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Donyale Luna

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Donyale Luna
Luna, in a 1966 Twen shoot
Peggy Ann Freeman

(1945-08-31)August 31, 1945
DiedMay 17, 1979(1979-05-17) (aged 33)
Rome, Italy
Cause of deathHeroin overdose
Occupation(s)Model, actress
Luigi Cazzaniga
(m. 1976)
Modeling information
Height6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)[1]
Hair colorBlack
Eye colorBrown

Peggy Ann Freeman (August 31, 1945 – May 17, 1979), known professionally as Donyale Luna, was an American model and actress who gained popularity in Western Europe during the late 1960s.[2][3] Generally cited as "the first Black supermodel",[4][5] Luna was the first African-American model to appear on the cover of the British edition of Vogue, in March 1966.[6][7]

Luna made several underground films with Andy Warhol beginning in 1965, and following the experimental film Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? (1966), she appeared in Otto Preminger's Skidoo (1968) and Federico Fellini's Satyricon (1969).

Early life[edit]

Donyale Luna as she later became known, was born Peggy Ann Freeman in Detroit, Michigan, to working-class parents Nathaniel Freeman and Peggy Freeman (née Hertzog) in 1945.[8] She was one of three daughters, Lillian, Peggy Ann, and Josephine.[9] Her father had moved to Detroit from Georgia as part of the Great Migration.[10] Her father, of African-American heritage, worked in production at the Ford plant, and her mother, of African-American and German heritage, worked as a secretary for the Young Women's Christian Association and had been given the nickname 'Big Peggy' to differentiate her from Peggy-Ann, who was "Little Peggy". Luna's parents married and divorced on four separate occasions due to their "headstrong characters" and Nathaniel's relatives’ alcoholism. Luna and her sisters had a "financially stable upbringing in a middle-class neighbourhood of Detroit" on Scotten Avenue. As a child, her father frequently took her on trips to local cinemas, and, in summer, to swim at the "Kronk Gym" in Detroit.[11][12]

Luna attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit

She attended the Detroit High School of Commerce, where she studied data processing, and Cass Technical High School, where she studied journalism, performing arts and languages, and was in the school choir. Outside of school, she participated in local community theatre and the experimental Concept East Theater.[13][11][14] It was during this time—at age 18—that she began calling herself "Donyale George Luna.” This was thought to have "been her way of dealing with a turbulent home life" when her mother began raising the family as a single parent. She was also said to have spoken with an accent as "Donyale", which "she spoke not with a broad A or a French R, but in an accent she'd invented". Her mother said its tone "was like she was singing".[15][16][17][14] The name Luna has been speculated to be chosen for its "symbolic dimensions, reflecting her yearning for complete, far-flung autogeny", being what Donyale described as the "real" surname of her father, or a reference to the Space Race. At this time she wanted to pursue a career in acting.[11] Luna's sister later described her as being "a very weird child, even from birth, living in a wonderland, a dream.” She routinely created fantasies about her background or "origins" and herself. She was known then as an aspiring actress. An early boyfriend, Sanders Bryant, III, recalled first meeting her writing a play at lunchtime. She took roles such as Cherry in Paint Your Wagon, Ariel in The Tempest, Chastity in Anything Goes and Jean in Stage Door. After rehearsals, inspired by the beatniks, she visited coffeehouses near the Wayne State University campus, with her boyfriend, dressed in head to toe black. On weekends, she often crossed the bridge to neighboring Windsor, Ontario, or traveled to other nearby parts of Canada. She became known to Roland Sharette, the managing director of the Detroit Civic Center Theatre, as a "kook" because she had a habit of walking around barefoot "even down the street.” During the 1963 run of Paint Your Wagon she fed popcorn to pigeons when they rehearsed outdoors.[18]: 88  [19][14]

Contrasting her time in Detroit with her time in Europe modeling, she later noted: "Back in Detroit I wasn't considered beautiful or anything."[2] A fellow student at Cass Technical, Verna Green, noted "She was such a striking image, I couldn't forget her. . . . She looked like an oddball to the run-of-the-mill student. Not enough people had told her how strikingly beautiful she was."[20] She was not a "fashion-conscious" student; her attire mostly consisting of "simple black skirts and long loose sleeved tops.” She stated that in her time in Cass Technical, she "wasn't accepted because I talked funny, I looked funny, and I was a weirdo to everyone. I grew up realizing I was strange."[14]

In October 1964, she moved to New York to pursue acting and modeling, and found work as a junior secretary at an "electronic cabling firm on Varick Street.” After joining an actors’ union, she moved into an apartment on Broadway, sharing the space with a roommate. Her sister Lillian later recalled "she packed so little it seemed like she was going on an overnight trip rather than to live in New York.”[21]

In January 1965, her mother fatally shot her father in self-defense as he was reportedly abusive, coming to Luna's childhood home drunk and threatening her mother "just steps away from the family home.” Lillian witnessed the incident, acknowledging the shooting to be accidental.[21] Luna received the news three months after the fact, and stayed in New York, which is said by psychologists to be a common coping mechanism for familial loss and trauma.[18]: 92 [22][23] In 1966, she reported to a journalist, "My mother is worried about me. She doesn't know that I have already been hurt."[24]

For the next five years, Luna divided her time between Europe and North America. She professed during the filming of Salome in 1971 that she wished to quit modeling and focus on acting, and that she "professo la magia y el'amore e vivo en el mondo vio, deliziomente surreale" (speaks of magic and love, living in a deliciously surreal world) having become heavily influenced by Surrealism and New Age thought by this time; however, she continued accept modeling work in the 1970s.[25] By 1972, when she had moved to Rome, she was working for Danish photographer Gunnar Larsen, modeling for the couturier Ted Lapidus alongside Veruschka and Jean Shrimpton on the streets of Paris, earning "$1000 ... for the day" ($6,250 in 2020).[26]

Modeling career[edit]

Detroit and New York[edit]

In 1963, near Detroit’s Fisher Building, Luna met English photographer David McCabe.[11] McCabe suggested she move to New York City to pursue modeling. Her mother initially discouraged this plan, suggesting that she become a nurse instead. Luna persisted, and her mother facilitated her moving in with an aunt near the New York Harbor in New Jersey.[27][15]

In October 1964, Luna contacted McCabe, and he sent out her photographs to various agencies. McCabe introduced her to Harper's Bazaar editor Nancy White, fashion photographer Richard Avedon, and senior fashion editor China Machado; White signed her to an exclusive contract for the remainder of 1964, while Avedon served as her manager.[22][28][2][29][30] Her first job as a model was a shoot for Mademoiselle starring Woody Allen. In November 1964, Luna moved out of her aunt's apartment and into an apartment on Broadway in New York City, sharing the space with a roommate.[31]

Periana, a Black model in Paco Rabanne in 1971. Luna modeled for Rabanne in 1964, bringing derision from American journalists.

