Webb, Veronica 1965—
Veronica Webb 1965—
Model, journalist, actress
Veronica Webb broke a color barrier in the modeling industry in 1992 when she signed a multimillion-dollar contract to be a cosmetics spokesperson and model for Revlon. Already one of the most sought-after “supermodels” in the world at the time, Webb earned one of modeling’s most coveted positions when she agreed to work for Revlon. By virtue of television commercials and print advertising, cosmetic company models frequently become stars. And such contracts are extremely lucrative. This career goal is only one of several for the multitalented Webb, who has also made a name for herself as a journalist and actress. As Robin Abcarian put it in the Detroit Free Press, Webb is “more than a pretty face on legs-up-to-here. She’s got a mind that’s sharper than the claws at a table of ladies who lunch. And she’s not above getting in her licks.”
Webb has long been regarded highly in the fashion industry for her intelligence and business sense. Her personal style preferences have been reflected in the designs of her friend designer Azzedine Alaia, and she is a favorite runway model for designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Isaac Mizrahi, and Calvin Klein. Her contacts as a model and actress have allowed her to publish articles about and conduct interviews with prominent Hollywood personalities. Most remarkably, she was able to undertake most of the negotiations for her Revlon contract herself.
Asked in the New York Times if she felt modeling presents women with an unrealistic standard of beauty and undermines their efforts to be viewed as intellectual equals to men, Webb bristled. “Women are always judged on their looks—that’s a given—and I’ve put myself in that position in front of the world,” she declared. “It’s like going to a car lot and I’m one of the products there… What’s unreality? That I’m in a profession where I get to make my own schedule, where I can’t be replaced by a man, where I have enough affluence that I don’t have to put up with anything and where women make more than men? I don’t see why that should be unreality for women.”
One of three daughters of Doug and Marion Webb, Veronica Webb was born in Detroit in the midst of a February blizzard. Her father, who has since retired, was
At a Glance…
Model, journalist, actress. Began modeling career, c, 1984; worked in Paris, 1984-86; model and spokesperson for Revlon Consumer Products Corporation, beginning 1992. Contributor of columns, interviews, and articles to Paper, Elle, Interview, and Mademoiselle. Actress in films, including Jungle Fever, 1991, and Malcolm X, 1993.
Member: Black Girls Coalition, Planned Parenthood.
an electrician employed by the Chrysler Corporation. Her mother was a public health nurse working at the hospital where Veronica was born. With two incomes, the family lived comfortably on Detroit’s east side, just blocks from the elegant Indian Village neighborhood. Webb attended the private Detroit Waldorf School, where she was one of the few black students. A gifted artist, she thought she might pursue a career as an animator. At 15 she spent half a school year in Los Angeles studying art at the Otis Institute of the Parsons School of Design.
“As a kid growing up in Detroit, I watched endless hours of afternoon movies on television,” Webb recalled in the Detroit Free Press. “When I was old enough to take the bus, I cut high school in favor of the film series at the Detroit Institute of Arts, dreaming all the while of all the worlds, all the women I could be, beyond the Motor City.” Her parents—particularly her father—instilled her with a rugged independence and a desire to achieve on her own merits. Webb told the Chicago Tribune that her father advised her: “You’re never going to have to marry somebody to validate the way you look, how smart you are, to take care of you. You’ll be able to marry somebody you love, which is a luxury. If you don’t have money, you’re at someone else’s mercy.”
Determined not to be at anyone else’s mercy, Webb left Detroit soon after graduating from high school and moved to New York City, where she studied animation at Parsons School of Design. In order to make ends meet she took a sales job at a housewares boutique in Soho. It was there that she was “discovered” by a trio of fashion industry people—two makeup artists and a hairdresser—who all suggested she should go into modeling.
