When it comes to celebrating Black beauty, the struggle has always been in place when it comes to mainstream. Anytime a Black woman graces the cover of a world-famous magazine, there are reasons to celebrate. We did it when Tyra Banks first appeared on the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, and when Naomi Campbell appeared on the cover of Vogue. We celebrate because the beauty of Black women is often overlooked and understated and this is current day.
Imagine the struggle 50 years ago?
Around that time, groundbreaking history took place when a young girl named Donyale Luna from Detroit shot to the top of the world as she graced the cover of Vogue, beautiful and Black.
Donyale, formally known as Peggy Ann Freeman, was a sight to behold. At almost 6 feet in height, her complexion, piercing features and incredible body made people turn heads. Naturally so, that’s exactly how she was discovered by celebrity photographer David McCabe, who discovered her in Detroit while conducting a photo shoot for a car dealership. After taking a few pictures of her, McCabe was able to get Donyale to go to New York and connected her to photographer Richard Evedon. Everything quickly took off from that point during her short time in New York. Soon thereafter, she was whisked off to London which lead to her historical accomplishment; less than three years after being discovered in 1963, a sketch of her was featured on the January 1965 edition of Harper’s Bazaar and a year later, landed the cover of British Vogue in March 1966. The cover showed off her seductive eyes peeking through her long fingers, with make-up that accentuated the mystery and boldness of Donyale. Rumor has it that her whole face wasn’t shown in order not to offend the magazine’s subscribers.
Donyale’s career continued to excel at that point, being in high demand for movies and fashion shoots. Her social circle consisted of legendary celebrities, such as Andy Warhol, Miles Davis and The Rolling Stones. As her career took off, more and more people questioned her about her “Blackness.” Donyale’s exotic looks were attributed to her diverse background of American Indian, Chinese, Irish, Mexican and African American.
She was asked about her groundbreaking presence in the fashion world, and how it opened doors for other Black women to follow. Donyale often gave responses that didn’t reflect much veal about it. She stated, “If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Negroes, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less.“ Donyale often saw her heritage as a burden, being picked on as a child while growing up in Detroit because of her looks and as a supermodel breaking barriers.
As her platform continued to expand, so did her popularity and exposure to the party scene. While living her glitzy life in Europe, Donyale was introduced to drugs such as heroine and LSD and openly expressed her love for it. Unfortunately, Donyale’s drug use took over her career, with unprofessional behavior that became increasingly consistent. She stopped showing up for photo shoots, became difficult to work with and displayed erratic behavior around people. In 1979, Donyale fatally overdosed from drug use while living in Rome, Italy.
Even though her presence was short lived, Donyale accomplishments are becoming noticed around the world. She is survived by a daughter she had with photographer Luigi Cazzaniga named Dream Cazzaniga who currently lives in Italy. Hopefully the buzz will continue to grow surrounding Donyale, what she accomplished and what it means today. Over the years, many people have credited Beverly Johnson as the first black model to appear on a major magazine cover. Johnson had to give credit where credit is due, stating it was Luna who “made it possible for models like me and others.”
To learn more about Donyale Luna, check out this informative site about her life and career. Hopefully a bio-pic is on the way!