Naomi Sims, sometimes referred to as the first black supermodel,, has died of cancer. She was 61.
Sims said childhood insecurities inspired her to become “someone really important”. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology where counselors and classmates encouraged her to give modeling a try. Every agency turned her down, however, some even telling her that her skin was too dark.
Sims then decided to try a different approach. She began directly contacting photographers herself and within a year she was earning $1,000 a week and modeling for top designers such as Halston, who told the New York Times in 1974, “Naomi was the first. She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers.”
Hollywood took an interest in her and offered her the title role in the movie Cleopatra Jones in 1972, but Sims was appalled by the racist portrayal of blacks in the movie and turned it down. The following year, she retired from modeling and created a successful wig collection. It expanded into a multimillion-dollar beauty empire, and Sims authored a number of books on modeling and beauty.