Beverly Johnson recalls pool drained at fashion shoot because she’s Black

The supermodel is speaking out about racism in fashion and how she was 'reprimanded' as a young model for requesting Black hairstylists.

(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Supermodel Beverly Johnson rose to fame when she became the first Black American model to appear on the cover of American Vogue in August 1974.

Johnson admits that when she embarked on a modeling career, she was told by the top agent at the time, Eileen Ford, that “You’ll never be on the cover of Vogue magazine.” 

But the New York native said she “prayed” for it, and once she landed the coveted cover of the high fashion magazine, Johnson said she “had to honor it.”

In doing so, however, she had to “make myself not react” to the cesspool of racism that she had to navigate in order to prove her worth, People magazine reports.

Read More: Bill Cosby drops defamation lawsuit against Beverly Johnson

“What you have to realize is that I was the only Black girl on every shoot,” Johnson tells People. “Once in the 1970s, we were at a five-star hotel. I got into the pool. And all of a sudden, the editor came out and made everybody get out. They drained the pool,” she recalls. 

Adding, “Twenty years later, one of the models told me it was because of me. But I had blocked it out. In order to survive, I would make myself not react. Like Teflon.”

Johnson tells the publication that bagging her first Vogue cover came with huge “responsibility,” which meant she had to walk away from the gigs that had become her bread and butter. 

“I was doing a lot of liquor and cigarette ads. Virginia Slims and Black Velvet Whisky. For Black models, that is how you arrived in terms of money,” she explains. “When I went to Harlem and saw the billboards, bigger than the ones on 42nd Street, I decided I’m not going to do those ads. My booker said, “Are you insane?’” But I didn’t want to influence all these Black people, all these kids, to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.”

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Johnson became the first Black woman to appear on the cover of French Elle in 1975. In 2008, the New York Times named her one of the most influential women in fashion. Fast Forward to 2020 and the industry icon is gushing about finding love again at age 67 to her 70-year-old fiancé, financier Brian Maillian

“This is the first time I’ve dated someone so close to my age! We know the same songs and we’ve lived through a lot of the same things,” she tells People

Johnson was previously married to real estate agent Billy Potter and music producer Danny Sims, with whom she shares daughter Anansa.

Johnson recently penned a Washington Post Op-Ed about racism in fashion, in which she notes how she was “reprimanded” as a young model for requesting Black hairstylists and make-up artists.  

In the powerful piece, she proposes “The Beverly Johnson rule,” noting that is is “similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL that mandates that a diverse set of candidates must be interviewed for any open coaching and front office positions.”

Johnson is pushing for something similar for the worlds of fashion and beauty: “that at least two black professionals be interviewed for influential positions.”

“This is a time of disruption and with disruption, there is a crack in the door,” she says. “The door that was always closed is a little more open now. You can shout through the crack and people are listening.”

Adding, “Policy happen in the boardrooms, and the C-suites.”

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