Boundary-breaking model and advocate Beverly Johnson looks at life and the fashion industry with a critical eye

Fifty years after Beverly Johnson became the first black model to land a Vogue cover, she continues to advance across business, entertainment and diversity advocacy.

His exploits and challenges are highlighted in a one-man show just opening at New York’s 59E59 theaters. Through Jan. 28, “Beverly Johnson in Vogue” also explores her struggles with substance abuse and the allegations against Bill Cosby, who dropped a defamation lawsuit against her in 2016. Following the murder of George Floyd, Johnson proposed that the fashion, beauty and media Corporations interview at least two black professionals for every open position. (The concept was suggested by his partner Brian Maillian and derives from “The Rooney Rule,” an affirmative action initiative enacted by former Pittsburgh Steelers president Dan Rooney in 2002.)

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During an interview on Monday, Johnson was direct but modest and calm, detailing some of the most moving moments of her life and assessing the fashion industry. In addition to running a beauty business through Beverly Johnson Enterprises, licensing deals and speaking engagements, she appears regularly on “The Barnes Bunch,” the reality show starring her daughter Anansa Sims with her ESPN analyst fiancé Matt Barnes and his six children. “I’m Mary Poppins: in and out,” she said.

Growing up “an introvert, academic and competitor on the first all-black swim team,” Johnson said she envisioned a career in law while studying at Northeastern University. Watching coverage of the civil rights movement with her father’s “news junkie” had set her on that path. She also influenced her view of her diversity. While serving in the military, Johnson’s father learned four languages. Although he worked full time as a steelworker, he paid his friends’ taxes from the family kitchen table at no cost. “A Polish friend came with a string of Polish sausages on his shoulder to bring my dad to do his taxes. An Italian friend would bring something else. It was from my father that I got that kind of worldly vision,” she said. “They came in through the back door even though we lived in an all-white neighborhood. It was as if the roles had changed. We used to have to enter through the back door. They were also friends. It made a really beautiful impression about diversity and love for fair people,” she said.

The strength necessary for competitive swimming (never mind the walks home from practice with wet hair (hand dryers didn’t exist yet) in the frigid Buffalo winters) would later be considered a factor in her professional modeling. “I was going to be a lawyer. I am introverted and nerdy. He was on the honor roll. Every time I walked across the stage [to be honored], everyone would boo me. I was the first black cheerleader. I created the first black student union,” she said. “I wasn’t pretty. The pretty girls were short, with big legs and figure. I was tall, thin and flat chested. I wore my hair in two braids throughout high school. Nobody was chasing me,” Johnson said.

Interested in AI and connecting with a variety of generations, Johnson said, “I don’t call it aging. “I call it ‘pro-aging,’ it’s like a treasure hunt.”

Johnson wrote the one-woman show a few years ago with playwright Josh Ravetch, whose credits include Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking,” “Onward: The Diana Nyad Story” and “Step in Time! “A musical memory.” Before the pandemic hit, Johnson’s show was well received at a West Hollywood workshop, she said.

Reflecting on how to celebrate 50th The anniversary of the Vogue cover was difficult to tell. “That’s half a century. Sometimes it’s hard to even say,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he has no idea why the cover (under the editorship of Grace Mirabella) occurred. “Honestly, I think it was a fluke. In those days, you never knew if you had gotten the cover until you appeared,” he said.

She was hired in the spring of 1974 for a beauty shoot with photographer Francesco Scavullo, stylist Frances Stein, stylist Suga, and Way Bandy in charge of makeup. “There was surely magic in the air. But there was magic in a great beauty photograph,” Johnson said. “Someone just had the guts [to use the image for the history-making cover].”

Recalling the overwhelming reaction and being interviewed by outlets “from around the world,” Johnson said she recently learned that Vogue was said to have done three production runs to keep up with demand. Sharing that and other personal stories, including some about adversity, makes people think “if she can do it, I can do it,” Ella Johnson said.

Beverly Johnson on the cover of VogueBeverly Johnson on the cover of Vogue

Material for the model’s new one-woman show.

Celebrating Vogue’s groundbreaking cover “to give it that moment in history it deserves” was proposed indirectly by a gentleman through “Beverly’s Full House,” which used to air on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Johnson said. “You know how it is, you don’t want to blow yourself up, you want someone else to do it. But a closed mouth is never fed,” he stated. Despite having always talked about thornier topics such as depression, hysterectomies and menopause, focusing on his milestone in fashion was a new connection.

Substance abuse and addiction are also addressed in Johnson’s off-Broadway show, who referred to the recent death of actor Matthew Perry (from acute effects of ketamine) as an example of “how insidious addiction has become.” disease”.

“Recovery is sacred. What we learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] It’s not for promotion. It is by example. They feel like you shouldn’t present it to the public. I’m still in AA so I followed the rules. From time to time it escaped him. If someone asked me if I’d like to have a drink, I’d say, ‘No, I never drink or do drugs.’ They would say, ‘Hey, excuse me?’” she said.

His audience “laughs and cries with me,” he said.

As for how the fashion industry has moved forward since Floyd’s murder in 2020, Johnson said there has been some movement in appointing Black executives to corporate boards, but there remains work to be done. “We have a long way to go. “Every industry is a bubble in itself, but it is actually difficult to get into ours,” he stated.

In terms of improving diversity, Johnson said laws are needed “for people to do the right thing. “That way they will have consequences, if they don’t.” Johnson praised The Model Alliance and its founder Sara Ziff for their support of the Fashion Workers Act, which calls for financial transparency and accountability in the modeling industry. “Listen, my agent, who I love, Iconic Focus or any other agency I’ve been with, there’s no transparency. I don’t know how much they are getting. I have to depend on them, and I do. I like to think that everyone is honest. But transparency would be nice. It’s as if we were children and I am far from being a child model. “I can handle it,” he said.

Johnson credited his father for teaching him how to use his voice, “when he had influence.”

After babysitting one day, Johnson recalled “fighting this guy” after a man pushed her onto a bed and got on top of her. Nearly a decade later, Johnson said she confronted him and “looked straight into her eyes and said right to her face, ‘Have you sexually abused any girls lately?’” she said. “That felt so good. He just turned red and left. Facing it gave me a lot of power.”

Johnson said Monday that the incident that occurred at the age of 12 led her to drink alcohol for the first time and that she then “vomited at school.”

Johnson said sexual abuse is “a global dynamic” and recalled an experience with Cosby, alleging that he drugged a cup of coffee he gave her. “It is a miracle that both times [referring also to the babysitting altercation] I got out of there without being raped. Who knows if you would be talking to me on the phone right now if I had been raped. It shuts down women’s lives — trauma,” Johnson said, adding that she now deals with her personal trauma by giving back.

The advocate and model serves on the board of directors of the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center Foundation, where child victims of sexual abuse and abuse receive immediate support with services.

Looking ahead to the next five years, Johnson is cautious about speculating on how the fashion industry might change. “I expect nothing. The only thing I do is the little I can do: talk to you or to a model who had a bad experience and ran away because she is traumatized. “We’re talking about young women, but it’s not just little young models,” Johnson said. “There are hairdressers and men. The modeling industry is the Wild West in the sense that waitresses and auto workers have unions. There are industry unions. we are a billion [dollar] industry, but there are no rules.”

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