Tracy 'Africa' Norman said she joined a line of models outside a fashion show in 1975, something in her mind told her to "follow them" into what appeared to be an interview -- next thing she knew, she had booked a shoot with Italian Vogue.
That's just one of the stories Norman, now 63, told New York Magazine's The Cut for an amazing cover story chronicling Norman's fascinating career as a high fashion model: from how she scored exclusive contracts with Avon and Clairol (a huge deal for models of color, especially at the time) to how she kept a huge part of her identity -- that she was a transgender woman -- a secret.
Norman told The Cut that her Clairol hair dye break came in the mid-1970s when the hair-dye line created a color to match the (accidental via an at-home perm) reddish undertones in her hair:
They snapped photos and labeled her hue Dark Auburn, Box 512, and concocted a hair color to match. She had never dyed her hair, but she had done a home perm to relax her curls, and the interaction of the chemicals and the sun had naturally lightened it to a shade women would pay money to re-create. She signed a contract for two years’ use, with the agreement that she’d get paid more if they renewed, which they did, twice. “So they used my box for six years, because they said it was the hottest-selling box,” says Norman. “This is what I was told.” Thousands of Clairol customers were emulating the look, and affirming the beauty, of a transgender woman.
Later, she would contract several high-profile shoots with Essence magazine until, she said, one final shoot where her "work stopped" because a former make-up artist's assistant revealed her secret.
Laverne Cox, a trans icon in her own right, said that her own shoot for Essence, 40 years later, was super emotional because of Norman's experience, she told The Cut:
"I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m doing a cover shoot for Essence and this is the magazine that 40 years ago fired a trans woman when they found out she was trans.’” She chokes up. “It just means a lot to me that history can be rewritten."
You can read the full profile over at The Cut.