is home to beautiful women from many cultural backgrounds. A large number of these
women have successfully changed the way people perceive beauty. Marie-Noëlle Graobe
is one of the African models that have
successfully broken the stereotypes and making the continent proud.
Every model has the dream of traveling and modelling for not only the country they live in but to eventually travel the world. They dream of modelling in all the major cities for all the high-end names and designers. She has realised most of those dreams and continues striving towards achieving more.
The Republic of Cameroon is a West African country bordered by Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south, and Nigeria to the west. This is where French–speaking Marie-Noëlle hails from, in Doukoula, a place situated in Mayo-Danay, Extreme-Nord in Cameroon, to be precise.
Since arriving in South Africa in 2017, her modelling career has been flourishing. Marie-Noëlle is one of the hottest new faces on the scene, she was soon courted by top design houses for their runway shows. Her distinctive looks have enabled her to walk the crème de la crème of runways such as Jean Paul Gaultier. She has been featured in globally acclaimed magazines such as Vogue – Italia.
“The modelling opportunities in South Africa were much wider and bigger as opposed to Cameroon. Being here has opened a lot of doors for me in terms of modelling. Booking the Vogue Italia cover was definitely my biggest highlight. This is every model’s dream! It was unreal! I didn’t expect it and I didn’t even imagine it. It’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences, it was truly surreal. Glory to the highest,” she says.
Marie-Noëlle is booked and busy! She is signed with Fabulous.Com Models, an agency based in South Africa, Blare Management in Barcelona, and Karin Models in Paris. As a result, she literally lives out of a suitcase because she travels from country to country.
“As a model, I need to be able to model worldwide and therefore need to be represented by agencies worldwide. They all have different goals and ambitions for me, and I get to work with different people too, so it’s truly exciting. Although the workload does tend to be a lot, because sometimes I’m required to be in different countries in a short space of time and it’s really challenging to be traveling from one country to another in a time span of a month, just to do work. I really have no schedule because it’s always so impromptu as I work on the client’s schedule. So, I could literally be called at any time anywhere, I just never know. But I find my balance in God, without him I wouldn’t be able to do this work. I also have a support system behind me. They are always watching and looking out for my mental health,” she says.
bucket list includes working with the biggest fashion houses like Versace and
Yves Saint Laurent. “I know with God; I can achieve it!” she says
The story of Africans in the modelling world is often one of resilience, with a number of black models forging a path for themselves and their communities in an industry that has often stuck to narrow, limited notions of who should be seen and celebrated. The fashion and modelling industry still has much to account for when it comes to its handling of ethnic diversity, different body types, and gender politics, but Marie-Noëlle is one of those models who persevered under daunting conditions to achieve feats of beauty.
She says entering the modelling industry as a black woman is already a challenge on its own, but it’s definitely how the industry still hasn’t adapted to working with dark-skinned models. “Trying to fit into the aesthetic of the industry is also really challenging because it changes every day, this season we might be in, next season not so much. So, keeping up with a trend is hard.
CHALLENGES OF THE INDUSTRY
fashion industry has forced an unrealistic image on women, says Giles Deacon, one
of Britain’s leading designers. He criticises the fashion industry’s continued
obsession with skinny models and points out that the fashion industry tends to portray this image of
totally unrealistic women who are not allowed to be themselves and that this
was just all wrong. He pins the blame for this on the cowardice of many of his
Marie-Noëlle has also endured some of this prejudice. “I’ve been criticised by designers in front of my face. I’m not the smallest person when it comes to our industry and they would always talk about how my thighs and butt are too big,” she says.
GROWING UP IN DOUKOULA – CAMEROON
Growing up in Cameroon was one of
the best experiences, I had the best childhood ever. It was full of so much joy
and fun. My childhood was adventurous because I was one of those kids who
would always get hurt. I was always doing something dangerous. I have two
sisters and three brothers. Unfortunately, both my parents are no longer with
us, but I have my sweet beautiful Godmother who’s in Cameroon.
