Black History Month at Fashion Poetics: Celebrating black women of unusual style and poetic conviction
Donyale Luna: Model and Actress
Donyale Luna was an African-American model and actress hailing from Detroit, Michigan. Growing up in an abusive household, Luna sought escape from a young age, and found it in the world of fashion modeling in New York. She was said to appear otherwordly with her extreme stature and ovaline features. In 1966, Luna became the first black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue, glancing with one eye over her slinky hand. As a model, Luna brought to life the iconic designs of the Mod era, including the space age chain-mail looks of Paco Rabanne. Although she was successful in the states working with Richard Avedon and Andy Warhol, Luna had a more prolific career in Europe, including playing Enotea in in Federico Fellini’s 1970 film Satyricon. Luna’s ethereal appearance was heightened by designers’ psychedelic fashions and directors’ surrealist landscapes. Luna herself, when asked where she was from, would reply, “I’m from the moon, darling.” Her otherness, however, was both self-created and imposed by a society accustomed to white beauty. She often obscured her difficult backstory; thereby placing herself squarely in the present and the future. Luna’s rise took place in an era of space exploration, personal experimentation, and cultural upheaval. While she rode this wave, she also fell victim to its particular riptides. Luna passed away from a drug overdose in Italy. She is remembered as an elusive woman who embodied eccentricity, glamour, and joy.
Image Credit: Charlotte March for Twin magazine, 1966