Naomi Ruth Sims (March 30, 1948 – August 1, 2009)

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By LJ Johnson

On August 1st the art, media, and fashion community lost another ground busting figure. Naomi Sims, who held the title of “The First Black Supermodel”, passed away from cancer. Sims was 61. She will forever be cherished for breaking down racial barriers in 1968 when she appeared on the cover of Ladies Home Journal. This was a defining moment in the “Black is Beautiful” movement of the time. After Ladies Home Journal, Sims went on to appear on the covers of Life, Cosmopolitan and Essence.


At 18, Sims traveled to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) for merchandising and textile design and pursue a degree in psychology at New York University. While studying at both schools, Sims jumped started her own modeling career and joined Wilhelmina Cooper’s young modeling agency. Soon after joining with Wilhelmina, she became a successful runway walker for big-time designers, most notably Halston and landed a TV campaign for AT&T. Of Sims, Wilhelmina is noted for saying “She could make any garment–even a sackcloth–look like sensational haute couture”(Black Enterprise). After retiring from the catwalk, she started a business making wigs(The Naomi Sims Collection) for African-American women and later expanded her business to include cosmetics,skin care products and fragrances(Naomi Sims Beauty Products Ltd.). In addition to her beauty line, Sims became a published author writing advice novel, including “How to be a Tope Model” , “All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman”,”All About Success for the Black Woman” and “All About Hair Care for the Black Woman” .

Notably, Ms. Sims was on the Board of Directors for the Harlem Northside Center for Child Development, a member of the NAACP, a member of the Sickle Cell Anemia Drive and Play Schools Association NY.

*** as of Tuesday, Aug 4 two photographs of Sims hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Model as Muse” exhibition.***

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