She started modelling in 2010 but
only became a professional model three years ago. Although she gets booked for
many runway gigs, shooting editorials is what she prefers most. “I like doing an
editorial shoot because firstly, it pays more, and secondly I enjoy being in
front of the camera and sharing different sides of me,” she says.
Marie-Noëlle looks up to people like Maria Borges, an Angolan model who has successfully carved her path in the industry and was named Forbes Africa Magazine’s top model of 2013. “I adore Maria Borges! I actually met her this year in Paris. I admire her work ethic and find her commitment to be very charming,” she says.
When asked if she still models in her country, she said; “Yes, of course, I can never ever forget my people and where I come from. I show my support by doing makeup campaigns, shoots with photographers and look books with a few designers in Cameroon,” she says.
I enjoy traveling, as much as it’s
exhausting it truly is great learning about different cultures and countries of
the world. I love meeting new people as well. It’s just crazy that I am from a completely
different side of the world and that I get to learn about someone with a
completely different background to mine.
I work the most in Barcelona, a city
in Spain, but I love Paris in France. It is amazing firstly because they speak
French, which is my language. It makes communication so much easier and the
people are amazing, and it is a beautiful country.
She says modelling in other
countries is different from South Africa. “There is a lot of competition in
other countries compared to here. The market is so different in Europe and the
language barrier makes it much more difficult, but I still manage,” she says.
She shares how she’s always experienced
colourism throughout her life. “Even in my family, I am the one who darker-skinned.
But I’ve come to accept who I am and I’m enjoying being dark-skinned and I’m
glad that the world is realising how much beauty there is in dark skin.
My advice to other models is; “Stay
true to yourself, never change for anyone. Believe in yourself and always trust
in God. He’s the only one that can lead and guide you in this industry.
Remember that Vos rêves sont valables – Your dreams are valid!” she
Even though one of the many highlights of a modeling career is the chance to showcase a designer’s new collection on the runway, if you’ve never stepped foot on the runway, it can be quite a daunting task. Walking on a long stage in front of hundreds of people and flashing cameras all focused on you! Let’s face it, it doesn’t always go according to plan even for an experienced model. Runway walking is an art form in which models have to put a lot of time and dedication into perfecting it.
As she turns 21 years old this month, Naomi Sibiya reminisces about one of the major milestones she achieved this year, walking on the runway for the first time. Landing a coveted runway spot as a new face to distinguish herself during the Soweto Fashion Week (SFW), Naomi made it a point going into the show that not only does she have to walk the walk, but she had to stand out from the pack. Well! She did that! She turned heads with her graceful walk and wore the different designer garments with elegance.
For this rising star, the fashion week was about more than clothes, it was a manifestation of hope, ambition and a dream coming true. Based in Mamelodi, a township in Pretoria, Naomi had long dreamt of her moment in the spotlight, so when the opportunity arose to model in SFW, she seized it.
She walked the
runway for designers such as Clavon, Negustyle, KMD, Siania, Freshwear and
Shona Accra. While every collection she walked during fashion week provided its
own thrills, Naomi’s standout experience came courtesy of Siania’s long gold
evening dress. “It made me feel beautiful and sexy, she says.
“I practiced my walk every day and made sure to familiarise myself with the shoes that I would be wearing for the show, in order to feel confident and to avoid falling on the runway,” she says.
She describes her first catwalk encounter as euphoric and nerve-wracking at the same time. “Overall it was a dream getting to walk for so many amazing brands for the first time. I absolutely enjoyed walking the runway, even though I was nervous at times. I am grateful for the platform because it gives inexperienced models an opportunity to learn how to walk on the runway. It ignited my love for the runway,” says Naomi.
Runway modeling is a popular career goal, which might lead one to believe that you just need to be gorgeous and graceful to be a success. However, you need to take care of yourself because the world of modeling can be demanding.
Naomi shares her experience; “For instance, on the day of the
fashion show, it is always hectic! Almost nothing goes according to plan and
the changes can be straining. But none of the disappointments can curb the
excitement I get before and after doing the show. All the time, it doesn’t matter how many times
you’ve walked for shows, those butterflies will make their way to the tummy. The designers expect us as models to sell
their garments, hence they go through the process of choosing models they
believe will give life to their designs,” she says.
