Long before black models graced the pages of Italian Vogue or even walked the catwalks, there were pioneers like Mounia, muse to Yves Saint Laurent.

Born in Martinique, Mounia’s exotic beauty, flawless complexion, and graceful composure were the perfect complement to Saint Laurent’s glamorous, dramatic creations. She was the first black model Yves Saint Laurent used in his haute couture shows, and was widely considered the French couturier’s favorite model.

Saint Laurent was one of the first designers to employ black models, which raised many eyebrows at the time. He challenged conventional standards of beauty, setting the stage for models like Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Jourdan Dunn, to shine.

In a 2008 W magazine article, Mounia remembered Yves Saint Laurent. She said, “I was his first black muse…He helped open the door for black models. Sometimes I was his confidante, and I would sometimes inspire his creativity. He called me Moumounn. The collection that made me a celebrity was the one inspired by Porgy and Bess. I wore a pink pantsuit and a boater hat. I walked to ‘Summertime’ and really took on the character of Bess. Catherine Deneuve stood up and started clapping. The everyone stood up and called out ‘Bravo!’ Yves Saint Laurent peered around the curtain – a thing that he had never done before – to see what all of the commotion was about. The people were shouting ‘Bravo, Yves Saint Laurent!’ and ‘Brava, Mounia!’ He took me in his arms, and we kissed. This for me was history…After that I had more than 15 covers…Mr. Fairchild gave me my first cover [of WWD], and [French Vogue’s] Francine Crescent gave me 27 pages. This was the first time that a black model had arrived in haute couture. I say thank you to Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent and thank you to Monsieur Pierre Bergé. My last word for Yves Saint Laurent is ‘love.'”

Mounia retired from modeling in the 1980’s (she walked almost exclusively for YSL), but did make a reappearance for the tribute to Yves Saint Laurent at Centre Georges Pompidou in 2002.

She began painting oil on canvas in 1997. Her works of art have been dispalyed in galleries across France, the Ivory Coast, Monaco, Japan, Guyana and her native Martinique.

To Mounia!

*If you are in New York during New York Fashion Week, be sure to save the date for Harlem Fashion Week’s 6th annual show on Saturday, February 16th! The event goes down from 6:30-10:30pm at the Museum of the City of New York located at 1220 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10029.
Sources: Make Fetch Happen & YSL Forever