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Fashion

Black In Fashion Spotlight: Coco Mitchell

She was one of the first Black models to walk for major fashion houses.

In an industry known for being slow to inclusivity while treating models' ages as expiration dates, Coco Mitchell is the under-the-radar model who dominated runways in the '90s, and is still going strong decades later. Ahead, find out how she swept the industry flawlessly.

Mitchell arrived upon the fashion industry somewhat serendipitously. In 1977, she was a teacher at an elementary Catholic school, making only $227 biweekly, when she was scouted on the streets of New York by top modeling agent and executive Eileen Ford.

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Navigating the early stages of her career around the same time as model icons Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, Mitchell became one of the industry's first few Black models at age 25, leaving New York for Los Angeles, before a decade-long stint in Europe.

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Moments of Mitchell's career are cemented in history, with one of her first big gigs becoming one of the first Black models to be featured in Sports Illustrated in 1986.

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Landing another "first," Mitchell worked alongside supermodel Iman for Revlon's debut campaign for beauty products specifically for women of color.

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Before hitting the runway, the model worked closely for a time with Lenia Italia, which later became Vogue Italia, flying back and forth between California and Italy until she decided to settle in Europe.

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With no runway training at all, Mitchell swept fashion week like a pro, nailing 25 shows her first season, and going on to walk for such luxury brands as Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, and Versace.

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Upon returning to New York in the '90s, Mitchell walked for a select few brands, including Badgley Mischka and Donna Karan, but largely turned her attention to Ralph Rucci as a fit model.

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When Mitchell spoke up about the lack of Black models in Rucci's shows other than herself, her role with the brand then grew to encompass PR and casting, providing her the opportunity to champion other Black models.

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Mitchell's time with Rucci ended after a solid 15 years. While the model may have since been largely absent from the runway, her work only shifted rather than halted. She took on public speaking and coaching, and continues to be highly sought-after by designers and photographers for her expertise.

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Recent years have resulted in Mitchell's return to the runway, working with brands such as Christopher John Rogers, Barragán, and Nike. With her personality dominating shows just as it did in the '90s, Mitchell has proven to the fashion world that — at either 25 or 60-plus — she's here to stay.

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