Black History Month

Black History Month Black Future: Model Damaris Lewis

Black Future: Model Damaris Lewis

By BV Staff
Posted Jan 27th 2011 7:30AM

Editor's Note: For Black History Month we've chosen to not only remind readers of African-Americans' rich past, but to also spotlight some of the young people who're poised to make history in the coming years -- our "Black Future."

You may not know her name, but you definitely know her face. Calling upon the presence, body and poise of the iconic models of the '90s, Damaris Lewis has graced the pages of top magazines including V, Vogue Paris, Marie Claire, Vibe and Sports Illustrated for the third consecutive year. She's also been the face of campaigns by top beauty companies like Yves St. Laurent. Inspired by the model moguls of the past, Lewis is not limiting herself to fashion and beauty. With a new movie in the works and an appearance in Kanye West's 'Monster' video, this up-and-coming model is destined to become a household name in no time. -- Rhonesha Byng

When you think of Black History and Black Achievement, what do you think of, and how do you see yourself fitting into that legacy?

We come from a race that at one point in time, people didn't want us to make history. People didn't want us to do anything. If it wasn't for the people who came before me, then the stuff that I do wouldn't be possible. I'd like to continue making a difference, and have people in a couple of years look back and say, "The reason I still have my job is because Damaris changed something."

In your field, having a strong sense of identity is important -- keeping this in mind, how do you define yourself and keep a sense of identity throughout what you do?

I like to use the word unusual. Not in a bad way, but I have a phrase that says, "At birth you are given a name that serves as your identification, but it's up to you to define you." Technically I don't have a full definition yet, but I do think that by living my life I create my definition. Definition is something that is made and not something that you are born with.

Can you explain why being an American black model is a rarity for those who aren't in tune with the fashion industry and what it's like in the fashion industry right now?

It's a rarity because there will always be a 1:5 ratio unless there's a project that is centered around the African-American models. When you go to a casting you might be 1 in 30, when you go to a job and there's 10 girls you might be the only black girl; that's just how we have to live our lives. But the thing I love about being a black model is that none of us look alike. At the end of the day, we all stand out.

Do you ever think about who came before you and how you're continuing their legacy?

I look up to Naomi's generation, Tyra's generation, the Beverly Johnson generation, these were women -- not teenagers -- who made their brand as business women. They took photos, but at the same time they understood how to use their money. They knew how to negotiate and they knew how to stay in the game. I look up to those women also because they had bodies, they were athletic and they had presence. When a model from today walks in a room, a lot of the time you won't know that she's there unless she says "Hi, I'm so-and-so."

What about the legacy of the models who broke down barriers and opened doors to allow you to do what you do? How does the thought of their legacy influence you?

When I'm shooting, I get the most gratifcation when someone tells me that I remind them of a '90s model or an early 2000's model. I think that as far as their legacy, it makes me push on because there's a sense of remembrance. I have my job right now because there was someone before me who paved the way for me, who opened doors for me and let people see that the black model is here to stay.

Which model do you feel opened the door for you?

I'd say Tyra. Tyra started off skinny and in fashion and then she transferred into the Sports Illustrated-Victoria's Secret world and captivated the minds of a lot of people because she was able to do the switch, and she was able to do it wisely. My story is very similar to hers. I started off in fashion, I went to Paris a lot, and then by the grace of God got picked up by Sports Illustrated. Tyra's honestly one of the only references that I can have to being a model in this industry and growing up in this industry, because we got to watch her grow.

How do you hope to transform your industry and develop your career?

I want to bring back the model who is a mogul. I want to bring back the model who had different talents. I look up to the Cindy Crawfords of the modeling industry. They're still around because they branded themselves and they branched out. It;s great to model, but if you have the talent and the drive to take it somewhere else, then why not? I plan on using my other talents besides taking pictures to get off of the paper.

How does it feel, and how does what you're doing now connect with the legacy of the history that came before you?

I tell people everyday that I need to pinch myself. All I wanted to do was dance and go to school. When I was found by my agent at 13 years-old, I didn't want to do it. Now it's surreal. Being a girl who comes from Brooklyn -- not necessarily a great part of Brooklyn -- you don't grow up with dreams like that. You grow up with dreams, but you don't grow up thinking that they are going to come true.

As a race, we need to embrace every race, and in order to keep creating history we need to get everyone on board to know that we are creating our history. We have Barack Obama in office right now. He's a bi-racial president and that shows people that we can create something great, and so that's what I want to continue to do. I want to keep showing people that yes. the color of my skin might be brown, but what lies underneath is no different than any other race.

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February 12 2011 at 8:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

theres a reason there are so few black models.

January 29 2011 at 7:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


January 27 2011 at 12:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply