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Fresh Black Girls: Naomi Sims

3 August 2009 2 Comments


On Saturday, August 1, the “first black Cover Girl” Naomi Sims passed away at the age of sixty-one. Naomi Sims was born in Mississippi but grew up in Pittsburgh, enduring foster care life in poor white neighborhoods after her mother became ill. She credited her rough upbringing for inspiring her to become somebody, and as a pretty, but brown and lanky teen she earned a scholarship from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. It was still 1966, and as much as the “Black Is Beautiful” movement had taken root there was still so little interest in black models that Naomi had to get creative. Instead of continuing to try for representation from agencies who usually told her point black that she was too dark, she went straight for photographers, snagged a spot in a New York Times fashion supplement, and offered Wilhelmina Cooper free publicity for her new venture, Wilhelmina Models, by sending copies of the supplement to advertising agencies with Wilhelmina’s info attached. Naomi was soon the first black model featured on the cover of a leading women’s magazine (Ladies Home Journal) and began modeling for big names like Bill Blass and Halston, that’s Naomi on the cover of Life magazine in 1969 above. Even hotter than her role as a trailblazer for black beauty was the hustle of Naomi Sims; in 1976 she launched the Naomi Sims Collection (cosmetics, skin care, and wigs for black women), went on to write a number of books about black skin care and modeling, and penned an advice column in Right On! magazine in the ’80s. A little known fact about Ms. Sims is that she was offered the role of Cleopatra Jones but after reading the script found the material racist and demeaning, so it went to Tamara Dobson instead. Naomi Sims was fly, fresh, and a seriously sharp and enterprising vanguard. We’re lucky to have had her.


  • Aziza said:

    I can’t believe she died. I didn’t hear anything about it. So sad; she was so young. She was included in the Met’s Model As Muse installation earlier this year.

  • Dara said:

    I didn’t hear anything about her dying either. She is beyond gorgeous.

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