Musing: Donyale Luna

In culture, Fashion, Good Look, Hidden Gem, history, Icon, Legend, model, New York, Oddly Unique on March 22, 2010 at 1:07 am

Donyale Luna’s best asset was her body. Endless, lanky and hovering at 5″ 10 1/2 (she was exaggerated to be 6″2) with  looks beyond the small-time Michigan, Detroit, photographer David McCabe caught her leaving an audition and snatched her up. Heading to New York to model,  the Big Apple was the scene to thrust her into supermodeldom, but it also destroyed her  spirit and ultimately took her life.

Adorning blue, green, violet and purple contacts with five different wigs – some of them blond, her groovy attitude towards her ethnicity gave many the impression that she was insecure about her blackness.  It was noted that the freckle-faced beauty was half-mexican. Who knows! But imagine going for a breakfast in a London restaurant  with Mia Farrow at 5Am and being ask to leave for no apparent reason. Let alone being referred to as a “pretty negro model” her whole life. Donyale was a young, black girl in an overzelous modeling world. You know, it’s hard to believe Donyale was trying to break any moulds, though. To me, she was just the embodiment of the glamour-puss she always wanted to be. As Donyale once said, “They saw me as something different but I’m sure it has nothing to do with my colour. I never think of myself as a brown-skin girl.”

In the infamous 1966 article by Time titled  “The Luna Year,” the magazine said that “for she is not really beautiful; but like her namesake, the moon, she is different in every phase, yet always recognizably the same and herself.” But I beg to differ. Salvador Dali referred to her as the “reincarnation of Queen Nefertiti”  and gracing the cover of Vogue,and Britain’s Queen (now Harper’s Bazaar), it was clear cheek bones and elongated neckline – better yet – her whole existence was that of a beautiful creature. I’d like to think of her as the black Twiggy – like a chameleon and immensely versatile. The way she slithered and bended  looked effortless.

Donyale was apart of Warhol’s Factory, she won Vogue’s Model of the Year (`66), she dated – and married – cool artsy guys. But when the pit of New York scene’s started to surface, she fled to the Europe’s safer haven.

At a rate of 60 an hour, she kept a London apartment looking over the Thames, but  professed that ” I make about a thousand dollars a week but often there are a couple of days at the end of the week when I find myself broke again.” And she  landed some bit parts in French films directed by Otto Preminger (Skidoo) and Federico Fellini (Satyricon). Close to the end, she also posed for Playboy (1975). I wonder if it had more to do with needing the money than the glamorous title.
Around 1979, feeling sick, she entered a Rome clinic on a Tuesday and died on a Thursday. Some say it was an accidental drug overdose. Again, who knows. She was 33. “She didn’t like to pay her bills,” claimed a fellow black model. Who does? I don’t think that was the whole of it. It was more like life didn’t like what she had become.  

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