In 1968 Glamour became the first mainstream American fashion magazine to have a Black covergirl. Her name was Katiti Kironde, and she was not a fashion model. She was one of Glamour’s “10 Best Dressed College Girls” for 1968.
It might seem odd to us today that it was Glamour, and not the more high fashion Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar that first put a photo of a Black woman on its cover (It would be another five years before American Vogue put a Black woman on the cover – model Beverly Johnson). And I knew just who to ask for the backstory – Michelle Braverman, writer of All Ways in Fashion, who was working at Glamour at the time.
I’m happy to tell you what I recall about that cover. Amazingly enough, we did not treat it as a BIG DEAL. There were never any heated debates about “should we” or “shouldn’t we” and no bragging— internally or otherwise— that we were the first magazine etc., etc.
Hers was the August 1968 issue of Glamour which for years had been home to The 10 Best Dressed College Girls. That idea meant a lot more in the late ’50s and mid ’60s than it did by 1968. FYI if you ever find it, Martha Stewart (then Martha Kostyra) was one of the Top Ten in 1961. She wasn’t the cover image, but she did make it to the top of the flagpole in the group photo!
Ruth Whitney had taken over as editor-in-chief from Kathleen Aston Casey in 1967. Mrs. Casey loved fashion, Ruth Whitney less so, but Ruth believed in the new roles women were assuming and very shortly thereafter “10 Best Dressed College Girls” became “Top 10 College Women”.
Back to 1968— as I remember it was more a question of which cropping of the cover would get the nod, not who would be on it. Undoubtedly any serious decision making had taken place behind closed doors, but from my vantage point in the art department, it was “business as usual”. I remember Ruth Whitney, Miki Denhof (Glamour’s Art Director) and Alexander Liberman (Creative Director of Conde Nast) looking at a lineup of about half a dozen (black and white) mockups of the Katiti cover and unanimously picking that one.
I also never remember any discussion ever of “we must use a black model” or “we should use a black model”. If the model was wonderful it made no difference. Beverly Johnson, who became the first Black Supermodel, was a favorite. We also loved using Whitney Houston during her brief modeling career.
I hope this is helpful in its own “was not a big deal” way. Over the years, I know Glamour was proud to have earned that distinction…
At the time Katiti Kironde was a student at Harvard. She went on to work in fashion at Laura Ashley and TJ Maxx, and to teach at Harvard and Fisher College in Boston. She also designs a line of white shirts for women, in a nod to the white shirt she wore in the photo that broke ground for Black women.