February 2nd, 2011
Black History Month, Ethnic Models, Snapshot
Black History Month with Fashion Bomb Daily: Donyale Luna Sponsored by African Pride
By Claire


Long before Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson, and Beyonce were covergirls, and before Naomi, Tyra, or Iman first set foot on a runway, there was Donyale Luna, the first black woman to cover Vogue and arguably the first African-American supermodel. Born Peggy Anne Freeman in 1945, the 6’2” stunner grew up in a troubled home in Detroit (her mother killed her father when she was 18), but left her past behind her once discovered by photographer David McCabe. She arrived in New York City in 1964 to much success, and was soon traveling the world, appearing in Paris Match, walking for Paco Rabanne, and appearing in several films. Of her success, she said, “Back in Detroit I wasn’t considered beautiful or anything, but here I’m different… They were looking for a new kind of model, a girl who is beautiful like you’ve never seen before.”


With long limbs, wide eyes (played up by blue or green contact lenses), and a regal stance, she attracted lots of attention. A 1966 article in Time Magazine called, “The Luna Year,” described her as, “unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at the moment. She is only 20, a Negro, hails from Detroit, and is not to be missed if one reads Harper’s Bazaar, Paris Match, Britain’s Queen, the British, French or American editions of Vogue.” Another profile of Luna underlined issues she may have had with her race. In a 1968 New York Times article, journalist Judy Stone said Donyale was, “secretive, mysterious, contradictory, evasive, mercurial, and insistent upon her multiracial lineage — exotic, chameleon strands of Indigenous-Mexican, Indonesian, Irish, and, last but least escapable, Negro.” When Stone asked her about whether her appearances in films would benefit the cause of black actresses, Luna answered, “If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less.”


Luna’s career continued on an upward trajectory for most of the late 60’s and early 70’s. In January 1965, a sketch of Luna appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. That same year she signed an exclusive contract with photographer Richard Avedon. In 1966, she appeared on the cover of British Vogue (she allegedly covered her nose as not to offend readers).

In 1967, Adel Rootstein fashioned a mannequin in Luna’s image. During that time she also appeared in several Andy Warhol films, starred in Italian film Salomé, portrayed a witch in Fellini’s Satyricon, and appeared in the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll circus. In 1975, she did a nude photo layout in Playboy. During this time, Luna also admitted she liked to use LSD, saying, “I think it’s great. I learned that I like to live, I like to make love, I really do love somebody, I love flowers, I love the sky, I like bright colors, I like animals. [LSD] also showed me unhappy things — that I was stubborn, selfish, unreasonable, mean, that I hurt other people.”


Drugs and unprofessional behavior eventually ended her storied career. Luna would show up late for casting calls, and sometimes wouldn’t show up at all. In a New York Times article, fellow pioneering super model Beverly Johnson said Luna, “doesn’t wear shoes winter or summer. Ask her where she’s from — Mars? She went up and down the runways on her hands and knees. She didn’t show up for bookings. She didn’t have a hard time, she made it hard for herself.”


Donyale died in Rome, Italy in 1979 at the age of 35 from a drug overdose. She left behind one daughter, Dream Cazzaniga whom she had with Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga.

See her in action here:

Read more about her in this 1966 Time article “Luna Year.”


This post is sponsored by African Pride


Three times weekly for the next five weeks, African Pride will be giving away a year’s supply of their Olive Miracle line to lucky winners on the brand’s Facebook page.
On March 16th, African Pride will kick off the “My Pride. My Way.” campaign in style with a star-studded soiree at Atlanta’s historic King Plow Event Gallery. Stay tuned for an opportunity to win free event tickets on The Fashion Bomb!

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35 Responses to “Black History Month with Fashion Bomb Daily: Donyale Luna Sponsored by African Pride”

  1. Bronze says:

    OMFG!!!! This is the most extensive article I have ever read about Luna! OMG. Thank you. I love her.

    What I notice about most black celebs back then was that they had substance depth and character. “I love flowers…” How classy.