In 1964, working as a model for Paco Rabanne, Luna witnessed American journalists spitting in the face of Rabanne because his fashion show used only Black models.[32]

Nancy White had Luna's likeness sketched into an illustration for the January 1965 cover of Harper's Bazaar, replacing a pre-planned cover—the first Black person ever put on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in its then 98 years of publication. However, Luna was portrayed as ethnically ambiguous.[33] The sketch was her first work for Harper's Bazaar, and included six other illustrations in the January 1965 issue.[33] Denzinger described drawing "a total of 40 brush-and-ink studies for that session, in a one-room studio apartment on Lexington Avenue. . . . I remember that the Bazaar editors came to the apartment with the clothes, and that uniformed cops watched while Donyale modeled and I drew her."[34]

In the April 1965 edition she was again photographed by Avedon in the "What's Happening" editorial, along with Paul McCartney, Jean Shrimpton, and Ringo Starr.[19] The piece included a description of her as showing "The tall strength and pride of movement of a Masai Warrior." This description was picked up in an article by the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Finding the language and comparison deeply prejudiced and racialized, Herald Tribune writers explored and wrote of work prospects of African-American women.[22][2][27][35][36][37] In the same month, Luna received news of her father's death but decided against returning to Detroit home for his funeral. Around this time, Luna also began having problems with Avedon. In an interview with an Italian magazine in 1975, she recalled that "The more successful she became, the more controlling and possessive her fashion-photographer-manager became".[38]

Luna's career began to slow down when she met with the color bar of print publishing at the time. Southern U.S. advertisers had reported complaints against the inclusion of Luna's images in Harper's Bazaar, pulling their advertising revenue, with readers cancelling subscriptions. Designers Mainbocher and Norman Norell refused to dress Luna in their clothes, and Harper's Bazaar owner Hearst Communications had stopped Avedon working with Luna after her contract expired.[11][37][19] Richard Avedon believed that he was no longer allowed to work with Luna due to "racial prejudice and the economics of the fashion business.” [22][28] McCabe later stated he believed that "the magazine world really wasn't ready for photographing beautiful Black women”.[28]

Black models were shown only through "a racial script that brought together both primitivism and modernity as the material precondition for participation within the industry,"[19] in an exotic noble savage role which required Black models to present only as outsiders from primitive African cultures. Brigid Keenan wrote that Luna "until then any Black person who appeared in a fashion picture was usually there because they'd been popped into the background as a kind of prop" such as Bani Yelverton, who was in 1958 placed "on the far right of the foldout, so she could be easily torn out of the magazine by [offended] readers".[39] Keenan further wrote how the othering "exotic Black model trope" perpetrated by white media creators that "Luna's breakthrough into the glossy magazines meant that from then on a Black model might actually have some sort of career in front of her ... yet extraordinary as she was, Ms. Luna did not have a style that other women could adopt. "She looked more like she was going to attack you," wrote one Black girl. White fashion editors used her and immediate successors for impact, as freakish clothes-horses on which they could photograph their outrageous garments. [Her] acceptance ... no doubt boosted the morale of the Black community, but she could not give them a look of their own."[40]

Following the death of her father and a short-lived marriage of 10 months in New York, Luna had a nervous breakdown and spent time recovering in hospital at the end of 1965. Two years later, she told The New York Times that she fled New York for Europe at the end of 1965, when she found "they said beautiful things on one side and turned around and stabbed you in the back."[30] She would later remember of the move to Europe, "I wouldn't have to be bothered with political situations when I woke up in the morning—I could live and be treated as I felt, without having to worry about the police coming along".[11]

Avedon (who had moved over to the American Vogue in 1966) requested Luna again for a shoot around Northern Japan featuring furs, telling Doon Arbus he had requested her specifically because of his association with her as an "extenuated Black girl" given "there was no way of not being reminded of Egypt and not being reminded of Watusis and Africans," deftly conflating African culture, and employing the prescribed primitive racial script of the exotic Black model which Luna had been portrayed in her shoots with him in Harper's Bazaar which compared Luna to an animal as she was dressed in animal print. Diana Vreeland, along with Alexey Brodovitch, prevented Avedon from using Luna as the only model in the shoot and suggested Veruschka instead for the 27-page Great Fur Caravan shoot published in October 1966.

ABC Jean Shrimpton

"Ironically, in 1966 [American] Vogue named Donyale Luna 'The Model of the Year'."[41] Living in London, she was described in Jet magazine as "the most photographed girl of 1966 ... challenging Jean Shrimpton for position (and bankroll) as the model most in demand in Europe's haute couture houses."[42]

By 1966, Luna had become an internationally recognized model and in November 1966, Luna appeared in Cosmopolitan. In April 1967 Donyale also frequented Trude Heller's discotheque in Greenwich Village and covered a number of albums for Blue Note Records such as Lush Life, Mustang, A New Conception, Let 'em Roll and Easy Walker.[43] Luna appeared in American Vogue in August 1969 and in 1970 in an advertisement for a colored contacts company which she often wore, it was reported she "changes her eyes to match her moods as she flits through Rome's posh parties while picture making for Carlo Ponti."[44]

Move to London[edit]

Luna arrived in London in December 1965.[15] London is where she made her name as a model, emerging in Swinging London, as a growing youth cultural revolution was drawing international attention. Elements included Beatlemania and Mary Quant's miniskirts with other models of color, including Kellie Wilson and Hazel Collins wearing the stylized bobs of Vidal Sassoon, Mods, Teddy Boys and bright colors and patterns and fashions such as those sold in shops including Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba or seen in the street culture of Carnaby Street or Chelsea.[11][45][19] She was photographed in London by David Bailey, William Klein, Helmut Newton, Charlotte March (image in infobox, above) and William Claxton. Keen to join the London arts scene, she became friends with Mick Jagger, Julie Christie, Michael Caine, Iain Quarrier and Yul Brynner.[22][28] She rented an apartment near the Thames River and bought a pet Maltese dog she named Christianne.[46]

