25 Black Models Who Changed the Fashion Industry

Joanna Elizabeth

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Updated February 19, 2024

Black Models
These black models have changed fashion with their groundbreaking careers.

Beginning with Naomi Sims in the sixties, many Black models have broken barriers and pushed for more diversity in fashion since. These supermodels are absolute trailblazers whether closing fashion shows or landing commercial campaigns.

From Beverly Johnson being the first Black model to cover Vogue US to Alek Wek changing beauty standards with her career breakthroughs, we celebrate 25 models who prove that diversity is beautiful.

Black Models

Naomi Sims

Naomi Sims is considered the first Black supermodel. She was the first African-American woman to grace the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in 1968, and in 1969, she graced the cover of LIFE Magazine, making her the first black model to do so.

In 1973 Sims retired from fashion modeling and created a wildly successful wig business. Sims also wrote books about modeling and beauty. Sadly, in 2009, the American model died of breast cancer.

Beverly Johnson

Beverly Johnson Black Model
Beverly Johnson. Photo: Jean_Nelson / Deposit Photos

Beverly Johnson was the first Black model to cover American Vogue-landing on the magazine’s August 1974 cover. She was also the first Black woman to cover ELLE France that following year. She was signed to Ford Models and later moved to Wilhelmina Models after being told she could not land a Vogue cover like white models.

Thanks to her historic Vogue magazine cover, many fashion glossies and designers began to use Black models after her appearance. Barbara has also made several television and feature film appearances. In 2012, she starred on OWN’s ‘Beverly’s Full House’, a reality series about her life and family.

Iman

Iman Black Supermodel
Iman. Photo: Jaguar PS / Shutterstock.com

Iman made her impact on modeling by being successful on the runway and in print during the 1970s–a time when models were usually only successful in one category. Photographer Peter Beard discovered her while in Nairobi.

Her long neck, high forehead, and elegant features immediately moved him. During her modeling career, Iman has worked with legendary photographers such as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Helmut Newton.

Yves Saint Laurent even dedicated his ‘African Queen’ collection to the Somalian model. Since then, she has become a business mogul with Iman Cosmetics and her HSN line called ‘Global Chic.’ Iman married the late rocker David Bowie and said she would never remarry after his death.

Veronica Webb

Veronica Webb Black Model
Veronica Webb was the first black model to land a major beauty contract. Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock.com

Veronica Webb worked as a model during the 1980s and 90s and is credited with being the first African-American model to land an exclusive contract with a beauty brand. In 1992, Revlon signed Webb as a brand ambassador, making history.

The African-American model has graced the covers of Vogue Italy, ELLE, and Essence Magazine. In addition, Webb has also acted in feature films, including ‘Jungle Fever,’ ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘In Too Deep.’

Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell Black Model
Naomi Campbell. Photo: DFree / Shutterstock.com

The British supermodel began her career in 1986 and still models over three decades later. Discovered at 15 years old, she soon signed with Elite Model Management. Naomi Campbell made history as the first black woman to appear on the cover of French Vogue as well as Time Magazine.

In the late 80s, Naomi became known as part of the ‘Trinity’ along with fellow supermodels Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista.

In 2013, Naomi launched the modeling competition reality television show, ‘The Face,’ in the US and Australia. And in 2015, Naomi starred in the hit hip-hop musical drama ‘Empire’ on Fox.

Naomi Campbell appeared in many major campaigns, including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and many more. You also can’t forget her fierce runway walk. Despite her many accolades, it’s surprising to note that Naomi got her first big cosmetics campaign with NARS in 2018.

Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks Black Model
Tyra Banks. Photo: PopularImages / Deposit Photos

You might remember that Tyra Banks was the first Black model to land a solo Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue cover in 1997. But did you know that in that same year, she was also the first African-American woman to cover the Victoria’s Secret Catalogue and GQ magazine?

In 2019, she returned as a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover star, showing off a fuller figure and looking fabulous.

Since her modeling days, Tyra has become known for producing and hosting ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ which has several successful spin-offs worldwide. This former Victoria’s Secret Angel went on to host Dancing with the Stars.

Alek Wek

Alek Wek Black Model
Alek Wek. Photo: SharpShooter / Deposit Photos

Alek Wek is a South Sudanese model most well-known for defying beauty standards in the fashion industry. Beginning her modeling career at 18, Alek stood out for being dark-skinned, having African features, and a shaved hairstyle.

