My readers, who are largely from the Caribbean, must have been wondering when I would mention a black or Caribbean supermodel on my list. Well, the moment is here! The first black muse of Yves Saint Laurent, fashion pioneer, the incomparable 1970s supermodel, Mounia!
Born Monique-Antoine, Mounia is a native to the beautiful French Caribbean island of Martinique where she worked at the airport in Fort-de-France as an announcer & she was also an on-ground hostess at Orly airport in Paris. After being hired by Givenchy as a model, in 1976 an important American client walked out of Givenchy because Mounia modeled a suit in front of her. One of the many racist moments she will experience. After that incident, Mounia began to work with other designers such as Emanuel Ungaro & Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld hired her to do Chloe & his own line. When he took over Chanel, he hired Mounia for that house as well. She became the first black model to present the Chanel collection.
She was then chosen by YSL for her exotic features, flawless complexion & poise. She was also the first black model Yves Saint Laurent used in his haute couture shows, & was considered his favorite model. In fact, Laurent had an extreme liking for black models. He was one of the first designers to employ them, giving opportunities to other black models such as Iman & Naomi Campbell who both would also become icons in their own right.
In a 2008 article in W Magazine, Mounia recalls, “I was his first black muse…He helped open the door for black models. Sometimes I was his confidante, and I would sometimes inspire his creativity. He called me Moumounn. The collection that made me a celebrity was the one inspired by Porgy and Bess. I wore a pink pantsuit and a boater hat. I walked to ‘Summertime’ and really took on the character of Bess. Catherine Deneuve stood up and started clapping. The everyone stood up and called out ‘Bravo!’ Yves Saint Laurent peered around the curtain – a thing that he had never done before – to see what all of the commotion was about. The people were shouting ‘Bravo, Yves Saint Laurent!’ and ‘Brava, Mounia!’ He took me in his arms, and we kissed. This for me was history.”
After that, Mounia booked her first cover with WWD (Women’s Wear Daily). She would continue to book 14 other magazine covers & 27 pages in French Vogue. This was unheard of for a black model at that time! She was even a favorite with Versace, but Mounia would be YSL‘s muse for almost a decade & working almost exclusively with him. She retired from modeling in the 80s & became an acclaimed artist, having had her works displayed in galleries across France, the Ivory Coast, Monaco, Japan, Guyana & her homeland of Martinique. Mounia also became the first black model to write a book about modeling, entitled ‘Princesse Mounia’.