An artists rendition of the March 1966 cover

In March 1966, about three months after having arrived in London, she appeared on the cover of British Vogue, becoming the first African-American model to appear on the cover of any Vogue magazine,[15] her image [47] captured by photographer David Bailey, who described her as "extraordinary-looking, so tall and skinny, ... She was like an illustration, a walking illustration." Shooting her for the cover, Bailey noted "I didn't care what she was—she could have been a fucking Martian for all I cared." He thought the editorial staff at Vogue House were pleased with their selection of a Black cover model, but observed that "the sales people always had a problem [with using her]."[15] She was chosen by Beatrix Miller, then the editor of British Vogue, for "her bite and personality.” Miller described Luna as "[happening] to be a marvelous shape . . . All sort of angular and immensely strange and tall".[29] The shot composition was inspired by Spanish surrealist Picasso's ocular-centric portraiture with "one of Luna's eyes peered suggestively from between her fingers.” She wore wearing a Chloé dress and Mimi de N earrings in the shot. In the editorial images she was dressed in Christian Dior silk tunics, Mod-style dresses by Pierre Cardin, and a silver Yves Saint Laurent dress.[28][2][22][11]

In popular internet lore such as on blogs, it has been speculated that the shot was angled so "Luna's face, most notably her lips and nose, are . . . obscured on her British Vogue cover, also somewhat hiding her race," a proponent of featurism coded in privilege and Eurocentric beauty standards.[2][48][49][50] However, in 2019, her family revealed the shot was chosen as "a single heavily lined eye . . . visible through her fingers, which form a V for Vogue".[11]

In March 1966, she appeared in a jewelry spread in the German magazine Twen, photographed by Charlotte March. Fellow model and friend Pat Cleveland noted: "She had no tits, but lots of presence; we'd walk down the street and men's mouths would drop open in awe. When we walked into restaurants, people would stop eating and stand up and applaud. She was like a mirage, or some kind of fantasy."[20][22]

Luna also went on to work for French Vogue. Bethann Hardison stated of Luna that "No one looked like her. She was like a really extraordinary species."[28] Time magazine in an article titled "The Luna Year" (1966), described her as: "a new heavenly body who, because of her striking singularity, promises to remain on high for many a season. Donyale Luna, as she calls herself, is unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at the moment. She is only 20, a Negro, hails from Detroit, and is not to be missed if one reads Harper's Bazaar, Paris Match, Britain's Queen, the British, French or American editions of Vogue."[51] She also appeared in London Life, a monthly fashion magazine, in a shoot as a shop window display model at a Wallis department store in London.[52]

Yves Saint Laurent 1965; Donyale wears a blue version in Vogue in 1966 [1]
Models in the Mod Style by Cardin (1966)

In April she appeared again in Vogue UK, shot by David Bailey in a feature called This Summer's dancing patterns in mod-styled luxury brands. She then appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar UK in June 1966. Her features and skin color had not been obscured in this cover, shot by Bill King.

In the October 15 edition of British Vogue, she was featured in a Klein shoot with Audrey Hepburn.

In 1967, the world-leading fiberglass mannequin designer Adel Rootstein released a model based on Luna's statuesque figure. The previous figure been the popular model Twiggy. Jet described the Luna-inspired mannequins as "unmistakeably Negro, excellently sculpted and posed, and dressed in the London Mod styles" and reported that Adel Rootstein had paid Luna to pose for the work at $105 per hour ($830 per hour today).[53][15][54] She was also noted to be working in New York for a short period in September 1967, but her flatmates "thought they were all going to get kicked out soon because Donyale was making about $500 worth of calls to Europe every month".[55] Another mannequin model was made by Lester Gaba, who made both a black and white version.[56] She was also shot in Rabanne by Peter Knapp for The Sunday Times.

On the March 27, 1968, she appeared on the cover of the British magazine Queen in a headwrap.

In November 1968, Luna and a party of five, including Iain Quarrier and Mia Farrow, went for breakfast at the Mayfair Cavendish Hotel, Jermyn Street, St James's, London, and, at 4 a.m., were asked to leave, with the men, who were not wearing ties, being informed they were "not properly dressed.” When Quarrier noted that other seated men were not wearing ties, Luna asked the managers if it was because she was colored. Eventually, all five were denied service in the hotel restaurant and were removed by police for causing a disturbance. In her usual extravagance, Luna "arrived in a maroon-coloured Rolls-Royce, wearing a yellow coat of Mongolian lamb’s wool . . . [and] knee-high blue suede boots ... [where] Luna accused the police of lying, but her claims went unheard.” Quarrier defended Luna in the London Bow Street court, noting when the judge, Kenneth Harrington, said: "I am quite sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with Miss Luna's colour" Quarrier shouted from the dock in the courtroom "that is not true[!]." Quarrier would eventually be charged £10 for disturbing the peace.

Luna later summarized the event for the American press, saying that "rowdiness" had occurred, and that her party was asked to leave "because I am colored. It was a nightmare. The hotel staff and police were pushing me around. The hotel refused to tell us why we were being thrown out."[57][58][59][60][61]

In the same month she was shot for British Vogue again by Harry Peccinotti.

By 1969, she was again being paid "$1,000 a week" ($7,000 in 2020).[62]


Guy Laroche Mini-dress (1968)

Luna was initially supposed to cover Vogue Paris before British Vogue when she arrived in Europe in December 1965. Edmonde Charles-Roux who had fostered the talent of William Klein, had shot Luna for the cover, but prior to release, the cover was changed overnight to that of two white models, in an effort to avoid offending readers for its capacity to 'shock' because Luna was a woman of color.[63] She was put forward for the cover by the French editor Charles-Roux who was subsequently fired on the charge of Si Newhouse for attempting to put a Black model on the cover, a feat which would take another 22 years when Naomi Campbell was put on the cover, but even then only on the grounds that YSL would otherwise withdraw advertising revenue.[64]

By 1966, of her modeling, she was quoted as saying "Being what I am, I can get what I ask".[65] Paco Rabanne had her model in his "debut Paris show, entitled '12 Unwearable Dresses'" designed for dancing in, in which fellow London based model Kellie Wilson also appeared, working in the spring of 1966 she was modelling for Paris Match who had 11 different photographers doing shoots for the magazine including on "the landing gear of an airborne helicopter" and underwater with "her robe streaming behind her". She was shot for Guy Laroche for Match on a skating rink and by Charles Courrière (b.1928) in Emanuel Ungaro for the Spring/Summer collection.[66][67][68][69]

She appeared on the cover of Elle for July 1966 shot by Ronald Traeger in a long toga dress by Galeries Lafayette and in beach shoot with Jill Kennington.[70]


Pop-art paper dress (1967)

In 1967, in Sydney, she modeled several paper dresses for the store Paraphernalia, paper dresses having been a fad popular with teenage girls.[68]

