While there are many famous Black female models that walk the runways and grace the covers of magazines today, this wasn’t always the case. Black female models faced racial discrimination and were often turned down for jobs.
Though some Black models saw early success in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that this became more commonplace. From the first household names like Iman to the most recent like Jourdan Dunn, these trailblazing Black models have been nothing short of breathtaking and inspirational.
Read on for our list of Black female models that represent some of the top talent in the modeling industry.
At the age of 19, Eva Marcille won the third cycle of America’s Next Top Model in 2004. She was the first Black woman to win this competition. Marcille is also one of the shortest models at 5’7” to win America’s Next Top Model.
She has modeled for CoverGirl, Essence, Samsung, Elle, DKNY, Apple Bottoms, and Ford Models. She has also appeared in music videos by Jamie Foxx, 50 Cent, and Angie Stone.
Marcille hosted two television shows on BET: Rip the Runway in 2005 and My Model Looks Better Than Your Model in 2006. She was born in Los Angeles and used to go by her birth name Eva Pigford.
Tyra Banks started her modeling career with L.A. Models at the age of 15. She was the first Black woman to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue as well as GQ.
Banks has modeled for dozens of designers and magazines, including Victoria’s Secret, Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, and CoverGirl.
In 2003, Banks began hosting and executive producing America’s Next Top Model.
American model Janelle Monae is from Kansas City. In 2012, she became a spokesperson for CoverGirl.
Monae didn’t see herself represented in magazines when she was young and was honored to model for CoverGirl. She has stated that she hopes her modeling will help to inspire confidence in young girls.
Outside of modeling, Monae is known for her music and acting career. She won the Billboard Trailblazer of the Year Award in 2018 and has also been nominated for eight Grammy Awards.
Joan Smalls was born in Puerto Rico and started modeling when she was a teenager. She eventually went to New York to pursue her career further.
She has modeled for Oscar De La Renta, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Moschino, Gucci, Chanel, and Prada. Smalls has also been featured in Glamour, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue.
She won the 2012 Style Awards Model of the Year. In 2013, she was named to Forbes’ list of the highest-paid models in the world.
At the age of 18, Precious Lee began her modeling career in Atlanta. She is an advocate for racial diversity and size diversity in the modeling industry.
Lee has modeled for Versace, Marc Jacobs, and Michael Kors. She has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Essence, and the American, British, and Italian versions of Vogue magazine.
She was the first Black curve model to walk in a Versace fashion show in 2021 and the first Black curve model to be featured in American Vogue in 2015.
Born in Ethiopia, Liya Kebede first started modeling in France and later moved to New York to further her career. She began working with Tom Ford in 2000 and was featured on the cover of Paris Vogue in 2002.
She has modeled for Vogue, Gucci, Yves Saint-Laurent, and Tommy Hilfiger. Kebede has also worked with Victoria’s Secret, Louis Vuitton, and Dolce & Gabbana.
In 2003, Kebede became the first Ethiopian woman to represent Estee Lauder. Kebede founded her own clothing company, Lemlem, in 2007, in an effort to provide jobs to women in her home country.
Cynthia Bailey was born in Alabama and later moved to New York at the age of 18. She participated in beauty pageants before her modeling career started with Wilhelmina Models.
Bailey has been featured in various magazines, including Essence, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Maybelline, and Elle. She has also done runway fashion shows in both Milan, Italy, and Paris, France.
In 2011, she founded her own modeling agency in Georgia called the Bailey Agency School of Fashion.
Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico and spent her childhood in Kenya. She started her modeling career with Miu Miu in 2014.
That same year she was the runner-up for the Celebrity Model Industry award. Nyong’o has modeled for Vanity Fair, Saks Fifth Avenue, Calvin Klein, and British Vogue.
She was the first Black woman to be featured by Lancome. In addition to her modeling career, Nyong’o has had a successful career as an actress, winning an Academy Award and being nominated for both a Tony Award and a Primetime Emmy Award.
Jessica White was born and raised in New York. While still a teenager, she attended modeling school and was soon featured in an issue of Vogue.
She has done modeling work for Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Baby Phat, and Ralph Lauren. She has been featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Harper’s Bazaar.
White has also modeled for Maybelline, CoverGirl, and Victoria’s Secret. She was a guest judge for America’s Next Top Model in 2009. White is also a singer, songwriter, and actress.
Born in South Sudan, Alek Wek moved with her family to the United Kingdom when she was 14 due to the civil war.
