Flashback Muse : Donyale Luna


Donyale Luna was the first notable African American model and the first black cover girl (1960’s). She also appeared in several films, most notably as the title character in Salome, a 1972 film by director Carmelo Bene, and several films by Andy Warhol. According to The New York Times, she was under exclusive contract to the photographer Richard Avedon for a year at the beginning of her career.

An article in Time magazine published on 1 April 1966, “The Luna Year”, described the dramatically thin and tall (6′ 2″) model with the hallmark bright blue contact lenses and occasional blond wig 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.”

In 1967, the mannequin manufacturer Adel Rootstein created a mannequin in Luna’s image, a follow-up to the company’s famous Twiggy mannequin of 1966.

Unprofessional behavior signalled the decline of Luna’s career, which was effectively over by the early 1970s. As recalled by another black model who came to prominence toward the end of Luna’s heyday, Beverly Johnson, Luna “doesn’t wear shoes winter or summer. Ask her where she’s from — Mars? She went up and down the runways on her hands and knees. She didn’t show up for bookings. She didn’t have a hard time, she made it hard for herself.”