In 1950s America Helen Williams became the first black female model to break into the fashion mainstream. Born in East Riverton, New Jersey in 1937, she was obsessed with clothes from an early age, and began sewing her own garments at the age of seven. As a teenager she studied dance, drama and art before getting a job as a stylist at a New York photography studio. While there she was spotted on separate occasions by Lena Horne and Sammy Davis Jr, who happened to be in the studio doing press shots. Struck by her beauty, they urged her to take up modelling. She was seventeen.
With her trademark bouffant wig, sculpted eyebrows and long, giraffe-like neck, she worked exclusively for African American magazines such as Ebony and Jet.