Before there was a Naomi Campbell, Iman and Tyra Banks, there was Donyale Luna…
Donyale Luna was the first notable African American fashion model and the first black cover girl.
Born Peggy Anne Freeman in Detroit, Michigan, to parents Peggy and Nathaniel Freeman. Her father, who was reportedly abusive, was murdered when she was 18. Luna’s mother wanted her to become a nurse, but her path was destined for fashion.
Luna created her own dream. She made up stories to hide her upbringing, causing her to deny what reality revealed on her birth certificate and claimed that her biological father’s last name was Luna, and her mother was Mexican. Her grandmother became an Irishwoman who married a black interior decorator.
A relative described Luna as being “a very weird child, even from birth, living in a wonderland dream.”
After being discovered by photographer David McCabe, she moved from Detroit to New York City to pursue a modeling career. She was the first African American to land the cover of Vogue in the March issue in 1966. In which she covered her whole face with her hand, except for her boldly outlined eye. Reportedly, that shot was chosen to hide her true ethnicity.
She was known to wear blonde wigs and green contact lenses.
According to Judy Stone, who wrote a profile of Luna for The New York Times in 1968 Stone described her as “secretive, mysterious, contradictory, evasive, mercurial, and insistent upon her multiracial lineage — exotic, chameleon strands of Mexican, American Indian, Chinese, Irish, and, last but least escapable, Negro.”
A 1966 Life magazine article titled “The Luna Year” described the stunning model as “A new heavenly body who, because of her striking singularity, promises to remain on high for many a season. Donyale Luna, as she calls herself, is unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at the moment. She is only 20, a Negro, hails from Detroit, and is not to be missed if one reads Harper’s Bazaar, Paris Match, Britain’s Queen, the British, French or American editions of Vogue.”
Luna died in 1979 at the age of 33 due to a pill overdose while she was in Rome.
Donyale Luna will forever be an iconic African-American model who helped in the acceptance and celebration of black beauty in the world of fashion, opening doors for today’s African-American models.