JoAni Johnson stands only five feet, four-and-a-half inches tall, making her too short for most runways. Not to mention, at age 68 Johnson would likely be considered too old by most industry insiders. Yet the stunning beauty is defying industry norms by being one of the hottest models in the game right now.
Johnson told Elle Magazine that she’d always dreamed of modeling, yet never thought it could actually happen. But a few years ago, after a video of Johnson speaking about graceful aging went viral, she walked the runway for the first time at age 65. Johnson has since been landing sought-after campaigns from Pyer Moss, Ozwald Boateng and Rihanna’s highly anticipated Fenty Maison Louis Vuitton line.
“I am 64,” Johnson told Allure in an interview posted to Instagram. “I am blessed to have my mother still with me who is going to be 90 next year. I can see where I am going, and it’s beautiful. … My days are no longer striving, and pushing, and, you know, going on to the next thing or climbing the corporate ladder; my days are what is given to me and making the best of each and every one of them. And I don’t know what tomorrow may bring. You know, some of us don’t even get an opportunity to age.”
Modeling has also provided Johnson with the unexpected benefit of emotional support. She told Refinery29:
“The best part of walking the runway was that my husband was going to be there. My husband wasn’t a true dandy, but he dressed impeccably. Ahead of New York Fashion Week, he searched for an entire week for an outfit!” she says. “He’d be in the audiences and when the show started, he’d want to take pictures of me so he’d jump in front of the photographers and get the shot they were getting. It annoyed them so much.” But on November 7, 2017, Peter Johnson died unexpectedly in the family’s New York City home. His memorial service the following month, JoAni says, was attended by over a thousand mourners (Peter had worked at Columbia for 35 years). For the first time in decades, JoAni was alone. In her grief, modeling—even if she still considers it a part-time gig—has offered distraction, catharsis and a sense of purpose.
“All of this is for him,” she explained. “My husband was the most wonderful man I could ever imagine. There are so many times that I know that he’s with me. On my last shoot, for example, they put on a song that was something that we used to listen to together — I knew that he was there. I tell people all the time: I do this because he loved me doing it. I know that he would have wanted me to continue.”
Correction: Sept. 16, 2019, 10:25 a.m. ET: This story has been edited to remove unattributed text and add fuller sourcing.