Webb did not think she had a chance to be a model, even though she was a willowy five-foot-ten. “I’d see these models walking down the street and they looked so tall and glamorous and well dressed,” she remembered in the Detroit Free Press. “Then you open the magazines and you see Christie Brinkley and all these big blonde Valkyries who look like they come straight out of Texas or some Wagner opera and you don’t feel you could ever look like that. And then the black models that you’d see, Iman and Beverly Johnson, both are very beautiful with fine features and high cheekbones but they fit into the Greek or Caucasian aesthetic.”
Her self-doubts notwithstanding, Webb was signed immediately by the Click agency. One of her earliest assignments, in 1984, was a photo shoot for Mademoiselle magazine. Later that year she embarked for Paris with $100 in her pocket, intending to stay two weeks. She was there for two years, working as a runway model for the likes of Lagerfeld and Chanel and appearing in fashion layouts for Italian Vogue, French Vogue, Marie Claire, and Elle. A friendship with designer Azzedine Alaia became something of a mentor-muse relationship as she helped him with ideas for his clothing line. Recalling those days in the Chicago Tribune, Webb noted, “It was great, you know. All the grooming, all the attention. For [me], somebody who wanted to be an animator, it’s like being your own cartoon character because basically I’m like this figure making shapes on frames of film.”
Webb eventually tired of her French employers’ insistence on lengthy makeup and hairstyling sessions. “Paris is all high fantasy, so everything has to be absolutely perfect, the hair, the nails, the cuticles, the teeth, the lips, the eyebrows, the outfit, the shoes, the stockings, the glove, the handkerchief, the purse, the coat, the sweater,” she recounted in the Detroit Free Press. “It all has to be impeccable, so it takes forever to get ready. Then everyone has to have their coffee, ’cause they’re exhausted from getting ready, then you do two pictures and then everyone has to have wine, because you know, ... they’re speeding from the coffee… Then it’s lunch-time, then they have to do you all over again because you’re just no longer impeccable.” In 1986 she returned to the United States, signed with the prestigious Ford agency, and began working the New York fashion shows.
In those days Webb thought her race would disqualify her from ever receiving a major contract with a cosmetics company. But she was not particularly concerned because she had other talents she wanted to exercise. She began contributing occasional articles on the fashion industry to Paper, a Manhattan magazine. Gradually she enlarged her focus to other issues, including such controversial topics as birth control for teens, voluntary AIDS testing, sexual harassment, and abortion rights.
In 1990 the editors of Paper asked Webb to write a regular monthly column. That exposure led to assignments from Elle and especially Interview, a monthly national magazine that devotes much of its space to lengthy interviews with celebrities and newsmakers. Webb’s first piece for Interview was based on a chat she had with Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington. The publication used it as a cover story.
First Role in Spike Lee Film
As the 1990s began, Webb tried her hand at acting A close friendship with filmmaker Spike Lee led to her first role, as Lee’s wife in the drama Jungle Fever. She also appeared in Lee’s epic film MaIcolm X. For a time Webb and Lee were linked romantically, at least in the pages of the popular press. Noting that the two are still friends, Webb will say nothing about any deeper association with Lee. The model did comment at length, however, about her work in Jungle Fever in an essay published in Elle. The article claims, among other things, that she was so nervous on the first day with the other cast members that she threw up her breakfast before she left home.
The wide variety of experiences Webb could put on her resume only made her more attractive as a supermodel. When the Revlon Consumer Products Corporation began searching for a model to be the “face” for a new line of cosmetics for black women, Webb was only one of 30 candidates for the position. She won the contract because she projected not only beauty, but intelligence and ability as well.
When Revlon announced Webb as their choice for the ColorStyle spokesperson in 1992, the company’s vice-president for marketing, Jerri Baccus Glover, told the Knight Ridder wire service: “We were really looking for a complete person. Revlon wanted a person who had a lot of outside interests and who represented a modern African-American woman. We thought she was a good role model for young people. It’s important that Revlon and Veronica work together.”
True to form, the independent Webb scoffed at the notion that she might be a role model. “I’m not living my life for anybody but me,” she warned in the Chicago Tribune. “But if somebody can take an example or look at something I’ve done and figure out how to create an opportunity for themselves, then great.”
