Model Joan Smalls Lands Elle’s First Cover of 2014

Elle magazine is starting 2014 off with a couple of firsts: The January issue stars a Givenchy-clad Joan Smalls, who has never before covered American Elle, and her editorial was shot by the illustrious Michael Thompson in his first-ever spread for the magazine.

Smalls may be a bona-fide celebrity in our eyes, but it’s not often that the magazine puts a model on the cover. Smalls is a bold choice for a brand that often depends on celebrity covers to sell issues. And while it’s rare for a model to grace the cover of an American title, a black model is even rarer. In her interview, Smalls opens up about the hot-button issue and the challenges that her race has presented throughout her career, saying, “There are people in the industry who are advocates, who support diversity. And there are people who do not. I don’t get it. Beauty is universal. These doors have to open.”

In a toast to the cover girl on Tuesday night, editor-in-chief Robbie Myers said, “Joan is an Elle girl in every way — she’s smart, charming, fit and totally in charge of what’s going on in her own life.”

Myers also mentioned that she’s been trying to work with the photographer, Thompson, for seven years, and the Jan. issue marks their first time collaborating. Thompson, who cut his teeth as Irving Penn’s assistant years ago, has been a Condé Nast favorite (and exclusive) for years. He’s become known for his work at W and Allure — so this Elle cover is certainly a coup for Hearst.

“Every now and then when a model is quite special, they’re kind of considered a celebrity,” Thompson told us at dinner. The inside editorial features Smalls in a very diverse group of looks, from menswear by Saint Laurent to a colorful minidress by Chanel. ”I wanted to explore a little bit the versatility of Joan,” Thompson said. “Each shot was completely different from each other. That’s the quintessential great model, you can change them — they’re not married to just one look.”

This may be Thompson’s first cover for Elle, but it doesn’t sound like it will be the last. He told us that he and the magazine’s fashion director have some projects in the pipeline for future issues. “Joe Zee and I have some history together, we’ve been working together for 20 years, so being able to come together now is a great gift.”

Head on over to elle.com for the full story and to see all of the photos from Small’s January spread.

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Ajose Muftau

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