Illustration for article titled Essence and Naomi Campbell Celebrate Their 50th Birthdays Together—With a Supermodel Self-Portrait
Image: Naomi Campbell (Essence Communications)

Two paragons of black beauty turn 50 this month, and as much of the world continues to shelter-in-place, Essence magazine and Naomi Campbell are celebrating their joint milestone together—yet apart—as the soon-to-be 50-year-old supermodel provided a series of “self-portraits in isolation” for the magazine’s May/June special collector’s issue.

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It wasn’t the plan, but it’s a historic and appropriate first for a magazine that has meant so much to black women and black culture, at large. So, too, has Campbell, whose now 30-plus year career has diversified catwalks and beauty standards alike. We have no idea how Campbell had originally intended to celebrate her birthday on May 22 (no doubt fabulously), but she as did her own hair, makeup, styling and photography (on her iPhone!) for this landmark issue, she took the opportunity to graciously pay tribute to the many talented creatives whose careers have been placed on indefinite hold by the coronavirus outbreak.

“It was a very special honor and unusual experience for me to be able to shoot and style my own cover for Essence’ 50th Anniversary Issue,” Campbell tells Essence. “While it was a sad reminder for me of all the people in media and production who are not able to work due to the coronavirus, it also brought me hope and encouragement to know that our people and our infrastructures are resilient.”

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Essence likely planned to physically celebrate its golden anniversary this July 4th weekend at the 26th annual Essence Festival, the citywide event that transforms New Orleans into a mecca for black women across the world. Of course, that and countless other plans have been changed or canceled by COVID-19. While Essence Fest is currently scheduled to resume in 2021, Richelieu Dennis, founder and chair of Essence Ventures, the parent company of Essence, reflected on the magazine’s tremendous legacy as the longest-running black media platform and its indelible impact upon a half-century of black culture via a statement released to The Root.

Our nation and our world are enduring a crisis at a scale that our generation has never seen, but this time also reminds us of the power of our resilience, innovation and community—which have sustained Essence for 50 years and will help ensure it thrives for the next 50 advancing global black culture, economic inclusion and ownership. We could not be more excited to mark the 50th Anniversary of Essence as a 100 percent black-owned business that has not only revolutionized the publishing and media industries, but that has also become a cultural institution and home for black women and communities globally. Since its inaugural issue in May 1970, Essence has expanded beyond the pages of a ground-breaking flagship magazine to multi-platform stages, experiences, and digital and brand extensions including the unparalleled Essence Festival of Culture, Essence Black Women in Hollywood, Essence.com, Essence Studios, industry-recognized podcasts, television specials, books and more. We have been able to do this because of our uncompromising focus on the evolving needs of our community and our community’s unyielding support of us. While we have shifted the majority of the Essence 50th Anniversary activities and engagements to 2021, this incredible special collector’s edition issue marks the beginning of our milestone celebration of black culture, community, achievement, progress and the work that remains to be done.

As we well know, the COVID crisis has affected our communities more than most. As Essence’s golden anniversary coincides with a moment of intense uncertainty and instability in our nation, the magazine tells us it is “also inviting its community into the coverage and conversation by sharing their own COVID-19 stories” on its website. According to Essence’s statement, the 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition also includes:

  • COVID-19 Essay Feature: Essence editors share their personal journeys of adjusting to the new reality of social isolation in these challenging times. Despite differing experiences, the essays have a common thread of what Essence staff and the world are looking to for hope.
  • Essence Uncovered: 50 Years: Essence compiles its most iconic covers along with an essay/timeline on its evolution over the last five decades. The package illustrates Essence’s impact, as well as the impact of those whose stories graced its pages.
  • Power—State of Black Women: By the Numbers: Essence takes a deep dive into how black women are doing and how their lives have changed over the last five decades across its key verticals—Fashion, Beauty, Culture, Power (News + Wealth) and Thrive (Lifestyle, Wellness + Love).
  • Ageless Beauties: #ThisIs50: In this fan-favorite feature, Essence invites eight readers from across the nation who, like Essence, are turning 50 this year for an exclusive photoshoot and beauty spread.
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“For 50 years, Essence has showcased the brilliance, beauty, power and resilience of black women, and now more than ever, in these unprecedented times, that is on display,” says MoAna Luu, Essence Chief Content & Creative Officer. “In our Golden Anniversary issue, we are taking the best of the past, bringing it to the present and showing what our future looks like beyond the pages. ... At Essence, our approach to what we do and how we serve is timeless—reflecting and celebrating our culture and telling the truth with open hearts and open minds.”

But perhaps Essence’s birthday-mate Campbell says it best:

“We are rooted in knowledge and creativity and continue to take back full control of our narratives. We will come out of this stronger than ever. Happy Anniversary Essence Magazine. As we both turn the century together.”

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For more on the 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition/May-June issue, visit Essence.  

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, an avid eyeshadow enthusiast and always her own muse. Nuance is her superpower.

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