Because modeling so often involves fantasy and the perception of perfection, it can be a difficult profession for women. As they begin to age and are increasingly replaced by younger models—or as their “look” is superseded by a new style that does not suit them personally—they can find themselves unemployed and emotionally depleted. Unlike many young models, Webb confronted this reality at the beginning of her career, partly because she is black. “In order to live in America, I had to diversify because as a black model there was nowhere else to go—except sideways,” she explained. She cited the acting profession as another career in which white women might get as much as ten times the opportunity available to black women.
As far as the perils of aging, Webb is clear-eyed about her future. Admitting that she regularly spends two hours in the hands of makeup artists and hairdressers and that she hardly recognizes herself in the finished photographs she sees, she concluded that she is not at all obsessed by the signs of maturity. “I could never make myself look the way I look in a magazine,” she acknowledged. “I can’t worry about getting older. When I was 20, I wore size 6. When I’m 35, I’ll be a 10. So what? Sure, there are some girls in the business who want to use that as competition, but they’re the ones who’re still in the high school war-paint phase.”
Webb has been described as a mini-corporation of her own. She employs a full-time publicist, an accountant, a lawyer, a housekeeper, an investment specialist, and agents for both modeling and entertainment. Although the Revlon contract alone brought her more than a million dollars in income, she still lives in a modest home in downtown New York City. “I’ve wanted to live in New York ever since I was 5 years old,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “It always looked so good in the movies. I admit New York has an extremely low comfort level compared to other places, but the opportunity level in New York is so incredible, it makes up for the other. Living in New York is like having a fire under your rear end all the time.” Webb exercises moderately and rarely diets. Despite her busy schedule, she makes time to visit her parents and two sisters in Detroit whenever possible.
Initially rather uncertain about her modeling career, Webb has evolved into a confident, poised woman—a veritable “role model of black beauty,” to quote Knight Ridder correspondent Kendall Morgan. Speaking for herself, Webb concluded in Seventeen, “The trick about being a good model is that no matter what you wear, you have to make it look as easy as a sweatsuit.” She added that she strives to project “a healthy, attainable image of beauty, intelligence, and selfrespect. Ultimately, what I’d like to project is freedom.”
Akron Beacon Journal (OH), July 17, 1994, p. 3E.
Chicago Tribune, August 5, 1992, p. 14.
Detroit Free Press, June 9, 1988, p. 1C; May 5, 1991, p. 5F; September 20, 1992, p. 4F; March 29, 1993, p. ID.
Mademoiselle, December 1991, pp. 146-49.
New York Times, June 19, 1994, p. 9.
People, July 4, 1994, p. 6.
Seventeen, June 1993, pp. 27-30.
Source, November 1994, p. 22.
Vogue, September 1990, p. 162.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Knight Ridder wire service story, October 8, 1992.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Webb, Veronica 1965–
WEBB, Veronica 1965–
Born February 23 (some sources cite February 25), 1965, in Detroit, MI; daughter of Leonard Douglas (an electrician) and Marion (a public health nurse; maiden name, Stewart) Webb; married George E. Robb, Jr. (a philanthropist), 2002; children: Layla Rose, Molly Blue. Education: Attended Parsons School of Design and New School for Social Research.
Addresses: Agent—United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Career: Actress, model, and writer. Fashion model with the Click Agency and Ford Agency, both New York City; Revlon Consumer Products, spokesperson, 1992–96; appeared in television and print advertisements for Bloomingdale's department store, 1987, Isaac Mizrahi fashions and Nike athletic wear, 1991, Alize de France fruit juices and cognac, 2001, and several other products. LIFEbeat, member of board of directors; also affiliated with Black Girls Coalition, 21st Century Party, Planned Parenthood, and National Breast Cancer Coalition. Worked at a housewares boutique in New York City.
Awards, Honors: Named model of the year, New York magazine, 1994.
