Friday, August 7, 2009

The Passing of a Legend: First Black Super Model, Naomi Sims, dies at 61

Super Model Naomi Sims

In 1968, I was ten years old. Even then, I was a fashion magazine-a-holic. Though I was in love with the likes of Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, even I knew that something, or someone was sorely missing. There weren't any models that looked like me. Then one day, this changed. Suddenly, gracing the cover of Ladies Home Journal and Life Magazine was a woman that I considered to be the most beautiful creature I'd ever laid my young and impressionable eyes on.

Fashion industry pioneer, Naomi Sims, died on this past Saturday from a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 61 years young.

First of all, I have to say that I am appalled at the lack of news coverage. I know she wasn't Michael Jackson or Farah Fawcett, but if it weren't for this determined, confident, and brave spirit, we would not be privy to the likes of Iman, Naomi Campbell, and Chanel Iman, just to name a few. This great woman and the first black supermodel opened doors too numerous to mention in one blog post or in a single volume book for that matter. Her impact on the history of the Fashion Industry is undeniable.

It's hard to believe that her modeling career only lasted 5 years before she gave up the catwalk to become a successful beauty industry entrepreneur. She was muse to many top designers of her day, such as Giorgio di Sant'Angelo, Bill Blass, and is known most notably for her close professional relationship with then reigning king of night-life fashion, Halston. After a prestigious and uncanny career in front of the camera, Sims went on to develop a multi-million-dollar business as connoisseur of beauty for women of color.

Not too shabby for a young, gangly, dark skinned black girl from Oxford, Mississippi. Born in 1948, Sims overcame many obstacles from her troubled childhood, including her parent's divorce shortly after her birth, a move to Pittsburgh, and her mother's ensuing illness which led to painful stints in foster homes.

Instead of allowing her circumstance to tear down her self-esteem, Naomi Sims used the unpleasantness of her younger years to propel her into her destiny. After graduating from Westinghouse High School, she followed her older sister, Betty, to New York. She made the conscious decision to become, simply put, "somebody really important."1

In an industry that, at a tumultuous time in Black American history, had very little use for black models, Naomi Sims literally knocked down doors and busted through barriers. A scholarship to the Fashion Institute of Technology landed her in New York in 1966. Her quest to make some much needed cash was met with many a slammed door as agency after agency rejected her attempts at being signed as a model.

A smart and timely collaboration with Wilhelmina Cooper, an ex-model starting her own modeling agency led to $1000 a week earnings within the year for the young model. A national television campaign for AT&T soon followed and the "new face of fashion" was born.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Sims Retrospective

Naomi Sims understood better than most the need for black women to experience glamor and a style that was uniquely their own. Her high quality, beautifully made wigs afforded women of color the opportunity to change their look with styles that accentuated their features. Sims eventually expanded her empire by becoming the author of 5 books on beauty and modeling.

The Fashion and Beauty Industry has lost one of its greatest representatives. Naomi Sims was living proof that your environment, no matter how difficult or uninspiring, does not have to dictate your destiny. For every young, black aspiring model, she was the key to the realization of their dreams. She was both their present and their future, showing them the path to entrepreneurial success after the runway. Thank you Naomi Sims. You, your beautiful face, and gracious style will be missed.



Fashion_Loving_Stylist said...

Great post - I too was apalled and posted about the lack of coverage on her death.

WendyB said...

Really? I saw quite a lot of news coverage -- BIG obit in the New York Times, which is the most important place to me. All over Twitter too.

Marian said...

This is beautiful honey,i'm so glad to have read this here as I did not even know she had passed away,that definately proves your point on the lack of any coverage on it.
She was such an inspiration,there was an intelligent elegance and beauty about her.
May she rest in peace.
She and the likes of Beverly Johnson,Iman,Donyale Luna opened doors for the likes of Tyra Banks,Naomi Campbell,Beverly Peele and even younger models like Chanel Iman,Sessilee Lopez,Kinee Diouf,Alek Wek,Jourdan Dunn etc
hope your having a blessed weekend my dear and thanks for this.

Ladybird said...

I didn't know it! Ok, I live in Brussels but even that! Thanks for this post. I learned a lot of things about this amazing woman!

Cheryl Lynn said...

Our local news here in Michigan said nothing about this great lady. I think because of the impact she had on the fashion industry, there should have been more main stream coverage, and there wasn't.

Thank you ladies for stopping by and leaving your very encouraging comments. I try to inform as much as possible and it is an honor to have you all drop by and share with me your thoughts and info.

I hope everyone has a wonderful week ahead.

Keith said...

I didn't even know she had died. She definitely deserved more attention. I'm so sad to hear of her passing. She's incredible. Such an icon.

Cheryl Lynn said...

I agree, Keith. I'm still amazed at how many people didn't know about this, including myself. Hopefully, the Fashion industry and her admirers will keep her legacy alive.

Have a great evening, Keith and thanks for stopping by.