28 Days of Black Fashion History: Billie Blair
Today, she’s Reverend Billie Blair, but back in the 70’s and 80’s, Billie Blair was one of the highest paid Black models in the fashion industry.
A native of Flint, Michigan, Billie Blair began modeling in her 20’s for local auto shows. She soon got booked for a 3 day gig in NYC, being photographed in Central Park. That assignment would lead to a 20 year career in modeling that would take her all over the world, from Paris to London to Dubai, Japan and more. Blair would go on to model for fashion brands such as Halston, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Scott Barrie, and Yves Saint Laurent.
In 1973, she would become one of the main models in the legendary Battle of Versailles. One of the 9 Black models on the American roster, she said, "I realize that that was my time in history. I was this skinny black girl, taller than Jesus, with no boobs and no booty, but for the first time, I was really proud of what I was and where I came from. I was recognized." Another model, Jennifer Brice said, “The designers loved her. She was a fully blossomed woman.”
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Blair’s modeling would continue off the catwalk as well, appearing in various projects such as Vogue patterns in the 1970s to Virginia Slim advertisements in the 1980s.
Interestingly enough, Blair feels that during the time she began modeling, there was more space for a “non-traditional” models. “You didn’t have be skinny. You didn’t have to be tall. You could be petite. You didn’t have to wear makeup.” Seems like attitude is starting to shift back to this overall acceptance and diversity as more ethnicities and sizes appear on mainstream magazines and in fashion ads.
"I realize that that was my time in history. I was this skinny black girl, taller than Jesus, with no boobs and no booty, but for the first time, I was really proud of what I was and where I came from. I was recognized."
Blair was elegant, graceful and mesmerizing, transforming from a scrawny, awkward kid to what some would describe as a dancer on the runway. Famous for her strut which she called “on the wild”, designer Halston once said, “I love her walk, her fantastic body, her dramatic delivery.”
Blair had been a Christian while modeling, reciting the Lord’s Prayer every morning and night before bed, and she’d go to church. But the conviction wasn’t there. That is until one day she had a vision while in church. Five months later, she was “baptized of the Holy Spirit” and several years later in 1995 she was ordained as a minister.
Billie Blair opened doors for many of the supermodels of today. Although she isn’t officially considered one of the early Black super models, she was definitely a modeling darling during her time.