Model Trailblazer: Beverly Johnson


Beverly Johnson is considered a trailblazer in the modeling industry because her career included a number of firsts for African American models. She was the first African American model to be featured on the cover of American Vogue in 1974. This was a major achievement because previous cover models were only Caucasian women. Johnson was also the first black woman to appear on the cover of French Elle. One could say she helped pave the way for fellow black models like Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Tyra Banks.

The iconic beauty from Buffalo, New York was born in 1952. She swam competitively and aspired to pursue a career in law. At Northeastern University, she studied Criminal Justice. She tried her hand at modeling while on Summer break. Johnson continued this new venture because she began consistently booking work, even gracing the cover of Glamour while setting records for the magazine’s circulation. Three years later, she became the first black woman to earn the cover shot of Vogue even though she has gone on record many times saying her first agent, fashion powerhouse Eileen Ford, told her that it would never happen.

Johnson became one of the era’s highest paid models when she was called to a shoot with photographer Francesco Scavullo for Vogue’s pages. In the fashion industry, Vogue set the standard and Johnson set her sights on it. This proved to be inspiring for models who were able to book Vogue covers after her. Prior to her breakout, young black women did not have an example they could point to and follow in their path. She broke down the color barrier on the cover of Vogue. A year after she posed for the cover, almost every major American fashion designer began using African American models.

In 1975, Johnson became the first black woman to appear on the cover of the French edition of Elle. Johnson went on to appear on more than 500 magazine covers, becoming an absolute iconic fashion model. In 2012, she was the star of the reality series Beverly’s Full House that aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The New York Times named Johnson one of the 20th century’s most influential people in fashion in 2008.

She then took her modeling success and ventured into television. She made appearances on Law & Order, 3rd Rock From The Sun, and Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. She even showed up on Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns in 2010. In addition to this, Johnson has also written a book, “Beverly Johnson’s Guide to a Life of Health and Beauty.” She also has dabbled in music. She released an album ‘Don’t Lose The Feeling’ in 1979.