Beverly Johnson: The New Life of a Supermodel12.15.11
Her unprecedented modeling career has spanned across three decades. A career that includes more than 500 magazine covers, hundreds of advertising campaigns, innumerable walks down the couture runways, and of course that historical 1974 feature in American Vogue – making supermodel Beverly Johnson the first black woman to be featured on the cover of the nation’s fashion authority. It’s been nearly 38 years since that iconic moment, but Johnson says she’s just getting started. The 59-year-old beauty is as stunning as ever and says she has much to pass on to her family and her fans, as she sails into uncharted territory with the launch her new beauty and hair care line, and let’s not forget Johnson’s upcoming reality show on OWN with her model daughter and five-month-old granddaughter. Cotton Candy Magazine® caught up with the fashion icon the morning after her successful launch party in New York City for the Beverly Johnson Hair Collection. And our candid conversation revealed a personal side we’ve never seen before.
Cotton Candy: You seem to have a lot going on right now, and your life seems very full. So, it’s appropriate that your new show on OWN is called Beverly’s Full House. How do you feel about opening up your life to viewers and fans?
Beverly Johnson: Oh my goodness. Actually, it’s a constructive reality show. Meaning that this was an opportunity for my daughter and I to review our relationship. Her father and I were divorced when she was 18 months old. And I thought that she had a lot of questions. I mean how many chances do mothers and daughters have to actually ask each other, “What happened back then?” or “What’s your story?” or any of those issues. Because the mother-daughter relationship is a very complex relationship, I think. So I thought the concept was very interesting.
Also, I’m in the process of building all of these companies. And [the producers of OWN] are now actually documenting what I’m doing. I thought they were coming with two cameras and a small crew. But then there were about 25 people in my house for about five months, I was shocked. I just didn’t know.
Then my daughter, Anansa, her new husband and their new daughter – my granddaughter, Ava, are all there. It’s an interesting dynamic.
CC: You’re certainly not your typical grandmother. You have many unique lessons to teach. Do you think you will teach Ava about the fashion industry and modeling?
BJ: (Laughs) My granddaughter is so poised in front of the camera. It’s scary. She never cries. She never gets sleepy. I mean she’s unbelievable! I know everybody loves their granddaughter, but this girl is an absolute natural (laughs). It’s kind of scary! She’s just five months old. As long as that camera’ s on, she’s happy. She’s cooing. She’s attentive to everybody moving around. And I think [the reality show] was also a great experience for her.
The show will be interesting. Lots of laughs. Lots of tears. You know it’s the story of two supermodels moving around in the world. Through the show we learned how to listen, and we learned how to hear each other. I learned so much about myself, which I thought I knew everything about myself. Then I realized I knew nothing. This was a major experience.
CC: So obviously, one of your most well-known accomplishments is the 1974 cover of Vogue magazine. You were the first black woman to grace the cover. How do you feel that changed the industry?
BJ: So last night, I got back [from an event in New York City] and in my email inbox my was a story that Vogue had finally gone digital with all of the black women that have been on the cover of Vogue. And included there is me, Oprah Winfrey, [First Lady] Michelle Obama. There are about 28 covers. And you know, there I am, first. And all I can say is wow (sighs). I just saw that last night. And it’s just such a great reminder of where [African-Americans] were in the world at that time, and to think we have a black president today is just very surreal.
(Click the photos below.)
CC: Tell us what advice do you have for women who want to break into the industry, especially those who are minorities or are from a different background?
BJ: I say come on in. We live in a diverse world, and we need to represent that diversity. We need to acknowledge one another. And we need to acknowledge each other’s culture. That’s how we grow as human beings. That’s what life is all about. Every culture has something to offer. And as a model of color or a woman of color who wants to get into this industry, if you have the desire, I say go for it. It’s been wonderful for me. It’s very competitive. And in life one has to have plan B, or plan C, and D (giggles). You never know. But you might find out you like photography more than modeling. You never know where life will take you. But I can’t do anything but encourage the young lady who has the ability and the potential talent and more importantly, the desire to pursue your personal ambition. Go for it.
CC: Obviously, you take that same approach in your own life with so many projects going on, including the Beverly Johnson Hair Collection, the wig line, reality show. Now we’re hearing you’re going to be on the big screen in director Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds this coming February.
BJ: Yes. I play Gabrielle Union’s mother. [Gabrielle] is just an absolute doll. It’s a smaller role. But you know what they say; there are no small roles. And I have so much respect. I’m working with two of the giants in the business: Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. I have so much respect for the way that they live their lives and for things that they stand for in the world. I could just pinch myself every day.
CC: Everyone knows you as this beautiful supermodel. But what do you want to be remembered for?
BJ: You know what? No one has ever asked me that question. I think Larry King asked me that question. But no one else. Wow. Well, honestly I would like to pass on this legacy in the beauty business to my daughter. I hope not to be forgotten.
You know, I’ve done lots of modeling for major companies around the world. But about a little more than year ago, I decided I no longer wanted to be the face on someone else’s box. I want to own the box my face is on – that I am in business for myself. And it is hard. But I have this amazing team of people. And I have a person who is so qualified at business. It’s just something I thought that I could never do. You know, I don’t have an MBA. I waited all of this time. I thought “I’m too old.” Those were the excuses I had in my mind. But I’m doing it. It’s so fun to do a product line, and I didn’t have to compromise one aspect of that product. Feels good. I hope everybody enjoys it as much as I have. I love it.
CC: With all of the things that you’ve accomplished, what do you feel you would still like to accomplish?
BJ: I want to make this new venture, this new business, as successful as I feel in my heart. I don’t assign a number to it. I just want to make it full as I think it should be in my heart. It’s one of the things I want to see and want to accomplish.
Written by: Natasha Danielle Smith
Photo Credit: Fadil Berisha