With New York Fashion Week: The Shows (NYFWS) spring 2017 less than three weeks away, Fashion Reverie looks back at one of the films that reflects the golden age of fashion. “Mahogany,” Diana Ross’ follow-up film to “Lady Sings the Blues,” centers on an African American woman who rises to fame in Rome first as a fashion model and later as an haute couture designer. “Mahogany” starred Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Perkins, Nina Foch, Merissa Mell, Beah Richards, and Jean-Pierre Aumont. “Mahogany” was also nominated for an Academy Award for the song “Do You Know Where You’re Going To.”
With a screenplay written by John Bynum, “Mahogany” tapped into the burgeoning presence of black models on runways and in some of top couture shows in Europe. (Think of supermodels Pat Cleveland and Grace Jones in Yves Saint Laurent’s runway shows in the mid-70’, Donyale Luna on the cover of Time magazine in 1968; Beverly Johnson on the cover of American Vogue in 1974, and the 12 black models that were a significant part of the Grande Divertissement a Versailles in 1973.) It is reported that “Mahogany” was modeled on the career of African American model Naomi Sims.
Originally slated to be directed by British director Tony Richardson of “Tom Jones,” “Charge of the Light Brigade,” and “A Delicate Balance” fame, “Mahogany” became the directorial debut of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Though panned by some critics, in 1975 “Mahogany” was a box office success, grossing more than $5 million dollars, and has become a cult classic.
Diana Ross, known mostly a former member of the Supremes and a top-ranking solo artist, designed many of the clothes in the film. Iconic haute couturier Princess Irene Galitzine designed additional key garments in “Mahogany.”
And though Ross had had success in “Lady Sings the Blues,’ Ross had never worked as a fashion model. Supermodel Pat Cleveland was brought in to coach Diana Ross by Anthony Perkins who was married to fashion photographer Barry Berenson, sister of top model Marissa Berenson. Cleveland also appeared in the film’s opening runway scene.
There are also a few lines from “Mahogany” that have become a part of camp culture vernacular. “The men love me, the women love me, me Mahogany;” “I’m success, baby;” “Success is nothing without someone to share it with;” and “this is not politics, this is fashion.”
“Mahogany” was released on DVD in 2007.