(UPDATED MARCH 22, 2015)
Not very much information is readily available about the life of the first second black supermodel, Donyale Luna. Her life was short, but in it, she made significant history breaking achievements.
Born and named Peggy Anne Donyale Aragonea Pegeon Freeman in 1946, in Detroit, Michigan, USA Donyale was destined to have an exceptional existence.
Becoming a model in the mid 1960’s, she set the fashion world on fire with her energy and her zest for life. Eccentric to the end, when asked from where she hailed, Luna, was she was commonly called, would say, “I’m from the moon baby!”
Donyale made history by becoming the first black woman to get the cover of a Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Queen magazines. Her face hit the cover of the British edition of Vogue on March 1, 1966. Time Magazine once called her “unquestionably the hottest model in Europe” when she was 20 years old.
Luna’s star was by far one of the brightest. And as the 1960s was a time for experimenting with fashion, Luna was the name that had to be associated with it!
She was a favourite of French couturiers, Paco Rabanne and Yves Saint Laurent. And when the paper dress trend arrived to the USA and to Europe from Australia, Luna was again called upon to champion them.
Luna was even there as a model when in 1964, American journalists spat in the face of Rabanne when he organised his fashion show in the USA using only black models. For Rabanne, fashion futurist, Luna was a perfect ambassador to show of the contrast between the metal used in his dresses and black skin.
Back in Europe, she continued to weave her magic and cast spells over those who came into her with her personality’s magnetic field. In January 1965, she became the first black model to get the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, when a racially ambiguous sketch of her was used. Then shortly afterwards, Richard Avedon shot her for the groundbreaking April edition of the magazine. On March 27, 1968 she scored the cover of Queen (now Harpers & Queens). Paris Match called upon her to pose in its fashion pages, Mirror Newspapers, all had to have her unbridled energy.
Luna dazzled and stole the show at many a fashion show. In one, instead of walking down the runway with a model’s strut, she simply laid down and rolled from one end of the runway to the other. This caused such a roar among the photographers and fashion editors that the name LUNA became synonymous with the word diva !
As one of fashion’s brightest stars, the brightest stars from other cross refenence industries such as film and the art world all danced in perfect harmony with Luna. In London she partied and ran around with Michael Caine, Julie Christie, Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol etc. Warhol loved her so much that he even conducted her first screen test back in 1966.
Even today, images of Luna create a lasting impression. In a 2003 essay on Warhol’s screen tests, Wayne Koestenbaum described her as “pure diva” in the magazine, Art Forum. In it he said, “Dennis Hopper in a screen test moves his head to the beat of a music the silent film can’t include… Inevitably a viewer compares various star voltages–Dennis versus Gerard versus Donyale. Donyale Luna, model and actress, wins; in an overwhelmingly white Factory, she is an exception, an African-American beauty, who, in her test, is pure diva, presenting a delicious mobile excess of mannerism. With repeated refined gestures, she fixes her hair, as if assessing herself in a mirror, and that gesture (primping for a role that may never come to pass) means victory in the screen test’s world of simulacral stardom. With a painted-white fingernail, Donyale checks for unseen flecks of stray mascara; she sinks below the frame’s horizon but then bobs to the surface, rescued, her eyeliner queenly as before.
Wild, singular and untameable are some words that can describe. One such example of this is how she appeared at opening of Bill Maynard’s Holographic Communication Centre in New York dressed as a black orchid! She appeared amidst the lasers and created undoubtedly the highlight of the evening.
Luna caused much ink to be used in writings about her. She was the first true black supermodel before the term even existed. Certain aspects of Luna’s personality were infused into the title character of Mahogany, played by Diana Ross in the 1975 film Mahogany.
She also sang and acted. She appeared as God’s mistress in the 1968 film, Skidoo. She also starred in the title role in the 1972 Italian film, Salomé. Her image appeared once again in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1996); Salomé (1972); Salvador Dalí (1971), Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London (1967); Screen Test #3 (1966); Screen Test #4 (1966) (uncredited) …. Herself