Naomi Sim’s legacy as one of the first black supermodels resonates more than a decade after her death.
A pioneer in fashion and beauty, Sims created a multi-million dollar beauty store that included wigs, cosmetics, and fragrances. She is an elegant and lovable woman who stood up for other black models of her time.
André Leon Talley, speaking at Sims’ funeral, called her “the pioneer, superstar Black Model”.
“Above all, she was an elegant woman,” he said on a recent phone call with WWD. “She always exuded contemporary, modern, minimalist elegance throughout her career.”
Talley admired Sims’ modeling so much that he stuck her magazine images on his walls throughout high school and college.
“She was my pin-up girl as opposed to Playboy Centerfolds,” he said.
Sims became the first black model to appear on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in November 1968, a year after wearing Bill Blass in an AT&T commercial. Her presence on the covers of Ladies’ Home Journal and Life Magazine in 1969 was an integral part of the Black Is Beautiful movement and opened the door to models like Beverly Johnson.
Johnson recalled the first time she met Sims and said she was backstage at her first Halston runway show when Sims, dressed all in white, walked into the room and approached her.
“She looks at me in the corner and comes over,” Johnson said. “I sit down, she bends down and says, ‘Beverly, I know who you are. I think what you do is just amazing. I see all of your pictures. I want you to know how much respect I have for you and how deeply rooted I am for you. Let’s not compete against each other. ‘
“That did something to me,” Johnson continued. “It really changed the way I looked at everything – modeling, black models, who I was, what I was doing. And I made a promise to myself that day. I said, “For any models that come up behind me, I will be just as gracious to them as they are to me.”
Bethann Hardison called Sims “a great example” of the Black Is Beautiful movement of the early 1970s, which by then had attracted the interest of a few advertising agencies interested in reflecting the movement in their work.
“I liked Naomi a lot,” Hardison told WWD. “She was a little ahead of me, especially in her experiences and what she actually did. I worked in the clothing store and of course with designers, but our worlds were different back then. It was much more interesting then.
“[Sims] started learning how to [do] her makeup and the right base color, ”Hardison continued. “She was someone who gave Halston and other people a lot of style. And she was an entrepreneur. “
Fashion historian Darnell Jamal said Sims’ modeling career opened the door to “color models in general.” [and] Black women of the entire gamut. “
“Naomi Sims was a dark-skinned woman,” said Jamal. “To see her so passionate about the fashion industry on magazine covers and campaigns, and to associate her with American luxury designers like Halston, her presence was revolutionary in itself. We are still trying to find out that trace of colorism that we continue to fall under.
“[Sims] The Black Is Beautiful movement really embodied that she had a darker complexion, ”Jamal continued. “Obviously, colorism has existed in the United States since racism. And further down the line, this idea that fair-skinned black women typically had this conventional passport. Not to say that one fight is bigger than the other, but the darker woman has always been in the neglect – and that comes from slavery. “
In 1973, after retiring from modeling, Sims launched a line of high-quality wigs of the same name, for which she developed a fiber called Kanekalon Presselle, which simulated straight hair using a patented process. The Naomi Sims Collection, produced by Metropa Wigs, was sold in around 700 stores, including Macy’s, Gimbels, and Alexander’s in New York, at prices between $ 7 and $ 30.
In five years, the collection had reached annual sales of $ 5 million, according to the New York Times. Sims is the author of a number of books on modeling, beauty, and health. It would also launch a line of cosmetics and a collection of prestige fragrance products that are funded by Wagman & Co. As part of marketing her fragrance launch, Sims put samples of the products in wigs from her collection before shipping them to customers.
Johnson modeled for Sims’ wig line in the 1970s. “She would hire me to take pictures of her wigs,” said Johnson. “She invited me to her home in this amazing apartment on the Upper East Side. It was so chic and they passed potatoes and caviar around. She just locked me in. “
Sims’ entrepreneurial instinct instigated a similar spirit at Johnson, who eventually licensed a line of wigs and hair extensions.
“One of the problems black entrepreneurs face is access to capital,” said Johnson. “I can imagine what it must have been like for her, a black woman, to start her own business. It’s like any other career. You need money to survive until you start making a profit. “
Sims was “ahead of her time” when she launched her wig line, Johnson said.
“Maybe there were wigs for black women, but they weren’t the quality and the styles that [Sims] she said.
Jamal noted that Sims was adept at using their own influence, which is common in the beauty industry today as celebrities and other influential people benefit from their followers through cosmetics, skin care, and wellness lines.
“[Sims] used their platform to start a career. Obviously we see this happen so easily and excessively by those who start careers outside of fashion and then move into fashion, ”said Jamal. “You couldn’t have a Rihanna without Naomi Sims. And before that [Sims] They had Mrs. CJ Walker. Naomi Sims is in a line of black excellence [and entrepreneurs who used] the platforms they had to create a very profitable space. “
Deeply private, Sims stayed largely out of the public eye when she retired from modeling. She was honored at Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball in 2005. Four years later, she died of cancer in Newark, New Jersey
Sim’s funeral took place at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, where Jackie Kennedy Onassis, singer Aaliyah and Oscar de la Renta were all buried. Talley said even though he wasn’t officially invited to the funeral, he showed up anyway and was asked to read from the Bible by Sims’ ex-husband Michael Findlay.
“I got to the funeral an hour early,” Talley said. “The funeral had not yet started, [Sims’] The coffin was in the back and she [ex-]Husband, Mr. Findlay, saw me come in and said, “Would you be ready to read a book of scriptures?” I said, “Yes, that would be a great honor for me.” That was not on the program, nobody knew that I would come. I got up and read a book from the Bible. I attended a solemn home service, a victory service. “
Johnson also attended Sims’ funeral and described it as a small event since Sims was “a very private person”.
“I don’t know how many people showed up, but maybe about 20,” she said. “It influenced me so much that it made me very sad that this woman operated at the highest level and that people forgot in the end. It’s just human nature. When you are not around, people forget you and move on to the next step. She deserves to be remembered. “