Spreading Knowledge

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Black History Fashion: Helen Williams

First African American Model to Break into the Mainstream

Happy Black History Month to you loves! For the rest of this month, I will be posting articles about great African American men and women, as well as provide fashion inspiration. This week is all about African American Models. Our first icon is Helen Williams!

Photo Credit
Helen was born in East Riverton, New Jersey in 1937. As a child, she was fascinated and obsessed with clothing. She began sewing at the age of seven, creating her own garments. Goring up, she studied drama, dance, and art. She first worked in New York as a stylist for photo shoots before she began modeling around the age of seventeen. She was signed by model-turned-agent, Ophelia DeVore.
Photo Credit|| DeVore's mission was to present African American models "in a way that was not stereotyped" (Ebony).
During the 50's and 60's, fashion modeling for African Americans was a struggled. The industry typically excluded all non-white models from mainstream fashion. And sometimes, only light-skinned models were allowed. Even though Helen Williams was gorgeous and stunning, she was deemed too dark for the industry.

However, things were much different in France. When Williams moved to Paris around the 1960's, she modelled for many famous designers, such as Christian Dior and Jean Dess├Ęs. Black beauty held a much higher interest in France than in America. Thus Helen was able to work for around $7,500 a year. Similar to Josephine Baker, Helen received many marriage proposals by French admirers who "worship the ground [she walks] on," (Arogundade).

After moving back to America, things had not changed for dark-skinned models. As Helen searched for a new agent in New York City, she was determined and stubborned. After being rejected by one agency who claimed they already had a black model, Helen began a new cause, which grabbed the attention of journalists Dorothy Kilgallen and Earl Wilson. By writing about Helen's struggle and the problems African American models faced in the industry, Helen was offered jobs by Budweiser, Loom Togs, and Modess.

After fighting for equality for African American models, Williams became the first to break the four hundred chain that deemed dark skin as ugly. From seeing dark skin as simply "maid-like" in media and television, a new window was open for dark models, thus making Helen the first black, mainstream model!

Perfect in Paris

Helen Williams was a beautiful woman with great bone structure, lovely features, and an iconic style that any fashionista can replicate. Get her look when you pair a blouse with a flared skirt. Just tuck in the top and pull it back out just a bit to get that 50's/60's vibe. Complete the look with simple patent heels, gold knot earrings with crystals, and a gold cuff bracelet.

Beauty Inspired

Helen's iconic bouffant wig, sculpted brows, and giraffe-like neck was her signature look. Simply wet your hair and add about a dollop of hair mousse and style to get shiny, voluminous curls. The color of the lipstick you should use should be at least  one or two shades darker than your lips to get a glamorous feel. Lastly, coat your lashes, add liner, and sculpt your brows!

Ads featuring Helen!

Helen had a smile that could entrance her audience. She was featured in many ads, as well as modelled for Ebony and Jet magazine, two popular black magazines during her time!

Here's to a black beauty! Until next time, loves!
~~ReneA P.

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