She began modeling at the age of 18 and was the first African model to appear on the cover of Elle magazine. She has worked for Glamour, Ebony, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue.
In 1997, Wek was named Model of the Year by MTV. She was a guest judge for America’s Next Top Model in 2011. Wek has also written an autobiography about her journey from Sudan to a modeling career.
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Donyale Luna was 19 when she moved to New York to begin her modeling career.
Widely known as the first Black supermodel, Luna had a prosperous modeling career during the 1960s and 1970s. She was the first Black woman to ever appear on the cover of Vogue magazine in 1966.
Luna also appeared in Mademoiselle, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1966, she was named Model of the Year by American Vogue.
Canadian-Jamaican Winnie Harlow got her modeling start on America’s Next Top Model in 2014. She was the only woman from Canada to compete on the show and made it to the second week of the finals.
Harlow has modeled for Victoria’s Secret, Vogue, Ebony, Marc Jacobs, Swarovski, Nike, Steve Madden, and Tommy Hilfiger. In 2017, she won Glamour magazine’s Editor’s Award.
Harlow is a spokesperson for the skin condition vitiligo, which she has had since childhood. As a teenager, she experienced harassment and bullying because of the vitiligo, causing her to leave high school early.
Jayne Kennedy was born in Washington, D.C. She started her modeling career by participating in beauty pageants. In 1970, she was crowned Miss Ohio, the first Black woman to hold this title. She went on to compete in the semi-finals of the Miss USA Pageant that year.
Kennedy modeled for Ebony and Jet magazine. She was the first Black actress to appear on the cover of Playboy.
Kennedy also appeared in multiple films and television shows during the 1970s and 1980s. She was also a sportscaster who became the first female to cover a national sports program in 1978.
Born in Los Angeles, Amandla Stenberg began her modeling career as a child at the age of four. She modeled for Disney as well as various commercial advertisements.
In 2016, Stenberg signed with The Society, a modeling agency based out of New York. She was named to Time magazine’s list of Most Influential Teens two years in a row in 2015 and 2016.
Outside of her modeling career, Stenberg is a successful singer and actress. She was nominated for an NAACP Image Award when she was just 14 years old.
Hailing from New York City, Yaya DaCosta began her modeling career by competing on America’s Next Top Model.
She won five challenges during the competition, was the cover girl of the week three times, and ultimately came in second place in the show’s final.
DaCosta has modeled for fashion designer Tom Ford, and she has appeared in advertisements for Sephora, Oil of Olay, and Garnier Fructis.
Born in Jamaica in 1948, Grace Jones moved to New York with her family when she was a teenager.
She was signed to Wilhelmina Modeling agency in New York and later moved to Paris in the 1970s, where she modeled in runway shows and worked with Yves Saint-Laurent.
Jones has appeared on the cover of both Vogue and Elle magazine. Outside of modeling, Jones has had a successful singing and acting career. She also released her memoir in 2015.
Beverly Johnson was born in New York and started her modeling career in 1971. She was the first Black woman to grace the cover of American Vogue in 1974. The following year she became the first Black woman to appear on the cover of French Elle.
Johnson was a judge on the reality modeling show She’s Got the Look in 2008 and 2009.
In February 2022, at the age of 69, Johnson modeled for Bibhu Mohapatra at the New York Fashion Week runway show. The designer had used only Black models in honor of Black History Month.
Chanel Iman began her modeling career when she was just 12 years old with Ford Models. As a teenager, she came in third place in their Supermodel of the World competition.
Best known for her work with Victoria’s Secret, Iman has also modeled for Gucci, Dior, Versace, Balenciaga, and Burberry. She has appeared in several magazines, including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Allure, and Elle.
In 2009, Iman appeared as a guest judge for the reality show America’s Next Top Model.
Jamaican-British model Leomie Anderson is best known for her work as a Victoria’s Secret Angel.
She started modeling at the age of 14 and participated in her first runway show at 17. Anderson has done work for Vivienne Westwood, Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, and Oscar de la Renta.
In 2019, she became the first Black woman from Britain to be named a Victoria’s Secret Angel.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Veronica Webb moved to New York to start her modeling career in the 1980s.
She was the first Black woman to represent a major cosmetics company, modeling for Revlon.
Webb has been on the cover of Essence, Vogue, and Elle. She has modeled for Chanel, Victoria’s Secret, and Karl Lagerfeld.
French model Noemie Lenoir was 17 years old when she started her modeling career with the Ford Modeling Agency in New York.