She appeared on a catwalk in Sydney for the "Donyale Luna spectacular" fashion walk.[71]


Luna appeared in the Italian magazine Amica in a number of animal print and fur coats in 1966 and Vogue Italia shot by Gian Paolo Barbieri. She modelled later in a number of camera advertisements in 1968. She bought an apartment in Italy in 1970, and drove around in her Cinquenta car, and "fold herself into like an accordion, squeezing her knees up to her chin" to get to new modelling shoots.[72] In January 1970, she appeared in the Italian adult magazine Playmen in a number of fishnet-style outfits, in a multiple-page spread. In this time she was reportedly thrown out by Italian police for not having the correct paperwork to reside in Italy, but her husband recalled later that she was harassed for her skin color in Rome.[73]

When Luna moved to Italy in 1974 she was a collaborator with her husband in photographic shoots and other media such as a "hand-illustrated fairy tale, avant-garde film scripts and beautiful coloured prints" which remain unpublished. She was said to be the most creative as a content creator of art in this period of her life.[11] However historians have also noted she is said to have felt a deep sense of "existential aloneness" in this period. In a short prose piece entitled LUNAFLYLABY, she wrote a self-aware "part confessional [work which] alludes to an insular and at times stifling childhood, the excitement and challenges Luna experienced in the fashion world [and] her move to Europe" and how as a biracial woman, these "societal forces conspired to render Black women INVISIBLE" versus her VISIBLE LIFE, which is heavily present throughout the work in the motifs of VISIONS (her spiritual visions as other Black women in history in her writings she refers to as Future Visioning) and "succumbing to VISUAL MISTAKES" (her desire to achieve her own form of beauty which she considered her art, such as modelling photographs or films) due to her conflicting position as a biracial woman in her environment in her career.[74][75] She also modeled for artist Peter Beard in 1977.[76]

Return to North America[edit]

She would return for a year between 1973 and April 1974, with her work later published and returning again between October 1974 and June 1975, to the US to do runway modeling in New York and California and Toronto.[77] She appeared on the cover of Warhol's magazine Interview for October 1974.[78] Luna then appeared in a nude photo layout in the April 1975 issue of Playboy; the photographer being her husband, Luigi Cazzaniga. In the shoot she depicts herself as "characters of her own devising - as an angel soaring over the Los Angeles skyline or as a mermaid perched on a rock by the Pacific Ocean". Powell notes, "Although fulfilling Playboy's prerequisite for female nudity, the photographs were far from titillating or sexually explicit. Luna seemed not only at ease with her nudity, but completely beyond societal structures and moral rectitude." She was also noted for defying the usual body type portrayed in the magazine of more "voluptuous" women with her smaller build, placing more emphasis on her spiritual "visions" which occurred on her photography shoots such as in Playboy.

Mary Quant model at a show in 1969 in a miniskirt


By this time however, Luna's modeling career began to decline due to a variety of factors; the first being a shift in her career from modeling into acting on her behalf; secondly a negative reception from mainstream popular media, which chastised her "dependency on drugs like heroin, LSD, pot and her eccentric behavior" (see Artistry section).[80][20] A designer for whom Luna once worked said, "She took a lot of drugs and never paid her bills".[81] Beverly Johnson in 1974 was asked about how her Vogue cover had been won by other Black women like Luna, said "[Luna] doesn't wear shoes winter or summer. Ask her where she's from—Mars? She went up and down the runways on her hands and knees. She didn't show up for bookings. She didn't have a hard time, she made it hard for herself."[82][80] Johnson later acknowledged in 2016 that Luna had "made it possible for models like me and others" and that "Luna is one of several Black models everyone needs to know" being "one of those legends in our industry; one of the shoulders I stood on."[20]

In June 1975 she attended a Zandra Rhodes show at the Circle in the Square in New York where she was seen "posing in a veiled harem outfit".[83][84]

Luna's walk[edit]

Whilst Luna did have a regular walk for the catwalk defined as "a free-form, hip-popping strut" but she was also known among the high fashion circles for her unconventional walking styles still used by models like Pat Cleveland. Luna was known for her eccentricity since childhood which derived from her time in acting doing local and experimental theatre in Detroit.[85] She was often drawn to "radical creatives", avant-garde artists such as Dali and Warhol and she extended these influences to her model career. In a method she developed based on method acting known in internet lore as method modeling, she developed her own theatrical style of catwalk walks such as "crawling like a lion, grooving to the music or suddenly freezing and making direct eye contact with journalists", "walking like a robot, stopping abruptly midway through a promenade, crawling on all fours", "like a stalking animal", "sometimes slither like a snake" or simply having "laid down and rolled from one end of the runway to the other". Method modeling employs techniques "within one's individual consciousness ... [and] technical skills in body movement are combined with camera awareness and artistic freedom" which allowed an audience to view the model's body as a work of 3D or visual art, like considering how a sculptor considers dimensions in sculpting the human form, or using more vivid body language to express a wider function related to a theme to sell a product.[86] Luna's Method modeling background was more rooted in theatre technique, and as such was a derivative of performance art. Bill Cunningham described watching the experience as how "Her body moves like a panther, her arms, the wings of an exotic bird, the long neck suggests a black trumpet swan. ... The audience responds with shattering applause - for the model's performance rather than the designer's clothes. It is the birth of a new fashion era - that of the spectacular show that rivals any on Broadway." "The coterie of international designers for whom she often modeled (André Courrèges, Yves Saint Laurent, Rudi Gernreich, Mary Quant, Paco Rabanne) encouraged such displays, equating them to their own exuberant designs and to the rebellious conduct of their youthful ... clientele".[11][87][15][32][88][89]


1965 - 1974

Acting career[edit]

Luna had initially planned to work in theatre having done work in local theatre in Detroit after school hours and doing bit parts in Detroit's repertory theatres.[29][30] When she joined theater camp in 1964, she was remembered by her acting tutor David Rambeau as '"warm and naive. he recalled.[88] "I never planned to be a model when I was in Detroit," she told a reporter in 1966. "I wanted to be a starving actress in New York."[11] She soon also began moving in circles associated with experimental theater like The Living Theatre.[90][91]

On British TV she appeared on Late Show London on March 14 and The Eamonn Andrews Show on May 1, 1966.[92][93] On December 12, 1966 (11:15pm – 1:00am), she appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.[94]

Luna appeared in several films produced by Andy Warhol, including his series of short Screen Tests in 1965. Among the "stars" Warhol engaged for these short films, each roughly four minutes, Luna is notable as one of four African-Americans in the series.[95][15][96] Critic Wayne Koestenbaum described Luna in the Screen Tests as "pure diva, presenting a delicious mobile excess of mannerism".[97]