  2. Bronze says:

    One more thing. This video is sooo cool. She had 6 looks in a two minute video. And each look was graceful.

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Fashion Bomb!, The Fashion Bomb!, Hot In Fashion, Fashion, Lesley Nickelodeon and others. Lesley Nickelodeon said: RT @thefashionbomb: Black History Month with Fashion Bomb Daily: Donyale Luna sponsored by African Pride http://dlvr.it/FfSr8 [...]

  4. Coley Cole says:

    I loved this piece! Black is definitely beautiful!

  5. Jamie says:

    From what I have read about her she would be applaud being included with Black History. I love fashion, but I can’t look pass self-hate to honor her.

  6. dyshaun says:

    Nice. A bit of karma perhaps… She was an awesome model though.

  7. Anonymous says:

    love all her photos

  8. Christy says:

    She was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  9. C.Moni says:

    Stunning! Sadly enough our best are often the most tormented :-/

  10. It_Girl! says:

    She has a daughter who dances in Italy.

  11. Brooklyn Lady says:

    I just can’t ever give her props because she HATED being black. I just can’t.

  12. cARMEN says:

    IS IT ME OR DOES SHE LOOK LIKE KERI HILSON?

  13. Annie L. says:

    Stunning photos! I’m happy for more published information and greater insight into even our most controversial figures. I love the idea that it’s not just a gush piece on this iconic figure and includes criticism from B. Johnson and speculation about her Vogue cover. It’s amazing that the weight of existing within color-based caste systems is so phenomenally horrific still…

  14. egyptianbella says:

    ITS BEAUTIFUL TO SEE THAT EGYPTIAN LOOK ON A BLACK WOMAN INSTEAD OF WHITE WOMEN TRYING TO MAKE EGYPTIANS LOOK LIKE THEM. I HAD TO CONVINCE SOMEONE THAT EGYPTIANS ARE BLACK (AFRICAN) AND NOT WHITE!

  15. NEELY says:

    @cARMEN

    I thought I was the only one who thought that! Keri Hilson looks a LOT like this lady in a lot of the photos above! Its unreal. Especially the one where she’s smoking a cigarette.

  16. zy says:

    goodness… she was absolutely stunning…

  17. 5UCHUNNY says:

    I love articles like this…..Thanks Claire…

  18. Abiha ali says:

    I have seen your blog its good, I m also working on it, its really helpful for me.Keep updates

  19. lola says:

    This was the woman who said she wasn’t black and never wanted to be considered black. The black community should be more selective when chosing their “role models” or “idols” Just because someone was black and successful, does not mean who should extoll them. smh

  20. Hmmm says:

    Amazing photos, but its sad that she seemed to despise being black. If I saw the pictures 5 & 6 with no title I would’ve assumed it was Keri Hilson playing dress up. Wow!

  21. esme says:

    i think donyale luna was a fantastic model, i just think it’s sad and problematic that she struggled with accepting herself as a black woman and being proud of it. but she had a really fascinating career and took beautiful photos.

  22. esme says:

    and i don’t see the resemblence to keri hilson.

  23. egyptianbella says:

    BLACK INCLUDES ALL OF THE FOLLOWING: DOMINICAN, CUBAN, AFRICAN, AFRICAN AMERICAN, PUERTO RICAN, EGYPTIAN, ETC… SO ALL THOSE PEOPLE WHO DONT WANT TO CLAIM BLACK ARE IGNORANT. YOU CAN BE BLACK AND STILL BE CULTURALLY DIFFERENT. I AM BLACK AND PUERTO RICAN, BUT I DONT SEPERATE THE TWO. MY MOTHER IS PUERTO RICAN AND LOOKS BLACK. I AM PROUD AND THE LADY IN THE PHOTO SHOULD BE TOO!

