Location: Palm Springs, CA
Marital Status: Divorced
Education: Pre-law at Northeastern University
Some mornings I wake up and say, ‘Why wasn’t I born rich, instead of beautiful? But I am thankful to be blessed with what I have.’” And most would agree this bold beauty has it all: an effusive personality, a remarkable modeling career spanning three decades, a great relationship with her daughter, and her own burgeoning haircare line.
In 1974, you made history as the first black model to be featured on the cover of Vogue–what was that like?
It was an amazing time… but there were still challenges.
Challenges? You didn’t have it made after those two features?
Not quite…I did a 10-page spread for Glamour in 1972, and I still had to have a part-time job to supplement my income. I went around New York looking for an agency and they all said no. I didn’t tell them I had just finished shooting for Glamour. I didn’t know I was supposed to tell them that! Eileen Ford of Ford modeling agency said, ‘You’re too fat.’ I weighed around 130 pounds at that time. I was a swimmer, I had a lot of muscle.
But Ford Agency eventually signed you?
Eileen found out I was freelancing for Glamour and Vogue and called me back. She said, ‘You lost so much weight.’ I hadn’t lost any weight. It summed up the industry. At that point, I knew what I was getting into–a lot of B.S. But I was with Ford, the best agency. And funny, now I’m back with Ford. It’s some operation there. They represent about 10,000 models today, they represented 100 when I first started.
How do you stay grounded in the modeling business?
I’ve been doing it for a long time. But it wasn’t always easy…my midlife crisis was at age 26 where everyone else has theirs at 40. My girlfriends were buying their first homes and I had to kind of catch up. I think when you focus so much on your physical appearance at the age of 17, it stunts your growth.
Were your parents supportive?
Once I was on all the magazine covers, yes. But at first, no. They wanted me to go to school. I was the only one of five children that didn’t graduate college. My mother actually went against my father’s wishes and took me to New York. It was only later that he realized it was a legitimate profession.
You’ve worn many hats–author, actor, musician and now you own your own haircare line. What’s been your favorite role?
I loved the acting, but the dedication you need to become a serious actress has to be in your blood. I just didn’t feel passionate about acting like I did about modeling in the beginning, maybe because I already had money. I loved writing, too. I wrote two beauty books but they were real labors of love. It took three years and then I sold four books…on the Internet… after someone else already bought them. I’m kidding, but it was hard. I also worked in the music industry. I did an album with Clive Davis. It was fun, I toured and did the club thing but realized that wasn’t for me either.
How did your haircare line come about?
What brought me to modeling was the money. Sharing my expertise is what brought me to my haircare line. The products have been in Target since March. I own the line–it’s not mere licensing–so it’s a lot of work. But I’m ready for it now.
What’s different about your haircare line?
The products are paraben-free. Parabens are in a lot of cosmetics and have been linked to breast cancer. It was challenging to create products without them but they came out even better in the end.
Do you have children?
I have one daughter, Anansa, who is 28 years old and just got married. She’s a plus-sized model and a financial analyst. She is from my second marriage, to Danny Sims.
Were you married after that?
No, I’m not married.
Do you have any passion projects?
I’ve always aligned myself with education causes. I recently met Dr. Michael Lomax, the president of the United Negro College Fund, and have been inspired to become more involved.
What’s your haircare routine?
I’ve actually had to build shelves in my shower for all the products I keep. Guests see my bathroom and say, ‘Whoa what a treasure trove!’ Presently, I’m liking this Pantene Pro-V ‘Shine’ Conditioner.
I’m a big drugstore products junkie. For skincare, RoC has some really beautiful products. I like their microdermabrasion products – they’re not super, super pricey but they are high-end.
I’m actually developing one, but we are not quite there yet. My favorites today are Paris by YSL, Chanel No. 5. and Bulgari cologne.
YWhat’s your exercise routine?
I work with my trainer, Tanya Evans, via Skype. She’s so fabulous, she’s one of those people who stays on the cutting edge of everything. She was a former Ms. Fitness and she really knows the woman’s body. And she can see everything on Skype. I can’t cheat!
YWhat’s your biggest indulgence?
I like anything that has to do with indulging. Penny candy, chocolates, laying in bed, eating candy while laying in bed, watching television. My most favorite indulgence is popcorn. We had popcorn rivalries in our neighborhood, but I make the best in the world. It’s buffalo popcorn–like buffalo wings. I use lots of butter. I don’t even keep butter in my refrigerator but for the popcorn.
YDo you have a secret place?
I play golf, and sometimes I play alone. I live on a property with nine courses so when I’m out there no one knows exactly where I am.
YWho are your favorite designers?
I’m not a big shopper. I guess it’s because of modeling. The salespeople say ‘Don’t you want to try it on?’ I just hold clothes up to me and say, ‘I think it will fit.’ I like classic designers like Nicole Miller, Diane von Furstenberg, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. I always feel beautiful in their clothes. For New York Fashion Week I wore George Chakra and Kati Stern for Venexiana.
I just finished this book, Born of Betrayal, by a healer I go to named Lacey Hawk. I love this woman. I met Lacey because we brought my friend’s daughter there who had epilepsy. Lacey said she had a bad spirit on her. She said, ‘You might hear a lot of energy pops, don’t be afraid.’ We were like, “Okay we won’t be afraid.’ (Wink, wink.) We didn’t believe her. Thirty minutes later there were all these loud noises and since that day my friend’s daughter has been better. As it turns out, Lacey’s book isn’t about her healing–it’s a love story, but it’s sooo good.
YWhat is your style like now? What was it like when you were younger?
When I was younger I was very self consciously sophisticated. Now, I dress the way I feel. I’ll wear shorter skirts or cheetah print. My girlfriend and I go out and dressalike, that’s how bold we are. People say, ‘Do you two know you’re wearing the same dress?’ And we say, ‘Uh huh!’
YWhat inspires your style now?
I learn a lot from my daughter and I keep up with the trends myself. I read magazines for ideas. I’ll see they’re doing this kind of vest now and not this kind… Looking at them is not punishment anymore. I don’t look at them and say, ‘Ohmigod I used to be that thin.’
YWhat is the secret to being successful?
A lot of work.