The model and entrepreneur, who was Vogue’s first black cover model, shares career advice with newcomer Olivia Whittaker in the first episode of the Moneyish series Good Company
Beverly Johnson knew it was a huge deal when she landed on the cover of American Vogue in 1974.
“It was every model’s dream to be on the cover of Vogue,” she told Moneyish. “That’s our Oscars. That’s our Olympic gold.”
What she didn’t know at the time was how huge. Johnson says she learned from reporters who reached out for interviews that she was the first black model on the magazine’s cover.
She was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. “That spearheaded my journey into my roots, into really what this whole thing of race is about and how significant this Vogue cover was to women of color all over the world.”
Johnson, 65, recently sat down with Olivia Whittaker, a 21-year-old model at the start of her career, to share her stories about the industry and offer advice. The pair meet in the first episode of Good Company, a Moneyish original series that matches millennials with veterans in their field for mentorship and conversation. (Watch the video.)
Johnson advised Whittaker to think of herself as a business. And Whittaker is on track, studying business as an undergrad at the University of Southern California while she models with the Kim Dawson Agency in her hometown of Dallas, as well as with Wilhelmina Models in L.A. Whittaker says she’s mostly done commercial print modeling but hopes to expand into beauty and editorial photo shoots.
“Very smiley, upbeat,” Whittaker said of her current portfolio. “I’d like to try something different.”
Johnson also worked with the Wilhelmina agency, and says it was the agency’s founder and namesake Wilhelmina Cooper, in fact, who helped her get that historic cover.
Even after that milestone, Johnson says she felt like a token person of color on many shoots and has seen an “ebb and flow through the industry” for black fashion models since.
“There’s been this constant drumbeat of where we fit in in America,” she said. “What we’re trying to do … is just to keep people conscious and woke about black models not being a trend, but a part of the fabric of American society — particularly a part of American fashion.”
Whittaker, who has modeled for JCPenney, BedHead Pajamas and other brands, said race hasn’t played a big role in her career so far — and that she’s seen a move toward more diversity.
“The past several years modeling, that’s something I’ve been thankful I’ve never had to deal with or even pay attention to,” she said. “Oftentimes I’ll walk into a shoot and every skin color, every hair color, every eye color is represented. It’s a very diverse space, which I love.”
Brian Quist contributed to this story
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