s father was Uganda’s first Ambassador to the UN. While others said “’The first black woman would have to be African—why couldn’t be African-American?’” Of course, with the perspective of time and age, Kironde realizes the gravity of her face on Glamour’s cover mere months after Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated.

Where She is Now:

Kironde has not been resting on her looks. She has built a three-decade long career in design working for retail brands like Laura Ashley and TJ Maxx subsidiary Marmaxx Group. She is currently Assistant Professor of Fashion Design & Marketing at Fisher College in Boston; and President of the Kironde Education and Health Fund, which supports orphans and vulnerable children in Uganda. In 2010, she launched a line of classic white shirts which she plans to create a follow-up collection for next year.

The Model: Naomi Sims

The Covers:  Ladies Home Journal November 1968, LIFE October 17, 1969

Where She Was Then:      

In 1966, Naomi Ruth Sims was a student at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology when she decided to try modeling for extra cash. Rather than wait for a photographer/editor to discover her, the Oxford, Mississippi native discovered herself. She approached modeling agencies and lensmen, and as a result earned the cover of the New York Times’ fashion supplement in August 1967. A national AT&T campaign followed, and in November 1968 she landed the Ladies Home Journal cover. She went on to become the first African-American the cover of  LIFE Magazine too.

Where She is Now:

After five years modeling, business-minded Sims started an eponymous company borne of her experiences with stylists who did not know how what to do with black hair and dark skin. The multi-million dollar Naomi Sims Collection initially featured wigs, later expanding to cosmetics, fragrance, and beauty salons. She also penned the books How To Be a Top Model and All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman. Sims succumbed to cancer August 1, 2009. She was 61.