Naomi started modeling this year in March and explains how it all began. “My journey as a model began when I met Onthatile Mahlangu of Onthabang Photography. I had my first professional photoshoot with her, and she helped to set up my Instagram account and to harness my craft. Modeling has always been a passion of mine, but growing up, my mom wouldn’t allow me to pursue it or even talk about it. The funny thing is that, now that I’m modeling, she talks about how when I was younger, I would insist that my grandma wrap me in her scarfs and then start prancing around the house,” she says.
She talks about lessons she quickly had to learn in her short time modeling. “The biggest lesson I learned, is to always be grateful and humble! I’ve also learned how to be consistent and to absolutely believe that I can do anything,” she says.
“Just because you’ve got a pretty face doesn’t make you a model.The more you embrace your own natural beauty, the better you look and feel. Modeling teaches you to take care of your body. I’m learning to love myself, just the way I am.”
Naomi is undeniably one of the models to watch in the future,
after her resounding success at the SFW, she went on to walk on the Fashion
Without Borders Africa stage. Her dream is to model clothes for one of South Africa’s
popular and talented fashion designers, Gert Johan Coetzee.
“I want my modeling career to not only flourish in South Africa but in the whole of Africa and then to the rest of the world, gracing runways and heading big campaigns,” she says.
HAPPY 21st NAOMI – MAY ALL YOUR DREAMS BE FULFILLED!
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Someone once said that true success means living out your
unique life’s purpose and that who you believe you are, how you relate to
others, and how you engage with the world around you is directly aligned with your
purpose. Thulani Ndzotyana, is a 21-year-old model from the Eastern Cape who came
to Joburg to uncover her purpose. Over the years, she was accorded many titles in
the pageants and continues to strive for more accomplishments, including occupying
the highest office in South Africa in 2044. She opened up and shared her life
story with me.
Tell me about growing up as a little in the Eastern Cape?
I’m a proud product of the New Brighton Town in “the friendly city” of Port Elizabeth. Growing up a kilometer away from the Red Location township was quite eventful and colourful. I took part in traditional Xhosa dancing, sports, and modeling. It was here that I realised that I had a passion for giving back and that I wanted to make a difference in my impoverished community.
What were your dreams and aspirations?
As a child, I wanted to serve in the military, but as I grew older, at 12 years old to be exact, my aspirations shifted. I had new aspirations of becoming the President one day. Then later, I made a declaration that: I Thulani Ndzotyana aspire towards becoming the President of South Africa in the year 2044. This is an ambition I continue to work towards, and it is fuelled by my passion to empower and boost the low morale of the youth in my township.
When did you start modeling?
Growing up, I was tall and thin, as a result, they called me ‘slender’ and ‘model’. So, I started to have the desire to pursue modeling. Then, I entered a pageant called Miss Gunguluza named after our street. I was the second runner up, in a group of girls who were much older than me. Thereafter, I signed up with Extreme Models, a modeling agency in Port Elizabeth for a period of five years. Being part of the agency boosted my confidence and gave me an opportunity to walk for brands like Edgars, Truworths, and Legit. I also became the Face of Extreme Models for 2012-2013.
When did you realise that you could model professionally?
Whilst with Extreme Models, I figured that if I moved to Johannesburg or Cape Town, I could pursue modeling and actually make a career out of it, as these are the Capital Cities for models in South Africa. Making this decision has proven to be a successful move.
Which modeling agency are you currently signed with?
I am currently signed with Rage Models. It’s an agency that predominantly caters for commercial models, like me. But I am working my way towards becoming a high fashion model and will look for agencies that provide this.
Mention three major modeling gigs that you’ve been booked for thus far
Working as a Production Manager for the Buyel’ekhaya Fashion Show in East London in 2018.
Walking the Huawei P30 show in a Quitteira & George Garment.
Walking the Sof n Free Hair experts show, which showed on DStv channel BET Africa.
Which model do you look up to for inspiration?
Andiswa Manxiwa inspires me, she is not just a supermodel, but a fashion entrepreneur. She also comes from the Eastern Cape and she is one of the most humble and genuine people I have ever met in the industry. Her involvement in the industry spreads throughout the continent. She is our Tyra Banks.
Who inspires you outside the modeling industry?
My mother has been my role model since childhood. She was a teacher in a rough neighbourhood in Port Elizabeth, Motherwell who opened up our home to those of her students who were in need. She has taught me a lot about caring for others and she always gives me affirmation that all my dreams are valid.
As a football fanatic, I am also inspired by David Kekana ( who sadly passed away recently). His knowledge of sports was remarkable, and I looked up to him for guidance. He was a football encyclopedia. His passing is a huge loss to our nation. May his Soul Rest in Eternal Peace!
As an aspiring radio personality, I also draw inspiration from Bob Mabena. His career and journey continue to prove that he is a living legend.
Tell me about winning Miss Mamelodi Sundowns last year –
why you entered, the competition and the winning experience
Winning Miss Mamelodi Sundowns was a blessing that I still thank God for to date. The title changed my life for the better and brought me closer to my dreams. I will forever be grateful to the President of the club Patrice Motsepe and his wife Dr. Precious Moloi Motsepe. Through this title, I was able to meet great women, and build a sisterhood that extends beyond the provincial title holders. I had always wanted to get involved with the Foundation, so, being their Ambassador was not only a dream but a crucial part of the validation of my dreams.
How did winning this title boost your modeling career?
This opened various opportunities and allowed me to mentor
and judge in other pageants, like Miss Ekurhuleni and Little Miss Soweto.
Tell me more about model training
During my reign as Miss Mamelodi Sundowns, it was an honour for me to spend time traveling in the townships of Tshwane and motivating students. Many girls approached me seeking advice and mentorship. My training involved catwalk or pageant walks and speech articulation. In 2019, The Model Academy asked me to train their catwalk course. I am currently training upcoming models about posing, model etiquette, and scams. I also do private training and have taken part in pageants like Face of Devotion Mzantsi 2018. Later this year, I will be traveling to the Limpopo Province in Matlelerekeng, to train the Miss Moutse contestants.
What is the Helping Hand initiative about?
Helping Hand is what I call my first self-driven initiative, founded in December of 2017. I collected non-perishable goods and hygienic goods using social media and collecting from my family and friends. Together we collected 25 food parcels and distributed them to car guards and street vendors. In 2018, we gave food parcels to 60 families based in Gauteng and Port Elizabeth. I was blessed, to be sponsored by PUMA South Africa for my ‘Kicks with Goals’ initiative last year. This was aimed at encouraging students of Masiqhakaze High School to continue kicking towards their goals in exchange for Puma sneakers and grocery parcels for their families. This year in August, I distributed 30 food parcels in Johannesburg as part of my ‘Winter Drive’ initiative.
Tell me about #2044
I think I answered this question in my dreams. However, for now, vision #2044, seeks to establish and create initiatives which address some of the social issues we have in South Africa. There is a lot that I am currently working on in this regard and it is beginning to materialise. In due course, the impact of my vision will be realised in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. I plan to expand it nationally to ensure that we produce some sustainable solutions to beneficiaries in the foreseeable future.
You have an athletic body – what do you attribute this
Fitness is something I’ve incorporated into my lifestyle for creative purposes. I think and plan better when I am at the gym. I am also blessed to be built like my late father; whose legs were very toned. In 2020 I hope when this question is asked, I can attribute it to healthy eating as well.
Tell me more about your ambitions of becoming a President
in 2044. Is this a serious plan with a strategy in place?
I play life by the hand God serves me. I have academic goals, and I have a vision board. The #2044 project for me is to expand my knowledge, to discover opportunities and share with South Africa. #2044 for me is about being the difference I want to see in our nation. It is about breaking boundaries as a young black girl in South Africa and I hope that completing my B Com Law Degree will further develop my skills in pursuing this movement. When I was asked at school what I wanted to be, I said a South African President. In High School, I dreamt of my inauguration day and all I remembered from that dream were banners behind with 2044 written on them. My mother laughed and was fascinated when I told her about this dream. She then shared it with her colleague who counted that 2044 would actually be an election year. My mother and I believe that this was God’s hand validating my dreams.