Many look up to Wek for showing a different kind of beauty that does not conform to Caucasian standards as a Black woman. In 1997, Wek appeared on the November cover of ELLE, making her the first African model to appear on the publication.

Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o has called Wek one of her inspirations growing up. Notable brands the model has walked for on international runways include Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Valentino.

Jourdan Dunn

Jourdan Dunn Black Model
Jourdan Dunn. Photo: hanna.putylina / Deposit Photos

British model Jourdan Dunn was the first Black model to walk Prada in over a decade in 2008. In 2014, Dunn was signed as a face of the beauty brand Maybelline. In addition, she was the first Black woman model to land a solo cover for Vogue UK in over 12 years for the magazine’s February 2015 issue.

She also walked in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on multiple occasions. The English model has also been very vocal about discrimination in the modeling industry. This includes casting directors who only cast one Black girl per show or even makeup artists who refuse to do models’ makeup just based on their darker skin tones.

Dunn’s place in the modeling world has proven that the need for diversity is important. Despite all this, she owned the runways of New York, Paris, and Milan Fashion Week.

Slick Woods

Slick Woods Black Model
Slick Woods. Photo: SharpShooter / Deposit Photos

Slick Woods is another model who stands out on our list. This Los Angeles native captivates with a unique beauty that’s impossible to ignore. Amplified by her signature shaved head, gap teeth, and audacious tattoos, she exudes pure confidence.

Discovered by Ash Stymest, Slick Woods skyrocketed to prominence, rapidly securing her status as the face of high-profile brands like Yeezy, Moschino, Calvin Klein, and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty. Her influence extends to the glossy pages of elite fashion publications, including American, Italian, and Japanese editions of Vogue, as well as Dazed and Glamour.

Not content to conquer just one industry, she’s also ventured into acting, making a noteworthy debut in the 2020 movie Goldie and garnering critical acclaim for her performance. The model also appeared on Grown-ish.

Adut Akech

Adut Akech Black Model
Model Adut Akech. Photo: Cubankite / Shutterstock.com

Adut Akech Bior, an Australian model with South Sudanese heritage, skyrocketed from a local fashion show to international stardom. After her debut at Melbourne Fashion Week, she graced the Saint Laurent runway during Paris Fashion Week.

“Adut Akech is probably the number one model in the world right now,” said Supreme Models author Marcellas Reynolds in our exclusive interview. She’s worked in ads for fashion companies like Valentino, Zara, Marc Jacobs, and Moschino and strutted for Givenchy, Prada, Tom Ford, and Versace.

Adut was featured in the 2018 Pirelli Calendar and won “Model of the Year” at the 2019 British Fashion Awards. In 2021, she became an Estee Lauder ambassador. Known for her natural hair, she’s an inspiration to young Black girls.

Precious Lee

Precious Lee Black Model
Precious Lee. Photo: SharpShooter / Deposit Photos

Precious Lee is a plus-size model that has broken barriers in the fashion world. A highlight of the recent seasons’ runway shows, she has appeared on the catwalk for the Versace Spring/Summer 2021 collection.

In a big move by major brands to be more representative, she has been featured by major players such as Michael Kors and Moschino during New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2022. She also appeared in Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty show, which debuted on Amazon Prime Video to much fanfare.

Seasoned in the fashion industry, Precious Lee has been the first Black plus-size model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue. She also could be seen on Times Square billboards as a part of Lane Bryant’s campaign #PlusIsEqual. She has been labeled a trailblazer, “a serious fighter for racial equity and justice” by Vogue.

Grace Jones

Grace Jones Black Model
Grace Jones. Photo: Album / Alamy Stock Photo

Grace Jones is an acclaimed model, singer, songwriter, and actress. Born in British Jamaica in 1948 and renowned for her exotic, androgynous beauty and her unique, eccentric style, Grace Jones is one of the most recognizable black models to date.

Starting her modeling career in New York City, she quickly gained traction and moved to Paris to work with brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Kenzo. She also appeared on covers of Elle and Vogue around that time.

Beginning her music career in 1977, Grace Jones released 11 critically acclaimed studio albums, with genres ranging from post-punk to reggae. Her style and music influenced many contemporary stars, such as Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Solange.

Jones can also boast an impressive filmography – she has starred in over 25 films, TV shows, and documentaries. The Jamaican model has had an influence on the fashion world, style, and culture throughout the years. And some of her iconic looks are even emulated to this day.

