What is a socialite, exactly? "The word meant rich, and maybe a little racy," according to David Patrick Columbia's website New York Social Diary. "It meant play not work in what was essentially a Puritanical society." It also meant white. This December that picture finally came into color. In its latest issue, Town & Country magazine chose a relatively unknown "it" girl as its cover model: Shala Monroque, a 32-year-old brown-skinned woman from St. Lucia who, along with a bevy of other talented and beautiful black women, has changed the face of the Fashion Week front row.
A native of St. Lucia, Monroque (pronounced MAWN-ruck) began as a hostess at Manhattan hot spots like Nobu and is now the official muse of Miuccia Prada. It was at her day job, legend has it, where Monroque met the man who would catapult her from staff to socialite: Larry Gagosian. Never heard of him? Listen to Jay-Z's verse on "That's My B—-" around 2:30. Monroque remains hush-hush about her current relationship status with the 66-year-old art dealer, but between fashion shows she helps maintain international client relations at Gagosian Galleries.
Details about this Baton Rouge, La., native have always been a bit on the sketchy side. In a watershed 2006 article in the Wall Street Journal, Jones claimed to be 27 but was actually 31. She said her front-row lifestyle was supported by parents who "loved her," but friends pointed to a wealthy boyfriend. What no one can deny, though, is Jones' unique style, even if the origins of her bank account remain ambiguous. "It's more mysterious if people don't know so much about me other than that I'm black," she told the journal.
The founder of Pokeware — a software company that allows its users to buy the clothes they spy in online videos — Thomas has a client list that includes haute heavyweights like Gucci and Condé Nast. A former tennis player, annual charity marathon runner and film producer — who also knows how to fly a plane — Thomas is an eclectic mix of high society and sporty.
The daughter of New York's Chelsea Piers developer Roland Betts, Betts can be seen on the scene around Gotham City with BFF Barbara Bush (their dads are pals). In April Betts premiered her directorial debut at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary, The Carrier, follows a young Zambian woman named Mutinta, who's pregnant and HIV-positive. "I learned about the things I cared about. I didn't know I had this deep, very visceral interest in women's rights."
Dubbed "one of the most socially connected fashion publicists in New York," the 36-year-old Morrison has also been called fashion's "unlikeliest 'it' girl." She's not a 20-year-old or a blonde, but she has been dressed by fashion's elite, like Zac Posen and Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci. The San Francisco native is a fixture on the red carpet and pals around with designing buddies like Derek Lam. "I think the world has changed," Morrison says. "You still have to observe particular standards, but the provenance doesn't matter."
A true doyenne if ever there was one. Fales-Hill is the daughter of the late, great Broadway actress Josephine Premice and New England shipping scion Timothy Fales, who traced his ancestry all the way back to The Mayflower. Born in Rome, raised in Manhattan and a graduate of Harvard, Fales-Hill began her writing career as an apprentice for The Cosby Show and eventually became executive producer of A Different World. Fales-Hill serves on the board of trustees of the American Ballet Theatre and is active with the Studio Museum in Harlem.
"We introduced him to L.A.," McFadden-Lawson has said of President Barack Obama, whom she and her husband, a partner at the international law firm Skadden, Arps, feted at fundraisers in their posh Hancock Park estate, once home to Muhammad Ali. "We thought it was important to show that you can accomplish your dreams without being a sports figure or entertainer," said McFadden-Lawson of her 13,000-square-foot Italian Renaissance mansion. "Hard work has paid off."
Named one of San Francisco's best-dressed women, money manager Joyner is a staple at balls, fundraisers and opening nights from the Bay to the Hudson. An opera enthusiast, Joyner was on the board of the MacDowell Colony of New Hampshire, the oldest artist's colony in the nation. She is a member of the board of trustees at Dartmouth College, her alma mater. She is also a trustee of the School of American Ballet and the Making Waves Foundation. Every year Joyner hosts a Halloween masquerade ball in her 9,200-square-foot home to benefit charity.
The former White House social secretary was credited with making the mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. truly "the people's house," spearheading events ranging from poetry slams to state dinners. Now, as chief executive officer of the Johnson Publishing Co., Rogers is overseeing another kind of overhaul, charged with revamping African-American standards Ebony and Jet magazines. The descendant of a Creole Voodoo priestess named Marie Laveau Glapion, "glamorous," "best-dressed" and "stunning" are just a few of the adjectives associated with the 52-year-old Rogers.
The next time you're doing some last-minute shopping at LAX or JFK, thank Byrd. The 55-year-old Byrd is the founding partner of the Chicago-based Unison-Maximus, one of the first minority-owned airport consulting firms. Based in New York with husband Ronald Blaylock, Byrd is on the board of trustees at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation.