World Wide Webb: Veronica Webb On AlaÏa, Pro-Aging, and Shattering Beauty Barriers
Veronica Webb's intelligent approach to wellness and advocacy for women of color makes her more than just a supermodel. Rising to prominence in the '90s as an original Victoria's Secret Angel and on runways for superhouses like Alaïa and Yves Saint Laurent, Webb was also the first black model to land a major beauty contract. She now spends her days as a wife, mother, and editor for The Glow Up—The Root's fashion and beauty vertical. As she reflects on a lifetime of fashion in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, one thing is certain: poise and style that transcends age is engrained in every aspect of her life.
We've known black beauty to exist through icons like Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, and supermodel Iman—but you were the first black model to land a major beauty contract. What was the media like before you signed with Revlon?
Before then it was really difficult to make real money in the industry, and by real money I mean advertising money. There was this perception that black women wouldn’t buy from black women or that minorities would just buy products whether or not their faces were represented in the ads. Then a Time magazine cover came out in 1990 called The Browning of America and it talked about how America's racial makeup was shifting, and that we were shifting economically so that there was more money in the hands of minorities. All of the major companies then moved to capture those audiences.
We've seen the push for representation in makeup in the age of Fenty Beauty, but ColorStyle was revolutionary for the time. How did the line come about?
Geri Varkas Glover, who is a cosmetic chemist, was the black woman that made color style happen. And Geri had a seat on the bench at the lab and she said, "Let me do something that’s not just a shade extension. Let me change the formula. Let me change the kind of mica that’s used so that the makeup doesn’t become ashy. Let me make a formula that's better for darker skin tones." That’s really where it came from. At the end of the day it's all business and these shifts stem from that. So the shift comes from us doing better historically and at this very moment black women are the most educated minorities in the country.
There are so many ads and publications always pushing anti-aging yet you speak very openly about pro-aging on your site.
Women change, that’s what we do. Our bodies are some of the most phenomenal machines on the planet, I mean we make people. And with our cycles and having babies, we change so much and so fast all the time that we need to embrace change. For us [aging] is very natural, it’s second nature and I don’t want to be anti- anything that is part of me, that won’t go away, that’s healthy. The idea of fearing age, fearing what you have, and fearing tomorrow is not healthy. And so yes, things get more challenging simply because of wear and tear but a lot of things get easier as you get older because you’re smarter.
Azzedine Alaïa's death was a major loss in the fashion community, not only because of his contributions to art but because of his familial nature to many models. What were some of your fondest memories of him?
One of my greatest memories was Azzedine coming to the hospital when my second daughter was born. He was doing a show at the Guggenheim and I was giving birth at Lenox Hill; Azzedine was going back and forth from rehearsal to the hospital to see us. That’s one of my greatest memories of him but there are so many. This fabulous fashion show in ’94 when he introduced laser cut. The first show I did with him at the Palladium that Jean-Paul Goude directed. We had to go down a really steep staircase that had like 48 stairs. You had to walk straight down in the spotlight so you couldn’t see in front of you at all.
What were you wearing?
I was wearing peach colored satin shorts, high heels and a little criss-cross courset top. Everyone was in that show. Grace Jones was in that show, Iman was in that show. Cindy wasn’t in, Naomi hadn’t started modeling yet. Stephanie Seymour. Azzedine was such a happy person and even the other night, I could hear his laughter in my dreams.
Do you think we’re doing enough in fashion in terms of diversity? If not, what would you like to see more of on the runway and in media?
Well the [Victoria's Secret] show was one of the most diverse shows [of the season], from Olivier Rousteing being the designer to 17-18 of the 42 models being women of color. Fashion does what people respond to and it’s interesting to see plus sized girls being mixed in. Ashley Graham gets mixed in a lot; I’d like to see Marquita Pring get mixed in more because that’s certainly a body type that all women relate to, no matter your size. They’re beautiful and they feel very real. One of the things that we’re focused on at The Glow Up is really celebrating black women in all our iterations: multigenerational, no matter their orientation, and also size. And, of course, in the digital space it’s a lot easier for anyone to publish and I feel like it’s incumbent on all of us because we have the tools right in the palm of our hands to tell the stories of our friends and the people we love. I certainly think that Instagram is a big way [for rising models to be seen]. I also think that it’s important for models to have relationships with designers. For me, Naomi, and many other models it was designers like Azzedine who told the magazine, “I want you to put my clothes on my girls.”
Is there any advice you'd like to offer young talent trying to break into the industry?
You need to have laser focus and business is all about relationships. If you are genuinely passionate about your love of fashion and the craft, it will lead you to somewhere in the industry.
This interview has been edited and condensed.