Do you think you have what it takes to occupy the highest
office in SA and why?
Every day, I take steps towards making South Africa a better place, and every day is a learning curve.
Where does your ambition, drive and passion stem from?
These stem from having a mother who validates my dreams by simply believing in me and holding me accountable to my words.
What message do you have for young girls who look up to
In a world that continues to be shaped by social media; do not allow this to change who you are. Strive towards being the best version of yourself. Love yourself and everything else in your life will flow from your heart. Remember that your current circumstances don’t define who you are. Your dreams are valid! Also, remember that Rome was not built in a day.
August month, we join all South Africans in commemorating Women’s Month as a
tribute to the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings on the 9th
of August 956, in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women.
We also celebrate dark-skinned women models who have taken the industry by storm and made history. Veteran models who have beat the odds to succeed and become a worldwide inspiration to young girls, proving that ‘diversity’ is beauty. Their resilience and perseverance have paved the way for models who came after them. Dark-skinned models are stomping down runways, appearing in major campaigns and going viral for just being as fierce as they want to be.
For the longest time, the runway had been dominated by white female models and very few dark-skinned black models. In fact, the only dark-skinned black female model we ever saw on the runway was probably only Alek Wek. In a television documentary, Lupita Nyong’o, a Mexican-Kenyan actress and model, revealed that she used to pray for lighter skin. For most of her childhood, she saw her dark complexion as “an obstacle to overcome.” Lupita was talking about a facet of racism called colourism. It’s the idea that, for people of colour, lighter skin is more desirable. In the same way that white women will have an easier time than women of colour, light-skinned women of colour will have an easier time than dark-skinned women of colour.
So even though racial and ethnic diversity in fashion is still issues of concern, the industry has improved quite significantly. There is more diversity on the runway, and we have seen dark-skinned female black models rising to the top, breaking barriers around the world and earning loads of money.
However, the main purpose of this feature is to shine the spotlight on an absolutely beautiful and zealous African woman – Gift Munira Mudi. She is a beautiful, dark-skinned Johannesburg based model who hails from Auchi in Edo State – Nigeria. Munira began modeling in Nigeria in 2012 but left the country in 2016 to seek better modeling opportunities in South Africa.
“Opportunities in Nigerian aren’t as huge as other African countries like South Africa and Kenya. I wanted more, so I left my country to pursue more modeling opportunities,” she says. Her efforts were not in vain. Eight years later, she is a successful all-round model signed with Ice Models in Johannesburg and aspiring to be a top high fashion model.
The older generation of dark-skinned models has paved the way for younger models such as Munira, who has never been criticised for her complexion. “I’ve never been criticised for my look ever! Instead, I get pleasant compliments. I feel like my look was one of the features that made it easy for me to get into the industry. I’ve been told so many times that I look so much like Naomi Campbell and Lupita Nyong’o, and I love them both. Naomi is my role model. She gives me so much hope and inspiration and my biggest dream is to meet her someday,” she says.
When Munira left Nigeria, the modeling industry there was not lucrative. However, this has since changed. The Nigerian fashion industry has grown and created opportunities for models. The advent of platforms including Lagos Fashion Week, Arise Magazine Fashion Week, GTB Fashion Weekend amongst others, have created a growing interest in the industry for models. Modeling agencies such as Few Models have also contributed significantly to advancing the careers of many models in Nigeria. All of these pushed the modeling industry to the fore-front in Lagos and Abuja. Today, many Nigerian models are increasingly being placed into modeling agencies across the globe, in locations as close as Cape Town and others, as far as New York.
Munira also aspires to work in countries popularly known as ‘home of models’ such New York and Milan. Munira has modeled for many popular brands including BVLGARI, a luxury Italian jewellery brand, famous for its glamorous gemstone jewellery, luxury watches, perfumes,and leather goods.
