Beverly Johnson

February 7, 2013 § 2 Comments

Model Beverly Johnson wearing a white striped caftan, Vogue Pattern #8587, sitting in front of window in artist Peter Lobello’s New York loft. Vogue, May 1973. Photo: Kourken Pakchanian. Image via Wmagazine.com.

It’s almost forty years since Beverly Johnson (b. 1952) became the first black woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue, in 1974. (Donyale Luna had appeared on the cover of British Vogue in 1966.) One of the decade’s most successful models, Johnson had moved to New York City to pursue modelling after losing her summer job; she had been a pre-law student at Northeastern University.

Francesco Scavullo's photograph of Beverly Johnson for Vogue, August 1974

Beverly Johnson on the cover of Vogue, August 1974. Photo: Francesco Scavullo. Image via vogue.com.

To be accurate, Beverly Johnson was the first model of mixed black/Native American background to make the Vogue cover, as her father’s ancestry is part Blackfoot (see story and slideshow at Vogue Italia). Whereas her first agent told her she would never make the cover of Vogue, Johnson also faced obstacles with “the leading black magazines, Ebony and Essence, [who] wouldn’t put me on their covers at first, because I wasn’t ethnic-looking enough” (read her recollection at Vogue online).

As far as I know, Johnson was also the first black model to be photographed for Vogue’s designer patterns. Johnson’s relationship with the pattern company seems to have begun the year before her first Vogue cover. This Sybil Connolly pattern, from October/November 1973, is the earliest pattern I’ve seen featuring her:

1970s Sybil Connolly pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, Vogue 2919

Vogue 2919 by Sybil Connolly (1973) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

These three designs featuring Johnson, by Ungaro and Bill Blass, were released in May 1974. Instead of their usual sandy-haired male model, Vogue 1011 pairs her with another black model:

1970s Emanuel Ungaro pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1010

Vogue 1010 by Emanuel Ungaro (1974) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

1970s Emanual Ungaro pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1011

Vogue 1011 by Emanuel Ungaro (1974) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

1970s Bill Blass pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1016

Vogue 1016 by Bill Blass (1974) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Here she models for a McCall’s pattern by Halston:

1970s Halston pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, McCall's 4952

McCall’s 4952 by Halston (1976) Image via Etsy.

Johnson appears on several early Calvin Klein patterns, including this set of casual separates (in series with the pantsuit modelled by Angeleen Gagliano):

1970s Calvin Klein pattern featuring model Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1368

Vogue 1368 by Calvin Klein (1976) Image via eBay.

You may recognize these two patterns, from Dior and Balmain, which seem to have been quite popular:

1970s Dior pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1567

Vogue 1567 by Christian Dior (1976) Image via Etsy.

1970s Balmain pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1570

Vogue 1570 by Pierre Balmain (1976) Image via Ruby Lane.

In terms of high-profile, evening dress patterns, the only ones I could find featuring Johnson were these two, by Teal Traina and Belinda Bellville:

1970s Teal Traina pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1074

Vogue 1074 by Teal Traina (1974) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

1970s Belinda Bellville pattern featuring Beverly Johnson, Vogue 1568

Vogue 1568 by Belinda Bellville (1976) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Beverly Johnson also modelled for Simplicity, as well as Vogue magazine’s features on Vogue patterns. (Although Vogue Patterns was by then owned by Butterick, Vogue magazine continued to run editorials featuring Vogue patterns—see my Gia Carangi post for more.) Here Johnson appears in a 1972 advertisement for the Simplicity Catalog:

"If it's not in the Simplicity Catalog, it's not in fashion." 1972 Simplicity advertisement featuring Beverly Johnson

Simplicity advertisement, 1972. Image via Vintage Black Glamour on tumblr.

In this 1976 patterns feature, Johnson models linen tops with Karen Bjornson (the patterns, left to right, are Vogue 9544, Vogue 9635, and Vogue 9559):

Bob Richardson photos of Beverly Johnson and Karen Bjornson for Vogue November 1976

Beverly Johnson and Karen Bjornson in Vogue, November 1976. Photos: Bob Richardson. Images via the Fashion Spot.

In this Vogue shoot, Johnson’s cardigan is Vogue 2924 by Fabiani:

Beverly Johnson in Vogue, July 1973. Photo: Bob Stone. Image via Youthquaker.

Vogue, July 1973. Photo: Bob Stone. Image via Youthquaker.

The caftan shot at the top of this post is from a four-page patterns editorial photographed by Kourken Pakchanian. Here is the full editorial:

Beverly Johnson in Vogue, May 1973.

Vogue, May 1973. Photos: Kourken Pakchanian. Image via Youthquaker.

Beverly Johnson in Vogue, May 1973. Photos: Kourken Pakchanian.

Vogue, May 1973. Photos: Kourken Pakchanian. Image via Youthquaker.

The patterns are: top left, Vogue 8585; top right, Vogue 8573; bottom left, Vogue 2881; bottom right, Vogue 8587. (The halter top, sarong, and bikini are all from V2881; the envelope photo shows deeply tanned, Caucasian models.) Corbis had the full image of Johnson in the V2881 bikini:

Beverly Johnson in a white bikini Vogue 2881, photographed by Kourken Pakchanianfor Vogue, 1973.

Model Beverly Johnson wearing a white bikini with wrap-around bandeau top, Vogue Pattern #2881, stretched out in artist Peter Lobello’s New York loft. Photo: Kourken Pakchanian. Image via Corbis.

For a look inside Vogue’s historic August 1974 issue with Beverly Johnson’s cover, see Youthquaker’s post here. There also some scans showing Johnson wearing 1974 Vogue designs here.

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§ 2 Responses to Beverly Johnson

  • Karen says:

    Very interesting! I believe Beverly Johnson was the model for an Anne Klein Vogue American Designer pattern, #1386, ca. 1975. (I write briefly about this pattern – but not the model – in one of my blog posts from March 2012, as it was featured in a “Spring” fashion show I attended.) It’s amazing to think Ms. Johnson would have been in her early to mid twenties when she was doing these covers for Vogue Patterns in the ’70s.

    • PatternVault says:

      Thanks, Karen! (Interesting post about attending the show and winning that pattern—I’ll link to it: http://tinyurl.com/b4wae4w.) Yes, Johnson was on a number of Vogue pattern covers from the early to late ’70s: some Anne Kleins, Valentinos, etc. I’m still on the lookout for more; I just found a second evening pattern and added it to the post.

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