Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The modelling industry is in mourning over the passing of the first Black Model ever -Naomi Sims who passed away on the 1st of August 2009 after losing the battle against Breast Cancer. Born on March 30, 1948, in Oxford, Mississippi, Naomi paved way for many black models today in the fashion industry.

Sims was considered the "first black supermodel" for appearing on the cover of Ladies Home Journal in November 1968, a time when African-American models were few and far between. She subsequently modeled for designers like Halston, Fernando Sánchez, Teal Traina, and Giorgio di Sant'Angelo. She also appeared on many other magazine covers, and two images-- a 1969 cover of LIFE and a 1967 New York Times fashion magazine over--are on display in the Metropolitan Museum's "The Model As Muse" exhibit.

After five years, Sims retired from modeling and started a multimillion-dollar wig-making business that specialized in designs for black women. Sims also penned at least five books on beauty and modeling.

At 5'10", with dark skin, Sims had not been considered particularly attractive as a teenager. "Black wasn't beautiful then," according to the Black Enterprise. "The darker your skin, the less good-looking you were considered; and she was too tall, and too skinny." In the wake of the civil rights movement and the Black Power movement, however, the idea that only light-skinned women were attractive was being called into question.Still, when Sims approached modeling agencies in New York, she was told outright that there was no work for African-American models. Alternatively, Sims told Mademoiselle that the agencies made "very insipid excuses--'too many of my type'--and there were no other black women and certainly not anybody of my type!"

Undeterred, Sims tried a different approach. She contacted a well-known fashion photographer, persuading him to meet with her; to her surprise, he agreed. Immediately spotting Sims's potential, the photographer sent her to meet his wife, a fashion editor at the New York Times. In 1967, after her very first modeling session, Sims fo"Naomi was the first… She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers."

After five years, Sims retired from modeling and started a multimillion-dollar wig-making business that specialized in designs for black women. Sims also penned at least five books on beauty and modeling. In the mid- 1970s, Sims slowed down on modeling and started her own business. She developed wigs, fragrances and cosmetics targeted at African-American women. She wrote several books about modeling , health and beauty. But Naomi sims will be remembered as a gorgeous and stylish woman who made a big difference in the world of modeling.

While Sims's skin color was newsworthy, her walk received just as much attention. According to the Kansas City Star, "Her walk became her hallmark. It wasn't like the glide or bounce of many models. Her serpentine movements of the arms, torso, and legs were beautiful to watch and as subtly controlled as a dancer's." According to fashion designer Halston, one of the first to hire Sims, was quoted as saying in Black Enterprise, "When she put on a garment, something just m-a-arvelous happened."Eventualy,Halston, one of the first to hire Sims. Even Cooper, who had been slow to see Sims's potential, was quoted in Black Enterprise: "She could make any garment--even a sackcloth--look like sensational haute couture."

For Naomi, modeling was never her ultimate goal, as she started to model to supplement her income to go to college....But the idea of starting her own business had always appealed to her, and she was fortunate that her first career led to the second.
Sims's second career was a business selling wigs specifically designed for black women. The idea came directly out of Sims's struggle with her own hair while she was modeling, when she was under pressure to look different in every picture. She  was sort of driven to distraction in terms of how to vary her hairstyle.

One easy solution would be to wear a wig, but Sims was dissatisfied with the wigs available at the time, which had smooth, straight fibers that looked nothing like African American hair. So she decided to start experimenting in her kitchen. She got hold of a current best-selling fiber for white women, wet the fiber down, put it in her oven at a very low temperature, and baked it for maybe five or ten minutes," she explained in Black Enterprise. The result was a curlier, coarser fiber--and a new business idea. "I thought it might be possible to market this type of product."
The fiber was patented and trademarked under the name Presselle, and the first line of the Naomi Sims Collection went into production.

In the early 1980s, Sims gradually expanded her business interests to include perfume, skin care products, and cosmetics for black women. Her signature fragrance, Naomi, was launched in 1981. Four years later, she founded her own company, Naomi Sims Beauty Products Ltd.
Her obituaries reveal a classic American rags-to-riches tale.

Here is to a true fighter in the Fashion and Beauty industry, who blazed the trail for many of us to follow .

Naomi Ruth Sims: 1948-2009

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