Fashion's First Black Cover Model

Cristen Conger

Courtesy: The Vintage Traveler
Courtesy: The Vintage Traveler

In August 1968, 18-year-old Katiti Kironde became the first woman of color on the cover of a major American fashion magazine.

That was a pivotal year, in fact, for women of color in mainstream media, as Naomi Sims -- often referred to as the first black supermodel --became Ladies' Home Journal's first African-American cover model in November 1968. Fashion bible Vogue wouldn't follow suit with its groundbreaking Beverly Johnson cover until August 1974.

The year prior to Kironde's historic cover, Ruth Whitney had taken over as Glamour's editor-in-chief and would hold the position for an astonishing 31 years. When she died in June 1999, The New York Times headlined her obituary "the Editor Who Made Glamour Relevant," and deservedly so. Under Whitney's guidance, the fashion magazine evolved into a progressive outlet for stories about reproductive rights, sexuality, workplace issues and other non-fashion-related interests. And it was Whitney who decided to update the magazine's annual best-dressed female college student contest to focus is more on the young women's academic achievements, which Harvard undergrad Katiti Kironde won.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 1993, Whitney said of her decision to feature Kironde on the cover of that college contest issue:

"That move had to be OK'd all the way up to the president of Conde Nast, and there was much consternation about it. For one thing, it had never been done, so nobody knew what would happen. They didn't know whether they'd lose their wholesale distributors. They didn't know whether advertisers would pull out from the next issue--because we didn't tell anybody. The concern about perception was an overriding one, but there was a financial concern too. But the good part of the story is that it was the largest sale in Glamour's history. The audience was out there just waiting for it. Women's magazines were so fearful back in those days, just so fearful. And it wasn't a scary thing to do at all once you'd done it."

And what of Kironde? She wasn't a one-magazine-hit wonder by any means. After graduating from Harvard, Kironde pursued a career in fashion and later launched an eponymous label specializing in white button-down shirts. Then in 2010, Kironde returned to her alma mater to achieve another first, teaching Harvard's first-ever freshman seminar on fashion, naturally.