Naomi Sims

Naomi Sims1968 Ladies home journal magazine

Naomi Ruth Sims (March 30, 1948 – August 1, 2009)

Naomi Sims Life Magazine 1969

naomi sims cosmopolitan magazine

An African-American modelbusinesswoman and author.  Who is widely credited as being the first African-American supermodel.

Her career Sims began college after winning a scholarship to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, while also taking night classes in psychology at New York University. Her early attempts to get modeling work through established agencies were frustrated by racial prejudice, with some agencies telling her that her skin was too dark. Her first career breakthrough came after she decided to sidestep the agencies and go directly to fashion photographers and Gosta Peterson, a photographer for The New York Times, agreed to photograph her for the cover of the paper’s August 1967 fashion supplement.

Her breakthrough came when she was selected for a national television campaign for AT&T, wearing clothes by designer Bill Blass. In 1968 Sims told Ladies’ Home Journal:

She was become one of the first succesful black model when she was still a teen.

By 1972, Hollywood took an interest in her as a potential actress and offered her the title role in the movie Cleopatra Jones, but when Sims read the script, she was appalled by the racist portrayal of blacks in the movie and turned it down. Sims ultimately decided to go into the beauty business for herself.

In 1973, she married art dealer Michael Findlay. Findlay and Sims caused a stir as Findlay was white and inter-racial marriage in 1973 was still considered taboo. Findlay and Sims were both, interestingly, profiled separately in the February 1, 1970 issue of VOGUE magazine before they met and married.  Sims also retired from modeling in 1973 to start her own business which created a successful wig collection fashioned after the texture of straightened black hair. It eventually expanded “into a multimillion-dollar beauty empire and at least five books on modeling and beauty.”

She authored several books on modeling, health, and beauty, including All About Health and Beauty for the Black WomanHow to Be a Top Model and All About Success for the Black Woman, as well as an advice column for teenage girls in Right On! magazine.

You can look at her magazine cover one from the 1967 Times fashion magazine cover and the other from a 1969 issue of Life — are in the current Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “The Model as Muse.”

Sims was not only a model she was also a business women and a authored.  She will be remembered for being a strong women of color standing up for what she believe while braking racial barriers both on the runway and as a business woman.  She died of breast cancer on August 1, 2009, aged 61, in Newark, New Jersey. Her 1973 marriage to Michael Findlay ended in divorce in 1991. She is survived by their son, Bob Findlay, a granddaughter, and her elder sister, Betty Sims. Her eldest sister, Doris, died in 2008.


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