Luna also appeared in the feature length Camp in 1965, Warhol's "satire of his own world" where she dances to the Ramsey Lewis Trio instrumental "The 'In' Crowd" wearing a backless dress and fur stole.[11] She is the eponymous star of Warhol's Donyale Luna (1967), a 33-minute color film in which she plays Snow White, wearing blue contacts.[83]

In 1966 upon having moved to London, she appeared in Michelangelo Antonionis Blowup (1966), a satire of fashion photography. Luna also appeared in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968) as the assistant of a circus performer's fire-eater act.[11]

In the French film Who are you Polly Magoo? (1966) she played a model dressed in conical and 'almost unwearable' abstract silver dress constructions shot by William Klein.[98]

Luna's only mainstream Hollywood film was the 1968 Otto Preminger comedy Skidoo, in which she was featured as the mistress of crime boss "God", who was portrayed by Groucho Marx. Preminger also signed her with MGM for 3 years after she secured the role at a party for Twiggy. By this period, she had sold her apartments in London and Paris to live full-time in Italy and focus on acting.[99] In 1969 she appeared as a background character in a television set in the film Dillinger is Dead.[100]

In the 1969 Federico Fellini film Fellini Satyricon, an Italian film portraying the fall of Ancient Rome, she portrayed the witch Oenothea, who according to one commentator, "in a trade-off with a wizard long ago ended up with fire between her legs. And it's real fire too, because Fellini shows us a scene in which a long line of foolish-looking peasants wait with unlit torches at Oenothea's bed. When their time comes, each devoutly places his torch between her legs to her sex, and, Poof."[101]

She then appeared in the 1970 Happening documentary film Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí, a biography narrated by Orson Welles for French TV. Luna's last acting role was the title character in the 1972 Italian film Salomé, directed by Carmelo Bene.

In May 1973 at the Cannes Film Festival, considering herself as an international star, she pitched her life story to European and American film production company executives, like Berry Gordy, who was at Cannes supporting Diana Ross in promoting her new film Lady Sings the Blues. Interest was sparked in relation to The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show, but the pitch was never taken any further. In an interview for the Italian publication Panorama, Luna claimed that Gordy based the 1975 film Mahogany on this pitch.[102]


During the early morning hours of May 17, 1979, Donyale Luna died from a heroin overdose in a clinic in Rome at age 33. Luna was survived by her husband, Luigi Cazzaniga, and her 18-month-old daughter, Dream.[103][104]


Luna was known to be a muse of Salvador Dalí, and acted in many of the ways Dali did in accord with the philosophy of Surrealism. The American photographer William Claxton introduced Luna to Dalí when he met her in Catalonian village of Cadaqués, becoming Dali's lifelong muse whom he would refer to as "the reincarnation of Nefertiti".[11] Artworks show how she would stand on a half-submerged piano which Dali has submerged himself for her to stand on, Claxton shooting "Dali drawing impromptu traceries on Luna's body" (a line art piece on a cream dress) whilst she wore it or emerging from a human-sized egg full of red paint which made into an 1 hour long surrealist film being "a sciptless series of happenings, all centred on images of birth and creativity" in plastic costumes designed by Paco Rabanne.[105] She could be found "lying on a bed of fresh fish" in Dali's home.[11][106][107] She was also known to carry around a $1 million check according to the supermodel Pat Cleveland, "a legitimate cheque from her model agency" which she never took out and would try to pay with for a single meal, or her "entourage of boys who followed her everywhere" behind her in file, and because "she'd never sat in chairs, she'd always lounge" while her entourage would lay at her feet and with her penchant for going barefoot everywhere, Luna became known as an eccentric.[108]

Bust of Nefertiti
Noire et Blanche; of Alice Prin by Man Ray, 1926
Josephine Baker Poster from 1931

The eccentric character of Donyale Luna can be seen as both a hyperbolic alter-ego and an extension of a fake it until you make it persona which Luna may have thought of as a "metamorphosis". Luna used camp to give off a larger than life character, using hairpieces, lengthened eyelashes, and "a collection of blue, green, yellow, purple and orange [coloured contacts] ... which she changed like underwear" to play fast and loose with defined boundaries she may have had as Peggy-Ann. She would both employ others and use her own designs for her clothes, experimenting with bindis on her third eye, and often wearing loose-fitting or flowing garments. These two (Peggy-Ann and Donyale) were succinctly distinct however to Freeman, she stated of viewing "Donyale" in photographs: "If I had seen something like me in a magazine as a child, I would have died laughing, or been scared ... I find my own photographs weird, terribly sophisticated and different".[109]

Josephine Baker performing in Amsterdam in 1960

The alter ego of Donyale Luna was created in what Freeman termed future visioning, a New Age approach culminating when she completed attended Central High Theater in Detroit, a technique (drawing from pantomime and experimental dancing and acting) which allowed the individual to create an altogether new identity by drawing on traits seen in "visions" from a desired individual like Baker, to form a new identity. Luna would alter her attire, appearance, social circles, mannerisms and paralinguistic features like altering the pitch in her voice for instance, to create the character of Donyale, crafting subtle bodily perceptions to alter or shift the viewers perception of her as a Black body;[110][111][112][113] too increase her pragmatical social prestige or standing.

Exemplified in an advert for a polyester peasant blouse in 1966 for Ebony magazine, the iconography work was said to evoke the black and white images of Man Ray, acknowledging the shift of the early 20th century "visual modernism" morphed into the "disjuncted body" (see Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the grotesque and read Negro: An Anthology (1934) by Nancy Cunard, Hugh D. Ford, p. 417), a moving away from the classical Western notion of what a body should be, to one of "distorted corporeal forms" originating in African Arts, Expressionism and Cubism and the body language of Josephine Baker which Luna emulates in the advertisement to create a more "dynamic" image of herself and African-American visual imagery.[114] As a content creator, "Luna's referencing of [Baker and Nefertiti] within the European context signaled her identification with them", as Black women "heroines and tropes" which Luna used as a model to emulate what Black success could be presented as in an environment which responded to both figures to by "primitivizing, sexualizing and ultimately dehumanizing [them in] ... exotic or erotic roles that did not provide occupational transitions to more fulfilling, post spectacle lives".[115]