Liya Kebede

Liya Kebede Black Model
Liya Kebede. Photo: tanka_v / Deposit Photos

Liya Kebede, an Ethiopian-born powerhouse in modeling, fashion design, and activism, had an entire issue of Vogue US dedicated to her. Discovered by Tom Ford, she made waves walking for Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2000 show.

She’s been a cover star for multiple Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar US editions and has fronted campaigns for iconic brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Victoria’s Secret, and Louis Vuitton. In 2003, she became the face of Estée Lauder, and Forbes recognized her as one of the world’s top-earning supermodels in 2007.

Kebede also founded Lemlem, a brand committed to preserving Ethiopian textile crafts and empowering local artisans. Beyond the runway, she serves as a WHO Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health.

Noemie Lenoir

Noemie Lenoir Black Model
Noemie Lenoir. Photo: arp / Deposit Photos

Noemie Lenoir is a French black model and actress. Lenoir started her career when she was spotted by a Ford Modeling Agency agent in 1997. She was only 17 at the time. That same year, Noemie signed a contract with L’Oréal.

She also modeled for brands like Victoria’s Secret, Gap, and Next. She has also notably been the face of a British luxury high-street retailer, Marks & Spencer, from 2005 to 2009 and again in 2012.

Lenoir has appeared in over ten films, including titles like Rush Hour 3 and The Transporter Refuelled. Notably, the acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz has named her as one of the world’s most successful black models. The fashion model also walked the L’Oreal Paris spring-summer 2022 show during Paris Fashion Week.

Winnie Harlow

Winnie Harlow Black Model
Winnie Harlow. Photo: Featureflash / Deposit Photos

Winnie Harlow, born Chantelle Whitney Brown-Young, is a standout model and activist with Canadian-Jamaican roots. Diagnosed with vitiligo at age four, she first caught the public’s eye on America’s Next Top Model in 2014. Although she finished 6th place, her career skyrocketed, making her one of the show’s most successful alumni. 

That same year, she became the face of the Spanish brand Desigual and closed the London Fashion Show for Ashish. Harlow has graced the pages of Vogue Italia, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan and has been featured in ad campaigns for Nike, Puma, Swarovski, Tommy Hilfiger, Fendi, and Victoria’s Secret. 

Beyond the runway and glossy pages, she advocates vitiligo awareness, sharing her journey on YouTube and TEDx. She’s also appeared in TV shows and music videos, including those by Eminem and Calvin Harris.

Joan Smalls

Joan Smalls Black Model
Puerto Rican model Joan Smalls is another beauty known for her dark brown tresses. Photo: FashionStock.com / Shutterstock.com

Joan Smalls is one of the most famous models from Puerto Rico. In 2007, she signed with Elite Model Management. She initially modeled for brands like Nordstrom and Sass & Bide before Riccardo Tisci selected her for Givenchy’s 2010 Haute Couture show.

This catapulted her into collaborations with fashion titans like Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Fendi. Her face has graced the covers of multiple Vogue editions and other high-profile magazines like i-D, GQ, and Elle.

She’s also strutted the Victoria’s Secret runway and appeared in the Pirelli Calendar. Forbes ranked her as the world’s 8th best-earning supermodel in 2013. She started a collaboration with W Hotels in 2017, being named their first-ever Global Fashion Innovator, bringing her unique style to influence the W Hotels’ guests’ experience.

Pat Cleveland

Pat Cleveland Black Model
Pat Cleveland walks the runway. Photo: fashionstock / Deposit Photos

Pat Cleveland’s story is a tapestry woven from the threads of fashion and civil rights, a vivid illustration of how one woman can redefine an industry. Discovered by a Vogue editor as a teenager, she became a muse for Halston and Stephen Burrows, icons of the 1970s fashion scene.

But Cleveland wasn’t just another pretty face. She was a pioneer, one of the first Black models to gain international acclaim. Her twirls on the runway were a dance of defiance against racial barriers. Even today, her influence reverberates, with her daughter Anna Cleveland following in her footsteps.

Jasmine Tookes

Jasmine Tookes Model
Jasmine Tookes. Photo: imagepressagency / Deposit Photos

Jasmine Tookes is known as one of the sexiest Black models. She got her first major break in 2010, and by 2012, she was already walking for Victoria’s Secret, a brand synonymous with mainstream allure.

But her crowning moment came in 2016 when she wore the $3 million Fantasy Bra, a feat that etched her name in fashion history. Beyond modeling, she worked with Josephine Skriver on an activewear brand called JoJa.

