Tuesday, August 4, 2009

LEGENDARY: Fashion Pioneer, Naomi Sims (1948 - 2009)

Naomi Sims at Oprah's Legends Ball
(Photo: Kwaku Alston)

The fashion industry has lost one of its legends.

The NY Times reports that Naomi Sims, considered by some to be the first Black supermodel, passed away at the age of 61 from cancer.

As the first Black model to appear on the cover of Ladies' Home Journal in 1968, Ms. Sims was not only a pioneer, but a trailblazer helping to usher in the "Black Is Beautiful" movement. As the late designer, Halston, correctly noted, Ms. Sims was the "great ambassador for all Black people".

And Ms. Sims took this responsibility seriously. In 1972, she was offered the title role in the "blaxploitation" movie "Cleopatra Jones", but turned it down because she felt it was a racist portrayal of Black people.

Ms. Sims was more than a beautiful face. Her ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit provided fashion models with the blueprint for maneuvering one's career beyond the runway. In 1973, Ms. Sims went from runway diva to business woman, creating the Naomi Sims Collection, a line of wigs and cosmetics designed specifically for Black women. The line was extremely successful, with annual sales of $5 million. Ms. Sims went on to write several books, as well as an advice column in Right On! magazine. In a 1969 interview with the NY Times, Ms. Sims said:
“There is nothing sadder than an old, broke model, and there are many models who have nothing at the end of their career.”
Ms. Sims' success in the fashion industry was a victory for all Black women. Every magazine cover, every editorial spread helped to redefine society's concept of beauty, as well as strengthen our self-esteem. As Ms. Sims overcame in couture, she took us along for the ride.

“It’s ‘in’ to use me...and maybe some people do it when they don’t really like me. But even if they are prejudiced, they have to be tactful if they want a good picture.” -- Naomi Sims

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