Each month we anxiously await the new issues of our favorite glossies to arrive in the mail or hit the newsstands. While we still have a long way to go, we often overlook the major strides we’ve made. There have been numerous magazine covers that signified so much more than designer duds and flawless makeup. Let’s take a moment to reflect on a few that broke some serious ground.
Donyale Luna, British VOGUE, March 1966
The model and actress was deemed the world’s first African American supermodel and cover girl. She appeared on the cover of British Vogue with her face mostly covered expect for a boldly outlined eye. When asked about if her presence in Hollywood films would benefit Black actresses, Luna replied, “If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less.” Although she never claimed an identity as a Black woman, and insisted on her multiracial lineage, Luna has, without a doubt, paved the way for many.
Naomi Sims, LIFE, Oct. 17, 1969
After countless rejection from model agencies and being told she was too dark-skinned, Sims’ persistence led to major runway and editorial success in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. She also appeared on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in 1968, and had strong presence in the fashion world, as designers like Halston became enamored with her. “Naomi was the first,” he told The New York Times in 1974. “She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers.”
Beverly Johnson, VOGUE, August 1974
The first Black model to appear on American Vogue, Johnson appeared fresh-faced and glowing on the August issue. At the suggestion of friends, she gave modeling a shot and soon landed an assignment with Glamour magazine. She went on to grace over 500 magazine covers, including Glamour and Vogue, and even starred in several acting roles. Thanks to Johnson and others, by 1975 every major American fashion designer began using African American models.
Janet Jackson, Rolling Stone, September 1993
It was the year of her acting debut in “Poetic Justice” and the release of her Janet album. Jackson appeared topless on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with the hands of her then-husband, music director René Elizondo, Jr., cupping her breasts. If you were experiencing déjà vu, it’s because the photograph was the original full-length version of the cropped image used on her album cover. The Vancouver Sun later reported, “Jackson, 27, remains clearly established as both role model and sex symbol; the Rolling Stone photo of Jackson . . . became one of the most recognizable, and most lampooned, magazine covers of the year.” The cover was a far cry from her earlier sweet-girl-baby-sister image.
Tyra Banks, Sports Illustrated, 1997
Known to be the best-selling issue of Sports Illustrated, the Swimsuit Issue sells, on average, more than one million copies on newsstands. So it’s no surprise that being selected as their cover girl is a big deal. By the time Banks appeared on their 1996 cover beside model Valeria Mazza, she had already walked runways all over the globe and appeared on the cover of other glossies. The following year she graced the cover solo and became the first African American women to be featured alone on the Swimsuit Issue.
Liya Kibide, Jourdan Dunn, Naomi Campbell, Sesilee Lopez, VOGUE Italia, July 2008
The issue, which featured all Black models in its editorial spreads, garnered much praise (and critique). The editor-in-chief, Franca Sozzani, explained that the issue was meant to draw attention to the lack of Black models used in the fashion industry. While it had its shortcomings, the issue proved that Black women photographed beautifully and were profitable (it sold out in the U.S. and U.K. in 72 hours!).
Michelle Obama Vogue March 2009
While Vogue has photographed every first lady since Lou Hoover in 1929 (with one exception) Michelle Obama is only the second to appear on its the cover. (The first was Hillary Clinton in 1998.) Inside, the First Lady opened up about everything from motherhood to her personal style, in an interview with Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley. Not only did the cover mark her as an inspiration and fashion icon, it was (and still is) empowering to see our First Lady be a Black woman—a brown-skinned, cocoa-hued Black woman at that!
Chanel Iman, Sessilee Lopez, Jordan Dunn, Arlenis Sosa, i-D, September 2009
These three stunning young models appeared in an eye-catching cover posing with the i-D signature wink. Their outfits and hair were simple, their makeup, bold. Their inside spreads, fierceeee. The PYT Issue not only turned heads at newsstands, it made i-D the only major fashion magazine to feature women of color on their September issue that year. It also showed that Black women came from all different backgrounds and nationalities (African American, British and Dominican).
What other covers do you think deserve to be on our list?