Brown notes of how (in the early 20th century) "the expression of primitive glamour by self-consciously urban sophisticates such as Baker ... could equally be produced as a reimagining of subject-object relations, a paradoxical critique and deployment of pleasures[,] ... despite the motion, vitality, energy and erotic fission imagined to be at the heart of the primitive. ... [Primitive glamour allowed for self-assertion so that the primitive role] offered something more than crippled self-expression: primitive glamour [relied] ... on the use of personae, impersonation, or a kind of eclipse of the human subject, ... [which although perilous] also offered substantial creative results ... [so] rather than silencing artists with the gag of stereotype or the limitations of the market, [Primitive glamour] often enabled the merging of the subject and object" questioning perceptions of who and what it was to be 'primitive', creating the formation of early Black glamour aesthetics in 1920's Europe, much as in Primitivism aesthetics.[116] For instance in her "primitive" shoot with Harper's Bazaar dressed in animal print in 1965, Luna "construct[s] and perform[s] an oppositional Black glamour" by using the provided clothes or "[tangible] things ... [to] interpellate [her audience] in specific ways, combining narrative with history and materiality to structure specific gestures and movements ... [in] working with her own effective engagement with the material as "dances with things", undoing the work of glamour as a white racial project", thus creating an aspirational lifestyle for potential Black audiences.[19] And with "her gesticular poses in print magazines emphasized her angular frame, while her assertive body language—including a powerful stare called "the Look" by fashion magazines and later described as "ocular assault" ... became her signature [pose]" used to entrance her audience, Freeman used "Donyale" to create an altogether new image or aesthetic of what constituted Black glamour, a new beauty paradigm for African-American visual imagery and Black subject agency; developed from Baker's era of primitive glamour; into previously white spaces.[33][117]

She was believed to have met the artist Mati Klarwein (who made psychedelic album covers for artists like Jimi Hendrix) through Sam Rivers, at an "occupational gathering" for Miles Davis in New York in 1964 where her likeness appears in his painting Time, of a circle of gold leaf surrounded by scimitars representing the earth and sky. In the circle sits a 'polymorphous figure ... an aggregate of fire, water, multiple faces of beautiful women, female breasts, male genitalia, rainbow patterns, animal heads, skulls derived from Tibetan and Hindu religious imagery ... topped off by Donyale Luna's trimorphic head', also being portrayed in 1967 as in a self-portrait.[118] "Klarwein dedicated Milk n' Honey (1973), his book of reproduced paintings".[119]

In Europe she was also a part of the 'rock music scene', having been featured in the Italian music video for Patty Pravo's song Michelle (1969).[120]

In her 1975 Playboy interview, she held the belief that beauty was 'something not physical but something beyond that', she also noted that children were more readily accepting of her form of 'beauty'. She reported to the Argentinian Press in 1969: "Beauty is something else, something inexplicable that each person carries inside. This form of beauty related to Her visions. There's a great division coming about on this planet. There are going to be a lot of people who will die because they just don't know how to live. They don't know what life's about, they don't know how to give, how to love - nor do they want to. And those who are beautiful enough - I don't mean physically but something beyond that - they will have the chance to learn how to fly, to be beautiful, to rise above the level of the normal human - to be superior beings first and eventually gods and goddesses."[121]

She anticipated a (spiritual) "armageddon" she called "The Great Division" due to her perception that other peoples lack of understanding between themselves would lead to this great divide (based on superficial issues like physical beauty) in the future which she foresaw.[122]

Personal life[edit]

Racial identity[edit]

Donyale Luna identified as multi-racial. Throughout her life and career, Luna claimed to be of various, mixed ethnic backgrounds, often playing down her African American ancestry since being a teenager in Detroit.[4] Later on in her life she insisted that her biological father was a man with the surname Luna and that her mother was Indigenous Mexican and of Afro-Egyptian lineage. According to Luna, one of her grandmothers was reportedly a former Irish actress who married a black interior decorator, however the historical accuracy of this is questionable.[123] She would also claim to be of 'Polynesian' descent in high school. She often made up tall tales to make her seem more grandiose, part of the character of Donyale Luna she began in her teenage years, including beguiling stories designed to shock or amuse such as losing her parents in a car accident and being adopted, or replying to the question of her heritage with the line "I'm from the moon darling" which some have construed to mean she denied her heritage as a Black woman.[22] While 'her penchant for wearing blue contact lenses, was seen by some as race betrayal ... [it] was probably part of a process of reinvention that had begun in her teenage years. In fact constructing a new identity [as Donyale Luna]'.[15]

Dream Cazzaniga on her mother leaving Detroit for New York writes of the likelihood of employment as a model how 'there were virtually no modeling opportunities for non-white faces anywhere other than dedicated African-American publications such as Ebony. ... [Finding it amazing how Luna] was to leave home for Manhattan at that point in history, with no clear plans or steady income - just a telephone number hastily written down by a stranger.'[11] The only other industries which used models of color included the soft drinks industry such as Coca-Cola in 1957 or the Tobacco industry.[124] Due to the prejudices of a white dominated industry where white was the default and Black the other, with racist language, dress, and behavior used toward her in work and everyday life in New York, she moved from North America to Europe "where she likely found an audience more accepting of her skin color", describing herself as "multi-ethnic".[20] Europe at the time was seen as more accepting of white-passing Black models, such as Ophelia Devore, who had modeled herself and had her own agency's models working in Paris, or Dorothea Church in the 1950s and unmistakably African-American models like Dolores Francine Rhiney [it], who was the first Black model to walk on the European catwalk. Darker models such as Helen Williams later became more accepted by the 1960s.[125][126] In the Sunday Times Magazine in 1966, Harold Carlton hailed her as "the completely New Image of the Negro woman. Fashion finds itself in an instrumental position for changing history, however slightly, for it is about to bring out into the open the veneration, the adoration, the idolization of the Negro".[35]

As for the United States, "until the advent of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s the fashion industry operated its own kind of apartheid, which entirely excluded non-white models from its magazines, advertising and catwalk shows."[22] Luna could work alongside models like Jean Shrimpton and Veruschka and command the same salary, but was thought of as exotic, becoming a victim of Othering (also see Dominance hierarchy) first by white then later the Black community-- compounded as both the "girl-next-door" and "exotic" negro model type.[127] With the advent of the civil rights movement in the United States 'so too did society's fascination with the "exotic" and "alien". ... Almost against her own will, she became a symbol. Some people declared her a Masai warrior, Gauguinesque, Nefertiti reborn. Others claimed she was another species entirely - or from outer space!'. Time in 1966 called her a 'creature of contrasts. One minute sophisticated, the next fawnlike, now exotic and faraway'.[11] Racialist language such as being 'from outer space' was routinely used and was adopted by Luna in her Donyale character in a bid to overcome the boundaries this language created towards her as a Black body in the American public eye, and evolved other time to accommodate this prejudiced language. She said in late 1966 to a reporter that "Fashion photographers saw me as something different but I'm certain it has nothing to do with my color. I never think of myself as a brown girl".

