NEW YORK – Beverly Johnson has a simple answer for why she decided to walk the runways of two buzzy designers showing at New York Fashion week: They asked.
Johnson, 69 and a grandmother, is one of the original supermodels. As a Black woman, she broke barriers and widened the conventional ideal of beauty at the time by appearing on the cover of American Vogue in 1974. Her career soared and she became a sought-after face for decades, gracing the covers of hundreds of magazines.
Johnson, also an author and businesswoman, returned this week to her modeling roots and strutted the runways for designers Sergio Hudson and Bibhu Mohapatra. She was the last model to walk in the Mohapatra show on Tuesday, and the crowd clapped and cheered when they recognized her.
Wearing a white flowing gown — sleeveless on one side and accented with a black flowered lace sleeve on the other — Johnson smiled as she slowly took her turn down the runway. The look included a dramatic, long, billowing black cape that she flipped as she made her turn. She admitted she needed a little practice before the show.
“After I took that walking lesson, I was fine. It’s a wonderful, beautiful experience,” Johnson told The Associated Press backstage after the Mohapatra show, where onlookers crowded around her, taking photos. As a fashion trailblazer, she's moved by today's push for more diversity and appreciation of different cultures in the industry.
“All of the models (in the Mohapatra show) were models of color in honor of Black History Month, and — you’re going to make me cry right now,” Johnson said, tearing up. “In 2024, it’ll be my 50th anniversary of that historic cover of being the first Black woman to grace the cover of American Vogue. So it means a lot to me, this show.
“And Sergio Hudson’s show — the Black designer who is just making leaps and bounds in the fashion industry. It’s just wonderful to see this,” she said. "I didn’t have this when I was coming up in the ‘70s, ’80s and '90s.”
Johnson has participated in many fashion weeks over the years, and says she enjoyed spending time with the younger models backstage. She found them “beautiful, elegant and wonderful.”
But she noted one big difference between them and her contemporaries. “The girls are much taller. My Sergio show, I mean, there was no one under 6 feet! Usually before it was like 5-10 and that’s enough!” she said with a smile.