The front row at New York Fashion Week is always a star-studded affair, but this season the most exciting cameo happened on the runway. Walking for both Sergio Hudson and Bibhu Mohapatra was the trailblazing model Beverly Johnson – who you may know as the first Black women to ever grace a Vogue cover. At each show, she strutted to the tune of the audience’s applause, proving that she can still shut down a catwalk after five decades in the field. At Mohapatra, an excited guest screamed from the front row, “Yass, mother Beverly!”
Johnson first burst onto the fashion scene in the early 1970s, and has since appeared on more than 500 magazine covers. One of her most famous is her 1974 cover, shot by Francesco Scavullo, which provided well overdue representation for Black and POC models on mainstream covers. While she’s remained active in fashion ever since – she walked at the Tommy Hilfiger X Zendaya show in 2019 – Johnson felt this season was the right one to mark her grand return back to fashion week in a big way. “Because we’ve been going through so much these last few years, [this season felt] so positive and uplifting,” Johnson tells. “The energy was contagious; people were laughing and smiling. People just needed that little breakthrough.”
Though Johnson is no stranger to fashion week, having walked for the greats like Thierry Mugler, she admits she had a little bit of prep work to do. (Turns out, walking the runway is not like riding a bike.) Aside from doing Pilates and working out her “feet and core”, she also called up her friend Miss J – a runway-walk expert who you might have seen on America’s Next Top Model – for a quick refresher course. “He turned me around,” Johnson says of his walking class. “People think it’s just walking, but it’s not. He taught me to walk with my shoulders back, stomach in, and you lean the top part of your body back. Do you know how impossible it is to walk like that?”
The designers she walked for also had special significance. She was asked to walk for Hudson after she wore the designer’s tailored blue dress last year, and was instantly down to do it. “I loved my dress, of course, but my favourite was the hats,” says Johnson of his show. “I love how well-made his things are, and how they just fit into your wardrobe.” She was honoured to walk for Mohapatra’s show as well, given that his casting paid homage to her legacy. “He had all Black girls in the show, in honour of me,” says Johnson. “I’m getting ready to cry right now. It was one of those moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
Johnson’s presence was undeniably one of the highlights of this NYFW. In an industry that still has a lot of progress to be made with regards to inclusivity, she proved that fabulosity truly has no age limit. So will we see her rocking the runway again this fashion month? “There might be something in Europe,” she teases. “I’m the type of girl that says yes to everything. It’s so easy to say no. When you say no, it ends everything – but when you say yes, you open yourself up to all the possibilities.” And after all, third time’s the charm.