Due to the color barrier, by then "the prestige of her modeling jobs had now shifted, from photo editorial work for Harper's Bazaar to the secondary ... advertising market [in Ebony magazine]".[128] The so-called secondary market, however, was worth an estimated $15 billion and white advertisers who began working in the market preferred Luna's "otherworldy features" (her long limbs, "oval-shaped face and almond eyes") not being traditionally readily associated with Black women,[129] as they alienated other African-Americans, and provided white advertisers with a manufactured sense of racial superiority and which may be considered as tokenism on the behalf of the advertising agencies involved. Jane Hoffman described the evolution of the acceptable negro from white-passing models (first used in 1950s advertisements in magazines like Jet) to the 1960s replacement, the exotic negro, who was 'the Negro girl you'd think of as something else. She wasn't even beautiful-just a weird creature, some kind of space thing, She had to be so bizarre that no [Black person] could identify with [them]'. This typecasting of Black models limited Hoffman's own chances because she was "not Negro enough" to be Black under the respectability politics of white industry standards for Black models at that time. White American society preferred 'exotic' Luna over women like Hoffman as they provided an existing false narrative which fuelled their preexisting media biases about Blackness and its otherness, reinforced existing stereotypes, excluded Black women, and narrowed the definition of what Black beauty could take the appearance of how an acceptable negro would appear, in opposition to whites who would be seen as the default of acceptability and whose appearance would not be called into question so easily.[130]

Indeed, they infantilized 'Black women [who] could be sexy, sinuous, glamorous ... marvellous entertainers ... [b]ut when it came it fashion ... magazines and advertising, ... [they] simply not exist. They were not considered to have the necessary spending power that publishers and agencies wanted to exploit.' All fashionable images of Black women were made through the primitivist lens which Baker herself used so successfully to create a new beauty standard in 1920s France. Until when in 1965 Luna broke the color barrier as a model and created new media content which showed an African American woman for the first time in high fashion magazines within visible beauty standards, prior to this an African-American woman wearing scant clothing was 'the stuff of the white man's sexual fantasies ... [and until Luna the] kind of image a black girl could strive for; ... [that or to] never fall back on imitating whatever the current white style of beauty happened to be as the standard begins with Black beauty from the beginning. For years, [Black] girls [had] literally been through torture in their efforts to achieve the full creative range of hairstyles ... [using] dangerous hot combs ... or chemical solutions like sodium hydroxide or lye which could burn the hair away ... [or] styles of wigs that Black women wore in order to enhance their beauty in a myriad of ways beyond any limitations of tradition or culture. The same thing applied to cosmetics. ... The Supremes [then being] a perfect example of how Black girls built their glamour around their own ideals stemming from their own natural, rich and glorious beauty ... and so theirs was the look longed for by blacks from Brixton to Harlem: there was simply no one else you could try to imitate.[40] Prevailing beauty standards made African-American women into Black bodies subject to jealousy based on the prevailing negative beauty standards of the day, a tightrope of racialized worldviews of white fashion photographers and beauty which Luna had to walk to create this new content.

In the factor of race, she further stated: "Most of my publicity has been because I'm dark-skinned. But I think the reaction would have been the same if I were white because of my [body] features" referring to her uncommon height and bodily proportions which these companies regarded as exotic.[130][131] Although claims are often made that comments like this is a sign that Luna was attempting to shift away from her African-American heritage, she would go on to carry out a public anti-racial-discrimination campaign alongside David Anthony (of The Touchables fame) with clothing designed by Mary Quant, being shot by David Bailey.[132] When she was denied service in 1968 in a Mayfair hotel, she also filed a complaint for racial discrimination with the board of racial discrimination. The American print journalist Judy Stone wrote a now-infamous profile of Luna for The New York Times in 1968, describing Luna using racialist language such as "secretive, mysterious, contradictory, evasive, mercurial, and insistent upon her multiracial lineage—exotic, chameleon strands of Indigenous-Mexican, Indonesian, Irish, and, last but least escapable, African". Luna responded that "the civil-rights movement has my greatest support, but I don't want to get involved racially".[22] Dazed reporter Phillipa Burton notes how it today "makes for uncomfortable reading; the interviewer's obsessive probing of her multiracial lineage jarring with Luna's obvious displeasure at talking about it."[15] When Stone asked her about whether her appearances in Hollywood films would benefit the cause of Black actresses, Luna replied, "If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn't care less"[35][47] which are indicative of the limited and poor quality of jobs and opportunities available to Luna at the time in an environment which seemingly only accepted models who passed the brown paper bag test.

Comments such as those have meant that she has been widely forgotten in favour of Beverly Johnson, whilst revealing the complex dynamics that she refused to be defined by in being typecast in the roles such as Diana Ross in the film Mahogany; a media portrayal that may have been a cause for conflict in her identity as a Black woman and someone in the public eye; such as when the protagonist of Mahogany is referred to as an inanimate object and the misogyny of the modeling industry in the film which as a "Black body" altered how Luna was to be both remembered and perceived in the short and long term, placing more value on her as a body (valuing looks and the profit involved from her modelling) than Freeman as a person, thus disregarding her full worth and objectifying Luna.[133][134] After her death, Luna's widower Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga said that Luna self-identified as a "mulatta" and that she "felt rejected by the Black community and the white one".[4] Her daughter notes "people longed for her to become a symbol of the African-American resistance; a role she struggled with as someone who identified as mixed race."[11][135] Penultimately with regards to the racism she faced in the US, Luna believed that questions surrounding her Blackness and how she fit into American society being "a quarter Black" were "America's problem", often attempting to escape labels major publications placed on her, replying to the Times: "Yeah, I'm an American on Black and white, but I'm me, I'm me"[2][33] in an attempt to reject American notions of race and to establish herself a more fully rounded human being.