  24. Carramken says:

    What a pity this incredibly beautiful woman could not own her blackness. BTW Judy Stone said Donyale was, “secretive, mysterious, contradictory, evasive, mercurial, and insistent upon her multiracial lineage — exotic, chameleon strands of Indigenous-Mexican, Indonesian, Irish, and, last but least escapable, African” Is inaccurate. She didn’t say African, she said Negro. Don’t do the history a disservice with inaccurate quotes. Donyale tried all of her modeling career to escape being labeled Negro.

  25. Claire says:

    @Carramken My intention is not to do history a disservice, only to celebrate notable African-American models in history (even if they didn’t like their heritage themselves). I’ll correct the quote, though I think including African instead of Negro (even though incorrect) drives home the same point.
    Even if Donyale didn’t accept her ethnicity when she was living, we can embrace and not judge her in death. The era she lived in was a different time and she was in an industry that still drives people of color to seek to deny their heritage and even each other. It’s sad, but true. I hope that we can focus on the positive in all of these, and give tribute to the path she and others forged for all of us.
    Thanks.

  26. beyonceaddict says:

    I’ve never heard of her until this article, thanks!

  27. Carramken says:

    Claire I meant no disrespect. The fact is a quote is not a quote if you change the text. Depending on whether the quote is factual, it can become the difference between fact and fiction.

    I absolutely celebrate the accomplish of Americans of African decent with few exceptions. Donylea was a magnificent looking woman that broke down walls in the fashion industry, despite denying the tool she broke them down with. I was there in the heady days of the 60′s and 70′s and broke down a few walls myself. First as a showroom model for a well known designer and second as a Couture buyer for one of the old guard national retail chains in America.

    I only wished for Donylea that she had more joy in self love than loathing.

  28. Carramken says:

    In some of her shots Donyale reminds me of Italian acting icon Sophia Loren. The Moors (a diverse group of people, that included Blacks from North Africa were pretty busy in southern Europe). As a race, Black people have so many mixtures that one never knows what image will be captured in the snap of a photo – makeup and fashion can push the image one way or the other. We are like a garden and the seed of Africa is everywhere on the planet.

    The fact is a race is a social construct. However in a country like America with the one drop rule, and you are what you look like, it can be pretty mentally debilitating to deny your blackness. We have to be mindful, however, that to show up in white skin is an overwhelming advantage. Like it or not the socialization process teaches Whites internalized superiority. This complex multi-generational socialization teaches Whites to see themselves as superior and worthy of preference. Everything from our media images to our text books teaches them this. On the other hand, someone like Donylea gets from this message exactly the opposite information – that they are inferior. That person attempts to remedy the feeling of inferiority by over-identifying with Whites, distancing herself or himself from Black culture. With so much penned up hatred for self and your own it’s pretty clear why a person might have psychological issues.

    Racism so permeates our culture that a male high school dropout, with a criminal record, and happens to be White, is much more likely to get a job than a Black male applicant applying for the same job. This is fact not fiction.

    So think about it. A person from Donylea’s extremely troubled background, with no one lifting her up, could easily take the self-destructive route of self-hatred. There’s a direct line from the self hate to most of the troubles she had in life. Self-medicating with overuse of drugs didn’t help.

  29. Myssdee says:

    Claire, despite the comments that is judgemental, you have done a wonderful job with this article.

  30. peace says:

    Sure she had issues about her race but you have to remember that it was the 60s where racism was a major issue! When people call you ugly degrading names all the time you start believing it.
    All in all, intentional or not,she made history for all black girls everywhere that we are beautiful too.

  31. MochaBelle says:

    Great article! I shared a link with my readers since you did a faboo job! Thanks for the info.

    http://mochabelle.blogspot.com/2012/02/donyale-luna-one-of-most-influential.html

  32. [...] PS Does it remind anyone else of Donyale Luna , the first black model to cover British Vogue? If you don’t know about Donyale, read about [...]

  33. Muchos Gracias for your blog. Really Cool.

  34. […] source: http://fashionbombdaily.com/2011/02/02/black-history-month-with-fashion-bomb-daily-donyale-luna-spon… […]

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