Halima Aden

Halima Aden Black Model
Halima Aden. Photo: Featureflash / Deposit Photos

Hijabi model Halima Aden is another beauty who broke barriers. Born in a Kenyan refugee camp to Somali parents, her journey to the catwalk is a tale of resilience that defies the odds.

Aden challenges the fashion world’s narrow standards of beauty, proving that modesty and glamour can coexist. In 2020, she became the first model to wear a burkini in the Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue. The short 5’7″ model’s advertising campaigns include top brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Fenty Beauty.

Duckie Thot

Duckie Thot Black Model
Duckie Thot. Photo: SharpShooter / Deposit Photos

Duckie Thot’s rise to fashion stardom is a tale of resilience and redefinition. Born in Australia to South Sudanese parents, she first gained attention as a finalist on “Australia’s Next Top Model.” But her move to New York catapulted her into the fashion stratosphere.

As one of the most famous dark skin models, Duckie challenges the industry’s narrow beauty norms. From walking for Tommy Hilfiger to becoming a L’Oréal ambassador, Duckie Thot is a radiant force, redefining what it means to be a top model in today’s diverse landscape.

Adwoa Aboah

Adwoa Aboah Black Model
Adwoa Aboah. Photo: Featureflash / Deposit Photos

Born in London to an English mother and Ghanaian father, Adwoa Aboah’s career blends fashion and activism. She’s graced the covers of Vogue and walked for Chanel, but her impact goes far beyond the runway.

Aboah founded Gurls Talk, a platform that provides a safe space for young women to discuss issues like mental health and sexuality.

Her work has earned her accolades, including being named British GQ’s Woman of the Year in 2017. She also acts, appearing in the British television show Top Boy.

Chanel Iman

Chanel Iman Black Model
Chanel Iman. Photo: Featureflash / Deposit Photos

As one of the top Black female models of the 2000s, Chanel Iman is a name that stands out in fashion history. This American model, with African-American and Korean heritage, has been a beacon of diversity in an industry often criticized for its monochromatic palette.

Discovered at a young age, she quickly ascended the ranks, walking for iconic brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph Lauren. Her appearances in Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows and numerous Vogue features made cultural statements.

Imaan Hammam

Imaan Hammam Black Model
Imaan Hammam walks the Versace show. Photo: fashionstock / Deposit Photos

Imaan Hammam is a model of Moroccan and Egyptian heritage known for her curly hair. Discovered in Amsterdam’s Central Station, her journey to international stardom is a testament to the magnetic pull of diverse beauty.

She’s walked for powerhouses like Versace and Givenchy, and her Vogue covers are a visual feast that challenges the industry’s Eurocentric lens. In 2023, she signed on as an ambassador for Estee Lauder.

Anok Yai

Anok Yai Black Model
Anok Yai. Photo: SharpShooter / Deposit Photos

Spotted at a college party, Anok Yai became famous through social media. She became the first Black model to open Prada’s show in over two decades. Born in Egypt to South Sudanese parents, she is an Estee Lauder ambassador and appeared in advertisements for top brands such as Chanel, Versace, and Fendi.

Cindy Bruna

Cindy Bruna Model
Cindy Bruna. Photo: arp / Deposit Photos

Cindy Bruna’s career is another groundbreaking moment in fashion. Of Congolese and Italian descent, she was the first model of color to exclusively walk for Calvin Klein, a feat that didn’t just make headlines but also made history.

She’s a consistent presence, gracing runways for brands like Victoria’s Secret and appearing in Prada, Michael Kors, and Chanel campaigns.

Trailblazing Beauties

Having journeyed through the captivating stories of these renowned Black models, it’s clear their impact extends far beyond mere aesthetics. From dominating New York’s most illustrious runways to gracing the covers of high-profile magazines, these trailblazers have shattered industry norms.

Their stories serve as a compelling testament to resilience, challenging us to rethink what beauty and success look like. As we gaze toward the horizon, it’s evident that this list is far from complete. The future holds the promise of even more Black women ascending to redefine the fashion world.


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4 thoughts on “25 Black Models Who Changed the Fashion Industry”

  1. Correction: Beverly Johnson was the first on the cover of US Vogue. British Vogue was the first to use a black model, Donyale Luna, on it’s cover in 1966, which also means that Naomi Campbell wasn’t the first black woman on the cover of British Vogue.

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