“I want more for myself. I don’t want to be just a model, but a brand. I believe that I can achieve anything and everything I put my mind into. Years down the line, I’d like to be a brand ambassador for top lifestyle brands and to be a role model for upcoming models.
She was one of
the industry pioneers for the supermodels of colour in the 90s. At the time
when she emerged, there were not many supermodels of colour. However, she was
one of few who managed to make a name for herself and to become one of the
faces of the minority community.
In 1990, while
still in high school, Tyra Banks landed a contract with Elite Model Management,
the largest modeling agency in the world. Later that year, she shot her first
print piece for Seventeen magazine. After graduating from high school in 1991, Tyra
enrolled at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, but decided to forego
college when Elite offered to send her to Paris for high-fashion runway
She rose swiftly through the ranks of fashion modeling to become one of the world’s top supermodels. She booked 25 runway shows while in Paris in 1991, an unprecedented feat for a newcomer to the industry. But by the mid-1990s, Tyra began to gain weight, a forbidden sin in the world of rail-thin clothing models. Unwilling to starve herself to achieve the desired physique for high-fashion models, she decided to return to the United States and switch to swimwear and lingerie modeling, where curvier models are more welcome.
In 1996, Tyra became
the first black woman to appear on the cover of GQ. A year later, she became
the first African American woman to appear on the cover of the Sports
Illustrated swimsuit edition, as well as the first black woman to be featured
in Victoria’s Secret lingerie catalogue. She signed lucrative contracts with
Cover Girl and Victoria’s Secret, becoming a staple of both companies’
advertising campaigns and runway shows.
“I made my
living being 20 or 30 pounds heavier than the average model. And that’s where I
became famous. Victoria’s Secret said I sold more bras and panties than anybody
else, and I was traipsing down that runway with 30 pounds more booty than the
other girls,” says Tyra.
She was listed People
magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People numerous times. Tyra received the
prestigious Michael Award for Supermodel of the Year in 1997, and also won two
Teen Choice Awards for Favourite Supermodel.
In addition to
her modeling, Banks began pursuing an acting career in the 1990s. She made her
debut in 1993 with a seven-episode stint on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and
enjoyed a prominent role in the 1995 drama Higher Learning. In 2000 Banks
appeared in a trio of popular films: Love & Basketball, Coyote Ugly and the
made-for-television movie Life Size. Later TV work included appearances
in Gossip Girl and Glee.
Changer – An Icon of note!
She later turned her runway success into a multimedia brand and worked at the helm of two successful TV series simultaneously, ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ and ‘The Tyra Banks Show’, for which she won two Emmy Awards. She has continued to expand her business interests, launching her own cosmetics line in 2014 and hosting America’s Got Talent in 2017.
2016, Tyra and her long-time boyfriend, Norwegian photographer Erik Asla,
welcomed a baby boy, York Banks Asla via a surrogate mother. However, a year
later, Tyra and Asla called off their five-year relationship on amicable terms.
Banks is active
in a number of social and charitable causes. One of her personal missions has
been to help young women deal with self-esteem issues. As early as 1992, when
she was only 19 years old, she funded a scholarship to help young black women
attend her alma mater, the private Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles.
In 1998, she wrote Tyra’s Beauty Inside & Out, a book aimed at inspiring
young women, and a year later she founded TZONE, a foundation aimed at
developing teenage girls’ independence and self-esteem.
“Girls of all kinds can be beautiful- from the thin, plus-sized, short, very tall, ebony to porcelain-skinned; the quirky, clumsy, shy, outgoing and all in between. It’s not easy, though, because many people still put beauty into a confining, narrow box. Think outside of the box. Pledge that you will look in the mirror and find the unique beauty in you,” says Tyra.
This year, the
45-year-old came out of modelling retirement and was featured on the cover of Sports
Illustrated Swimsuit Issue after 22 years. Tyra wants to “change the
world’s perceptions” of beauty and re-define it so she can make a
difference in the industry.
And now, Tyra – who has changed her modelling name to BanX – has taken to her Instagram to reveal that she celebrates her curvier figure and wants to “re-define beauty” to help make a “difference” in the industry.