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Groundbreaking Black Supermodel Dies at 61

8/5/2009, 9:37 p.m.

New York (AFP) €"Naomi Sims, a Black model who opened the White-dominated fashion industry to African Americans in the 1960s, has died, reports said Tuesday. She was 61.

Sims, sometimes dubbed the first Black supermodel, died of cancer on Sat., Aug. 1 in Newark, N.J., the New York Times and TheFashionInsider.com reported.

Born in racially segregated Oxford, Miss. in 1948, Sims made history in August 1967 as the first Black model on the cover of Fashion of the Times, a supplement to the New York Times.

"If they use you, its because you're Black," Sims said. €But Black is such an inherent part of our beauty and appeal as models, that Black models should never hold themselves back or de-emphasize that part.€

She scored another first when she made the cover of Ladies Home Journal in 1968 and went on to feature on the covers of Life Magazine in 1969 and Cosmopolitan in 1973, her last cover shot.

"Thanks to her proven personal initiatives as a true pioneer, she succeeded in creating a real place for Black women in the modeling industry," said Marcellous Jones, chief editor at TheFashionInsider.com.

In the 1970s, Sims launched The Naomi Sims Beauty Care System, a line of beauty products for Black women that included soaps, lotions, facial cleaners, after shave and hair products.

She attended New York€s Fashion Institute of Technology and paid tuition by posing for fashion illustrators. Without the benefit of an agent, Sims contacted fashion photographer Gosta Peterson and landed her first cover shoot on Fashion of the Times.

In addition to modeling, Sims traveled the world lecturing on fashion, beauty and health and felt an obligation to work with drug addicts, Vietnam veterans and Black civic groups.


Sims retired from modeling in 1973 and started a line of skin and hair products for African American women and men. Courtesy Photo
Naomi Sims€ Life Magazine cover came in 1969, two years after she started modeling professionally. Courtesy Photo