TNC LITRATURE 2020
Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionised Fashion
The role of Black Women in fashion is not something that has really been delved into but with SUPREME MODELS, the debut book from Marcellas Reynolds, this is all set to change. His rare book, the first of its kind that puts black models right in the spotlight, offers a rewarding insight into the world of black models. From pioneers like Iman, Naomi Campbell and Grace Jones to the next generation of black models Adwoa Aboah and Joan Small SUPREME MODELS is a fascinating, proud and refreshingly beautiful book.
Hi Marcellas, thank you for talking to The New Current, how's everything be going?
Things are going wonderfully with the book. I'm back in La la Land after stops in New York and Chicago for my book tour. People are responding to it in the most amazing ways. Mothers are buying it for their children. People are buying four and five copies as gifts for their friends and family.
The reviews for Supreme Models have been incredible, what has it meant for you to get such a positive reaction to your book?
The reaction to SUPREME MODELS means everything to me. As an artist, you invest your love, hopes, and dreams into whatever you create. Then you release it into the universe and pray for the best. The reception for SUPREME MODELS couldn't have been warmer. I did not know it was the book people needed, I just knew it was the book I had to write.
How long did it take for you to write Supreme Models?
It took eight years from conception to reality for SUPREME MODELS to happen. I'd pick it up and put it down. I would get busy with other projects and I'd put it away. God always led me back to it.
With this being your debut book has it added any addition pressure on you?
I feel no pressure about the success or failure of SUPREME MODELS. I've been in fashion, and entertainment, a long time. and I know the ups and downs. For me, art isn't about the outcome. It's about the process. It's lovely that it's being received well but I'm still me. I still have to go to work every day.
How did Supreme Models come about?
In 2011, Vogue Model: The Faces of Fashion, the British Vogue book dedicated to models who appeared in the magazine was released. I read it from cover to cover, and it occurred to me the book only included two black models; Iman and Naomi Campbell. This book represents British Vogue, arguably the most diverse fashion magazine in the world! They were the first edition of Vogue to put a black model on the cover. In 1966 they put Donyale Luna on their cover, eight years before American Vogue put Beverly Johnson on its cover.
How much did you know about these three women before you started writing Supreme Models?
Because I collect art and photography books, I knew a lot about The Trailblazers. I've also always been obsessed with Helen Williams. As a fashion stylist, I'm always looking for inspiration. I love photos from the 1950s and 60s by Avedon, and Bailey, of models like Dovima, Suzy Parker, Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, and Helen Williams. Interestingly, I'm very good friends with models Chené and Glynnis Lawson, the great-nieces of Dorothea Towles. They regaled me with stories of their famous relative for decades!
During your research did you discover anything about them, and their experiences during the 40s-60s that really surprised you?
What is most surprising about that time historically is what a large role colourism played in advertising, fashion and modelling in the 1940s and 50s. These women were successful models because they were fair-skinned, and could in some cases pass for white. Even then black publications weren't using dark-skinned models. It wasn't until the 1950s when Helen Williams broke through that it changed. It's sobering to realize how entrenched the skin colour debate is within the black community then and even now.
How did you go about approaching the models to be part your book?
I did everything to get to the models who appear in SUPREME MODELS. I knew several of the models because I started my fashion career as a model, and I'm now a stylist. I called those models and interviewed them. Then I reached out to friends and asked for introductions. After that, I approached the agents, which is the least efficient way. Agents are invested in keeping opportunities away from talent. The moment an agent got involved things went awry almost every time. The best way to reach a model was direct through Instagram! I sent direct messages to almost every model. That's how I got Dilone, Rose Cordero and Leomie Anderson!
"It's sobering to realize how entrenched the skin color debate is within the black community then and even now."
Since writing the book do you think your understanding/appreciation of the Black Model experience has changed?
I've always had tremendous respect for models. That respect comes from my childhood spent reading magazines like Ebony and Jet, and later on Essence, GQ and Seventeen. Having been a model, I know firsthand what models of color go through. I also have major reverence for models. Modeling is an art. It takes determination to be successful as a model. It's not just about being young and pretty. After interviewing these incredible women and hearing their stories of failures, perseverance, and triumph, I'm even more of a fan. Now I'm an advocate.
Do you think more needs to be done to celebrate the legacy and role that Black Women have had in Fashion past and present?
This book just scratches the surface of the impact of models of colour upon fashion. Trust me, I've got a few more books and a couple of documentaries up my sleeves celebrating the accomplishments of PEOPLE of colour in fashion. I'm just getting started.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from reading this book?
Though the subject of this book is black women, this book is a love letter to all the people of every race, sex, and sexuality who come together to create the dream that is fashion. My hope is that readers see how when we all come together as a people we have the ability to create something beautiful. That's important.