Who is Donyale Luna? Zendaya's new photoshoot pays tribute to first black supermodel to appear on Vogue cover

Zendaya said, 'A lot of what I do, specifically within fashion, is a tribute to the fashion icons who came before me, many of whom are Black women'


                            Who is Donyale Luna? Zendaya's new photoshoot pays tribute to first black supermodel to appear on Vogue cover
Donyale Luna and Zendaya (Getty Images)

Actor Zendaya graced the cover of Essence Magazine for its December issue, with a unique photoshoot. For the magazine’s 50th year celebration, Zendaya was interviewed by award-winning journalist Sylvia Obell and photographed by AB+DM, under the creative direction and fashion styling of Law Roach. The interview itself was a fantastic one. 

Zendaya, in the interview, said, “It just feels like a lot of the time, especially for young Black people, you’re birthed into a system that’s not built for you. It’s on us to take it from here and hopefully make it better. But it doesn’t really look like that right now -- and the people in charge don’t like to listen to us. But it’s important to lean into hope and lean into the beautiful things that I see my peers doing, whether through their activism or through their art.”

She also said, “A lot of what I do, specifically within fashion, is a tribute to the fashion icons who came before me, many of whom are Black women,” which brings us to the iconic photoshoot.

On Twitter, many appreciated the stunning photos. But more still pointed out -- and the actor and model mentioned it in the interview as well -- that Zendaya recreated some of Donyale Luna’s famous shots in her shoot.

I Am Fashion’s official Twitter account said, “Zendaya paying tribute to Donyale Luna, one of the hottest ‘it girls’ of the 60’s and the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue.” Another Twitter account mentioned, “Zendaya for @Essence inspired by Donyale Luna, 60s supermodel and the first Black woman to grace the cover of Vogue.” Another Twitter user wrote, “Zendaya photographed by AB+DM for Essence is my favorite thing today. Here are the references to Donyale Luna, the first Black model to appear on the cover of Vogue.”



 



 



 

So, who was Donyale Luna?

Born Peggy Ann Freeman on August 31, 1945, Luna was the first African-American model to appear on the cover of the British edition of Vogue. Luna was born in Detroit, Michigan, to working-class parents. She was first discovered by the English photographer David McCabe on the streets of Detroit in 1963. It was after that, that Luna moved to New York City to pursue modeling. 

Last year, in an editorial feature for Vogue, her daughter Dream Cazzaniga wrote, “By her 19th birthday... she had decided to move to New York. This was the autumn of 1964, just months after the Civil Rights Act was passed -- legally prohibiting racial discrimination for the first time in American history -- and the coming years would see the assassination of Martin Luther King, the race riots that devastated her home city and the founding of the Black Panthers. There were virtually no modeling opportunities for non-white faces anywhere other than dedicated African-American publications such as Ebony. I’m still amazed at how brave my mother was to leave home for Manhattan at that point in history, with no clear plans or steady income -- just a telephone number hastily written down by a stranger. As a girl of color at that time, simply believing in her own worth and following her true calling were great revolutionary acts.”

In March of 1966, Luna became the first model of color to grace the cover of Vogue in a shoot with David Bailey, wearing a Chloé dress and dramatic gold Mimi de N earrings. Overnight, she became an international celebrity. Time magazine even dubbed 1966 the Luna Year, writing, “She is a creature of contrasts. One minute sophisticated, the next fawnlike, now exotic and faraway, now a gamine from around the corner.”

During the early morning hours of May 17, 1979, Luna died of a heroin overdose in a clinic in Rome. She was 33 years old. 

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