Iconic Fashion: Donyale Luna

Donyale Luna can be recognized as the first notable African American fashion model and the first black cover girl.  She began by playing small roles in a Detroit repertory theater.  One day she was spotted leaving a TV rehearsal by photographer David McCabe who arranged an appointment for her in New York with Harper’s Bazaar. She soon blessed the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with her presence.

She was an instant hit with the New York Art Scene, she was well embraced by Andy Warhol, and became a member of Warhol’s film entourage.  Luna appeared in several of his experimental films including 1965’s Camp, Screen Tests and a reel titled Donyale Luna, a version of ‘Snow White.’

By the end of the year she had moved on to Europe where she became the first African American model to appear on the cover of Vogue.  A month later in a Time magazine feature, “The Luna Year”, Luna was hailed as “unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at the moment.” This Larger than life figure admitted to her fondness for LSD which marked the ending of her career.  Luna eventually destroyed her career by missing bookings and exhibiting strange behavior while working. Luna died in a Rome clinic after a drug overdose. She was thirty-four years old.

There’s a great division coming about on this planet.  There are going to be a lot of people who will die because they just don’t know how to live. They don’t know what life’s about, they don’t know how to give, how to love – nor do they want to. And those who are beautiful enough – I don’t mean physically but something beyond that – they will have the chance to learn how to fly, to be beautiful, to rise above the level of the normal human – to be superior beings first and eventually gods and goddesses.

-Donyale Luna

Playboy April 1975



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