Her first assignment was with L’Oreal in 1997. She has modeled for Marks and Spencer, Gucci, Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger, and Gap.
In 2010, Lenoir appeared as a special guest on America’s Next Top Model. Lenoir has also had a successful acting career, appearing in various films and television series beginning in 2002.
Born in Somalia, Iman grew up in Egypt and also lived in Kenya, where she attended university.
She started modeling in the 1970s and quickly became one of the top supermodels. She worked with designers such as Versace, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Yves Saint Laurent.
In 1994, she started her own cosmetics line and later developed a fragrance and a clothing line. She received the Council of Fashion Designers of America lifetime achievement award in 2010.
Born in Philadelphia, Toukie Smith studied fashion design in New York.
She was a popular model during the 1970s, working for Chanel, Versace, and Yves Saint Laurent. She appeared in Cosmopolitan, Ebony, Vogue, and Elle.
In 1978, Smith was named Model of the Year by Bloomingdale’s.
California model Beverly Peele was a popular supermodel in the 1980s and 1990s.
She began modeling at the age of 12 and appeared on her first magazine cover when she was just 14 years old.
Peele modeled for Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Versace, and Chanel. She appeared in several magazines, including Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, and Harper’s Bazaar.
Born Simone Thompson, she now goes by the name Slick Woods. She grew up in Los Angeles, where she was raised by her grandmother after her mother was incarcerated.
Prior to being discovered as a model, Woods was battling addiction and involved in criminal activity for which she spent time in jail.
Woods has been featured in Vogue magazine. She has worked with designers including Rihanna, Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein, and Marc Jacobs.
California model Jasmine Tookes began her career as a teenager. She was discovered while accompanying her fashion designer mother to an event.
Tookes has been featured in Elle, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar.
She has modeled for Victoria’s Secret, Moschino, DKNY, Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, Dolce & Gabbana, Helmut Lang, and Versace.
Texas-born Dorothea Church attended pre-med school and taught at a high school before becoming a model.
She started by working in charity runway shows in the 1940s and began modeling for Christian Dior in 1949.
Church was featured on the cover of Jet magazine in 1953.
Zoe Kravitz was born in California to singer Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet.
She has modeled for Vera Wang, Tiffany & Co., Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, and Alexander Wang. Kravitz has also appeared on the cover of Elle magazine.
She has been nominated for a Model of the Year award by Models.com in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Duckie Thot’s family left the civil war in South Sudan in 1995.
She competed in the reality show Australia’s Next Top Model, where she finished in third place. She later moved to New York for more modeling opportunities.
Thot works with Rihanna’s cosmetics company Fenty. She has also modeled for Victoria’s Secret, L’Oreal, Moschino, and Oscar de la Renta.
Born in London, England, Jourdan Dunn started her modeling career in the United Kingdom in 2006 at the age of 15. She modeled for Ralph Lauren, Valentino, and Louis Vuitton.
In 2008, she became the first Black model in over ten years to be featured in a Prada fashion show. The same year she was named Model of the Year at the Fashion Awards; she won this award again in 2015.
Dunn has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, and Elle. In 2015, she became the first Black model since 2003 to appear as an individual model on the cover of British Vogue.
British supermodel Naomi Campbell started modeling at the age of 15 when she was on the cover of the British magazine Elle.
She was the first Black woman in over 20 years to appear on the cover of British Vogue in 1987. The following year she became the first Black woman featured on the cover of French Vogue.
Campbell has been accused of assault dozens of times and convicted four times. In 2008, she assaulted two police officers at London’s Heathrow airport.
Born in South Sudan, Adut Akech spent part of her childhood in Kenya before moving to Australia with her family.
Her modeling career began when Akech was 16. She modeled in Australia as well as Paris. Akech has worked with Givenchy, Valentino, Prada, Anna Sui, Moschino, and Yves Saint Laurent.
She has appeared in various international versions of Vogue Magazine. Models.com named Akech Model of the Year in 2018 and 2019.
Born in Mississippi, Naomi Sims was a prominent model during the 1960s. She attended fashion school in New York prior to starting her career.
In 1968, Sims became the first Black woman to be featured on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal.
Sims was also the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Life magazine in 1969. She retired from modeling in 1973.
Best Black Female Models, Final Thoughts
From the runways of Paris and Milan to the covers of Vogue and Elle, Black female models have taken the modeling world by storm. Working for top designers like Versace, Calvin Klein, and Giorgio Armani, Black models have inspired others to reach for success.