Beverly Johnson: From Model to Mogul, 40 Years After Iconic Vogue Cover

The fashion legend talks to The Root about beauty, business and fashion’s ongoing diversity problem.

Beverly Johnson; August 1974 issue of American Vogue
Beverly Johnson; August 1974 issue of American Vogue; Vogue

I knew at the time a modeling career was five to six years, so I started preparing for that transition into whatever would be next for me. Author, show host, producer—I did a lot of things while modeling because I did not know what I was going to transition into. Then I decided I’m not leaving until they kick me out: It’s too much money—I’m going kicking and screaming.

I think the longevity that I had in my career really made me a staple. I also continue to toot my own horn, including being the first African American to grace the cover of Vogue.

TR: Many models turn to acting, singing or fashion, and while you dabbled in all of those things, in the end it was business that you excelled in. How does a woman survive running her own business, and what advice do you give?

BJ: Business is very difficult. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of licensing and been married to a lot of men in business. I actually met a man that builds businesses, and with my dream and his abilities, we have managed to really do the beauty business and the empire that I’ve always dreamt of.

This was a giant leap of faith for me to discontinue some very lucrative licensing deals with wig and hair-extension companies and to really step out there on my own. I know that a lot of women are in business for themselves today and they can relate to what I am saying—how very, very difficult it is.

One of the pieces of advice I can give is to constantly try to create value in your businesses. I consider myself or my business like a Christmas tree, and we keep adding ornaments. We added a PR company. We added an Indian strategic partner for the hair business. We continue to add ornaments to this Christmas tree.

It’s a very slow, arduous process, but it’s exhilarating, and it’s worth every minute of it. Also, surround yourself with people who know what you don’t. It’s never enough to have passion. You have to look at your business in its entirety, and if you don’t have different pieces of the puzzle, go out and find them in others. 

Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.