By 1974 having not found full acceptance in Europe either, she was "caught between the insinuating effects of racial/cultural renunciation [and] sexual stereotype ... Luna's response was to wear the mask [of one of Giacometti's skeletal sculptures] and ... to become a negligible component of life, hovering between existence and nothingness" in Italy in the public eye. From this time on, she had problems figuring out who she was as a Black woman eventually becoming a "soul on ice": an entity encased and obscured by its own false image, which only hinted at the naked power and creative potential that lay beneath the surface", or a shell of the former aspirations she held in her identity in youth.[136] From a heady time when "Luna had skipped modelings apprenticeship stage of endlless castings and rejections from racist fashion magazines, and come straight in at the top ... [having] made the cover of a top fashion magazine, worn the world's most expensive dresses, and commanded a day rate of up to $100-an-hour - all by the age of 19".[137]

Romantic relationships[edit]

In the mid-1960s, Luna was married to an anonymous German actor for ten months.[51] Later she reportedly was engaged to the Austrian-born Swiss actor Maximilian Schell, then to an unnamed Danish photographer and Georg Willing, a German actor who appeared in European horror films (such as 1970's Necropolis) and with the Living Theatre.[35] She would frequently stop "short of making any lasting commitment to her suitors" though may have had this history as her history with men was checked, model Geraldine Smith recalled that in 1967, "Donyale had this crazy boyfriend who came in last night and smashed her over the head with a beer bottle" for instance.[138][139]

In 1968, Luna was purportedly dating the Australian pop artist Martin Sharp.[140] Around 1969 Luna was also romantically involved with German actor Klaus Kinski, however, the relationship ended when Kinski asked her entourage to leave his house in Rome concerned that their drug use could damage his career.[141]

She would later move to Italy and continue her acting career there.[20] By September 1969 she had met her next partner, Luigi Cazzaniga at a fashion show in Rome. However she was then rumoured by the Italian press to be dating the Dominican actor Juan Fernandez whom she met around 1969, and is thought to have been dating in 1972 when filming Salome. Luna later married Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga after having met him at a party in Italy. For the first two months of their relationship they could not speak to each other as Cazzaniga only knew how to speak Italian, he noted he "liked ... her [for] her love of creativity and for everything that wasn't square." They eventually married in California in 1976 and in 1977 they had a daughter, Dream Cazzaniga.[142] Dream's name was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.[11] The couple eventually separated and, while still legally married, were estranged at the time of Luna's death of heroin overdose.[103]


Luna converted to Catholicism as an adolescent, from her family's Presbyterian roots.[143]


Since her death, Donyale Luna's 1966 Vogue cover has been hailed as opening doors for Black models and normalising the inclusion of African-American and African-Europeans on magazines previously catering to majority white demographics.[144] Pat Cleveland noted Luna as her own inspiration who (along with Naomi Sims) opened doors for other women of color in the 1960s.[145] Thus leading to more appearances for women, such as Sims 1967 New York Times fashion supplement cover and Beverly Johnsons American Vogue 1974 cover for example. This continued with British Vogue using Black models Gail O'Neill in March 1986, Naomi Campbell 5 times between December 1987 - August 2002, and Jourdan Dunn in November 2015 as solo cover models under Anna Wintour, Elizabeth Tilberis and Alexandra Shulman's tenures.[146][147]

Luna's reputation as one who often rejected type-cast labelling, has led to the promulgation of erasure of her achievements in the fashion industry. Phillipa Burton wrote in 2009, how "clean-cut models like Beverly Johnson and Iman, whose lives were not to end murkily through an overzealous use of heroin, were louder and prouder ambassadors of the "Black is beautiful" message. Their more palatable versions of Black womanhood loom large in the public consciousness today. Eccentric Luna, on the other hand, who was eternally cagey about her racial identity, waxed lyrical about LSD in interviews and had an endearing habit of not wearing shoes, has, for the most part, been forgotten ... depressingly, the biggest triumph of Luna's career – her groundbreaking Vogue cover of 1966 – represents a war that is very much still being waged. Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm model agency ... grimly admits that a Black model gracing the cover of a mainstream publication is 'still unusual'" and it has been noted she may have been part of the tokenism of advertising agencies to lure in Black consumers."[15] This being consistent with the fact that over time, the loss of African-American history has prompted the creation of first lists. Her career has thus been described as a "meteoric ascent to fame and freefall into anonymity [which] frequently morphs into bodily speculation and social isolation".[77]

However the designer Stephen Burrows also noted "[Luna] was ahead of the Black model thing. There weren't too many around [in the US in the 1960s]" when commenting on Lunas' extravagant outlook and attitude towards her own career opportunities.[2] Due in part to the timing of the "Black is beautiful" movement only gaining traction towards the end of Luna's career as "Black models didn't truly enjoy their coming out until the seventies" and her New Age beliefs, models such as Beverly Johnson now feature more prominently on Black-firsts lists, even though Luna's cover in 1966 predates Johnson's by eight years.[2] Luna is usually today therefore regarded as "a key player in the mid- to late 1960s fashion, film, and experimental theater scenes" who by the 1970s was "unable to move beyond the external and self-imposed limitations for someone of her idiosyncratic temperamental and tenuous lifestyle ... [which] united to diminish and obscure her once impressive figure, which then led to her public erasure".[148]". Thus Luna leaves behind a mixed legacy as a model who both broke the colour barrier and as an underground actress, best remembered for her 1966 Vogue cover.

In her role as the first Black model on the cover of a major print magazine, Luna has had "renewed interest" in her modeling career on social media, fashion bloggers, and among Black business owners. With the promotion of editors at British Vogue such as Edward Enninful in 2017, British Vogue covers starring Black models have also increased. She has also appeared in the 2008 all-Black Vogue issue and was recognized by Naomi Campbell in her CFDA acceptance speech in 2019,[20][53][3] and Nan Goldin dedicated the Exhibit Sirens for her. She was also the inspiration for Pat McGrath for her sixth edition of her Mothership makeup palette.[149] The Afro-Brazilian TV personality Thelma Assis has also recreated the Twen photoshoot on the July 2020 cover of Harper's Bazaar Brazil.[150] In November 2020, actress Zendaya appeared in a photoshoot inspired by Luna for the 50th anniversary of Essence.[151] The HBO Max documentary Donyale Luna: Supermodel was released in September 2023, co-produced by her daughter Dream Cazzaniga.[152]


Year Title Role Notes
1965 Camp
1966 Screen Test #3 Herself Uncredited
1966 Screen Test #4 Herself Uncredited
1966 Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? Mannequin/Model Alternative title: Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?
1967 Tonite Let's All Make Love in London Herself
1967 Donyale Luna Snow White
1968 Skidoo God's Mistress Credited as Luna
1969 Fellini Satyricon Enotea Alternative title: Satyricon
1969 Dillinger is Dead Background role Uncredited
1970 Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dali Herself
1972 Salomé Salomè
1976 Il Festival del proletariato giovanile al Parco Lambro Herself
1996 The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus Herself Lovely Luna
Released posthumously (filmed in 1968)


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External links[edit]