10 WOC Models of Yesteryear You Should Know

For decades, there wasn’t any diversity in the fashion world

Photo: Instagram/@the_real_iman

Photo: Instagram/@the_real_iman

For decades, there wasn’t any diversity in the fashion world. The majority of mainstream models were white, and clearly not representative of the world as a whole. It took fearless WOC, those with a beautiful  to break the mold. Because of models like these, we see ourselves represented as both, beautiful, fashionable and empowering. The following Black, Asian, and Latina models are legendary trailblazers, who allowed so many other beautiful models to have successful careers today. Let’s learn about them.

Donyale Luna

Donyale Luna is credited as being the first Black supermodel. Luna became the first Black model on the cover of any Vogue magazine, when she appeared on the cover of British Vogue, in March 1966.

Marie Helvin

Japanese/Danish-American/French-American model Marie Helvin has graced the cover of British Vogue several times, and has walked for designers such as Valentino. She was born in Tokyo, Japan, raised in Hawaii, and based in London, where she collaborated with her photographer husband, David Bailey. In 2009, a Helvin modeled for luxe lingerie line Agent Provocateur—as a fabulous 57-year-old.


Before there was Chanel Iman, there was Iman. The iconic Somali supermodel was a muse for Yves Saint Laurent, who dedicated his African Muse collection to her. You may also know her as the wife of the late, great music superstar David Bowie.

Talisa Soto

Nuyorican Talisa Soto graced the covers of several magazines, including  U.S. and British Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar, during the ’80s and ’90s. As an actress, Soto has played numerous roles, including that of Bond Girl Lupe Lamora, in License to Kill, and Kitana in the Mortal Kombat films.

Pat Cleveland

African-American/Irish-American/Swedish-American Pat Cleveland (who has also been called the first Black supermodel) is another legend. She has appeared in several magazines (Vogue Paris, Essence, Elle, etc.) and walked the runways for Ebony, Thierry Mugler, and Oscar de la Renta, and more (as recently as 2016). In 1970, Cleveland moved to Paris, vowing not to return to the United States until Vogue featured a Black model on its cover.

Beverly Johnson

Beverly Johnson is regarded as a trailblazing supermodel. In August of 1974, she became the first Black model on the cover of  U.S. Vogue, making history. The following year, Johnson became the first Black model to land the cover of French Elle.

Yasmeen Ghauri

You may have seen German/Pakastani Canadian model Yasmeen Ghauri in the pages of the Victoria’s Secret catalog, during the ’90s. She was also on several magazine covers (Elle, German Vogue, Vogue Spain, etc. ) and runways, and served as the face of several brands, including Chanel, Versace, and Hermès. Yasmeen’s first major magazine cover was the January 1990 issue of Elle.

China Machado


Chinese/Portuguese model China Machado (who worked into her 80s) is another trailblazer. Machado modeled with couture houses including Givenchy and Balenciaga. She also appeared in Harper’s Bazaar‘s February 1959 issue, making her one of the first non-white models in a major American fashion magazine (with most sources saying the first). She is considered by many to be the first non-white supermodel.

Brandi Quinones

Nuyorican, Afro-Cuban, and Sicilian model Brandi Quinones appeared on the covers of several magazines, including U.S. Vogue, Elle Spain, and Vogue Singapore. She also walked on runways for brands such as Versace, Christian Dior, and Lanvin. Quinones is still modeling today, recently appearing in an ad for Landlord.

Sayoko Yamaguchi


Japanese Sayoko Yamaguchi was a major model during the 1970s (in the ’80s, she was also in Vogue Italia, and walked for designers including Yves Saint Laurent). Yamaguchi was one of the first Asian top models and became the face of Shiseido in 1973 (the first full Japanese model to be signed; half-Japanese models had been used until then). In 1977, Newsweek Magazine named her one of the top six fashion models in the world.

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