Vera, Jungle Fever, Universal, 1991.
Sister Lucille Rosary, Malcolm X (also known as X), Warner Bros., 1992.
Model, For Love or Money (also known as The Concierge), Universal, 1993.
Herself, Unzipped (documentary), Miramax, 1995.
Herself, Catwalk (documentary), Arrow Releasing, 1996.
Diandre, Holy Man, Buena Vista, 1998.
VIP patron, 54 (also known as Fifty–Four), Miramax, 1998.
Pam, In Too Deep, Miramax/Dimension Films, 1999.
Herself, The Big Tease (also known as Je m'appelle Crawford), Warner Bros., 2000.
Herself, Someone Like You ... (also known as Animal Attraction), Twentieth Century–Fox, 2001.
Herself, Zoolander, Paramount, 2001.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Herself, Retrosexual: The 80s, VH1, 2004.
Television Appearances; Specials:
In a New Light '94, ABC, 1994.
Presenter, The 1995 ESPY Awards, ESPN, 1995.
In a New Light: Sex Unplugged, ABC, 1995.
People Yearbook '95, CBS, 1995.
Presenter, 25 Years of No. 1 Hits: Arista Records' Anniversary Celebration, NBC, 2000.
Judge, Miss Universe 2001, CBS, 2001.
Interviewee, When Supermodels Ruled the World, VH1, 2003.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Herself, "Do We with Bad Haircuts Not Feel?," Clueless, ABC, 1996.
Herself, "The Devil and Maya Gallo," Just Shoot Me!, NBC, 1997.
Herself, "Fixing Up Daddy," Clueless, ABC, 1997.
Tracy Warren, "The Apartment," Damon, Fox, 1998.
Tracy Warren, "Chasing Tracy," Damon, Fox, 1998.
Guest, Howard Stern, E! Entertainment Television, multiple episodes in 1998.
Herself, Intimate Portrait: Eileen Ford, Lifetime, 1998.
Herself, "Hoop Dreams," It's Like, You Know ... , ABC, 2000.
Herself, "20 Hours in L.A.," The West Wing, NBC, 2000.
Heidi, "The Princess Cruise," Becker, CBS, 2001.
Herself, The Isaac Mizrahi Show, Oxygen, 2002.
Guest host of Later, NBC; fashion correspondent for Russell Simmons' Oneworld Music Beat, syndicated; correspondent or guest for episodes of The Big Breakfast, Channel 4 (England); HBO Entertainment News, HBO; Front Page, Fox; Good Morning America (also known as GMA), ABC; Last Call, CBS; Oh La La, Lifetime; Suddenly Susan, NBC; and The Sunday Show.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Fully Clothed, Non–Dancing Girls, CBS, 1996.
Radio Appearances; Episodic:
Guest, The Howard Stern Radio Show, multiple episodes in 1998.
Veronica Webb Sight: Adventures in the Big City (essays), Hyperion, 1998.
(With others) Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African–American Women, edited by Sam Fine and Julia Chance, Riverhead, 1999.
Columnist for Paper, beginning 1989. Contributor to periodicals, including Details, Elle, Esquire, Mademoiselle, New York Times, and Spin. Contributing editor, Interview, beginning 1990, and for Paper.
Introductions for Books:
Dweck, Stephan and Moneria Ivey, You're So Fine I'd Drink a Tub of Your Bathwater: 500 No–Fail Pick–Up Lines That Work on the Bus, in the Bar, in the Neighborhood Store, Hyperion, 1996.
(Author of foreword) Le Goues, Thierry, Soul: Photographs by Thierry Le Goues, PowerHouse Books, 1997.
Thomas, Duane, Body & Soul: The Black Male Book, Universe, 1998.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 10, Gale, 1996.
Entertainment Weekly, February 6, 1998, p. 56.
Essence, April, 1995, p. 54; December, 2000, p. 44.
People Weekly, March 2, 1998, p. 95.
TV Guide, May 16, 1998, p. 7.