Rihanna at the Dior Resort 2015 show.
Dior announced last Monday that music sensation and modern day style icon, Rihanna will be the luxury brand’s newest spokesmodel. The stunning singer will be the first woman of colour to hold the position after over 30 years worth of brand ambassadors including famous beauties like French actress Isabelle Adjani, Natalie Portman, Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Lawrence.
Rihanna tells Vogue "It is such a big deal for me, for my culture, for a lot of young girls of any colour. I think, to be acknowledged by Dior is just... it means a lot as a woman to feel beautiful, and elegant, and timeless." This is an apt description of the Dior ambassador. Both men and women of style, substance and a distinctive brand unto themselves are often picked for the role of fronting campaigns for one of the oldest and most prestigious fashion houses. Rihanna will be featured in the fourth Secret Garden film, a campaign shot at Versailles.
Before Rihanna of course came other great beauties that broke the mould and showed a different face to high fashion beauty.
Naomi Campbell is arguably the ultimate supermodel. Not only is she beautiful, she is influential, inspiring other fashion insiders to rally around her when faced with discrimination. She was the first black model to cover French Vogue in 1988. In 1989 she was the first black model to cover American Vogue’s September issue. Her legacy speaks for itself. She has amassed her own empire and is one of the most prolific models of our time. It’s safe to say, there will never be another Naomi. The model opened a lot of doors by forcing people in the industry to reexamine their concept of beauty and opening dialogues as to why there isn’t more diversity on the runways in this day and age.
(L) Naomi Campbell, French Vogue, 1988. (R) Naomi Campbell by Patrick Demarchelier, Vogue US, September 1989.
Carrie Donovan discovered Pat Cleveland out and about in New York in 1967. During the 1970s she was muse to fashion greats like Halston and Yves Saint Laurent. Cleveland wasn’t just infamous for her beauty, but her distinctive walk, known for dancing down the runway, there was a reason she was one of the most known models of her time. Her legacy lives on through her daughter Anna who is also a model and muse to Zac Posen.
(L) Pat Cleveland in Yves Saint Laurent. (R) Pat Cleveland on the runway for Halston.
Grace Jones is a singer, model and actress hailed for androgynous looks and outlandish behavior. A widely regarded and distinctive model in the 1970s, she was a muse to Andy Warhol and played Roger Moore’s love interest in the 1985 Bond film A View To Kill. Both Rihanna and Lady Gaga have cited her as a source of inspiration in interviews. In 2008 Jones told The Daily Mail, 'in the seventies and eighties we all had our fun, and now and then we went really too far. But, ultimately, it required a certain amount of clear thinking, a lot of hard work and good make-up to be accepted as a freak.'
(L) Grace Jones at Studio 54, 1977. (R) Grace Jones in A View To Kill, 1985.
In 1974 Beverley Johnson was the first black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue. WWD reports that Eileen Ford told the famous beauty that she would never land a Vogue cover. Johnson parted with the agency to give Wilhelmina Models a try and it was Wilhelmina Cooper herself who delivered the good news. One of the shots from Johnson’s beauty shoot for American Vogue would appear on the cover. In 1973 she was also the first black model on the cover of French ELLE. The New York Times named her one of the most influential people in fashion of the 20th century.
(L) Beverly Johnson, Vogue US, 1974. (R) Beverly Johnson, Elle France, 1973.
Naomi Sims was the first black model to cover Ladies Home Journal in 1968. She has been called the first black supermodel. In 1974 Halston told The New York Times “Naomi was the first, she was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers,” while Halston’s views on race barriers may have been a little premature; it speaks to the high regard in which he viewed Sims’ influence.
(L) Naomi Sims, Ladies Home Journal, 1968. (R) Naomi Sims in Bill Blass, Harper's Bazaar, 1968.
Donyale Luna was one of the most renowned ‘60s beauties. She was a muse to great fashion photographers like Richard Avedon and David Bailey, featured in Warhol and Fellini films. In 1966 she was the first black model to cover British Vogue.
(L) Donyale Luna, Vogue UK, 1966. (R) Donyale Lune in Paco Rabanne by Guy Bourdin, 1966.
There are countless women who have faced adversity and broken down barriers in an elitist, fickle industry riddled with rejection. Their presence and contributions to the fashion world serve to inspire women of all walks of life, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds that what hasn’t been done is long overdue and some barriers are made to be broken. Their legacies have served the industry as well generations of women who looked to beauty and fashion ideals and never saw themselves represented. These pioneers have transcended, inspired and redefined beauty within the fashion industry for generations and for this, the industry owes them a great deal.