Meet the 68-Year-Old Model in Rihanna's New Fenty Campaign

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 05: Jo-Ani Johnson walks the runway during Ozwald Boateng Harlem Runway Show at The Apollo Theater on May 05, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)
Ozwald Boateng Harlem Runway Show | JP Yim

Rihanna has been quoted saying, “I want to be as disruptive as possible,” and it is clear that the fashion industry isn’t an exception to this rule. The singer first made waves in the fashion and beauty industries with her lingerie and makeup lines. Her lingerie line features one of the most expansive range of sizes, and her foundation line includes 40 different shades.

It comes as no surprise that her new fashion house at LVMH, Fenty, is already “holding its own” with this trend of inclusivity and diversity, and there is no better example of this than the line’s models.

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Rihanna cast several models of color--which in itself brings awareness to the lack of diversity in the fashion world--while also bringing awareness to another tired problem in fashion: ageism.

Enter the stunning, fresh face of Fenty: 68-year-old JoAni Johnson. Johnson has worked in, and been a lover of, fashion since Andy Warhol’s hangouts at Studio 54. Born and raised in Harlem, Johnson’s story has led her from paper-pusher to catwalk sensation, and will bring a tear to eye of even the most vogue fashionista.

Johnson told Landon Peoples in her interview for Refinery29 that she has always been a lover of fashion, but never would have thought she would model. She started her journey as a math-lover and Biology and Art major intending to enroll into nursing school in France, but could never grasp the technical French needed for the program.

When she returned from her three months abroad, she combined her love of math and fashion into her first fashion job as an accountant for a men’s shirt company called Foxy World. This job taught her the ins and outs of sales and merchandise, and led to her next job as a denim sales person for a company out of Dallas. This didn’t last long because, as Johnson says, “They thought I was weird.” This ultimately worked out in her favor, because it allowed her to move on to positions in companies such as Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein, and Fiorucci.

Despite her passion for, and success in, the fashion industry up until this point, Johnson got completely turned-off by corporate fashion in the '80s when Lex Wexler, as Peoples puts it, “turned The Limited into a multi-billion dollar company, created his own manufacturing and distribution network, [and] ultimately put merchants and middle-women like Johnson out of a job.”

Johnson became a stay-at-home mother and wife for many years, and then worked later as a receptionist, until one fateful day in 2016 when her and her husband were walking down a New York City street, and a photographer asked to take her picture. She recalled:

“During the summertime, we used to take parts of the city and just cover them [on foot], just to see what has changed…I didn’t want to [take the picture]. But my husband said, ‘C’mon, let her take the photo.’” A few weeks later, a casting agent contacted Johnson, asking her to film a video about someone with grey hair. Johnson remembers, “I asked my husband first and, again, he said, ‘Go ahead, just try it.’ I didn’t know what they wanted. I was semi-retired and working on my tea blending business. But then I went and that was the Allure video.”

The Allure video went on to go viral, landing Johnson on the runaway and in exclusive editorials in just a few short years. Through the craze, her husband was her biggest cheerleader. She lovingly explained to Refinery29, “The best part of walking the runway was that my husband was going to be there.”

Sadly, in Nov. 2017, Peter Johnson died unexpectedly in the family's home. He had worked at Columbia University for 35 years, and his memorial was attended by close to a thousand mourners.

Even though Johnson calls herself a professional tea-blender who models as a hobby, she says she still continues to model for her husband. “I tell people all the time: I do this because he loved me doing it. I know that he would have wanted me to continue,” she said. Johnson’s story, much like Rihanna’s line, shows the complexity and multiplicity of women’s experiences.