Madeleine Remponeau migrated with her children from Port-au-Prince, Haiti to join her husband, Georges, in New York City, on a cold, snowy day in March 1965. This loving family of six, like many others, settled into an environment where there were perceived opportunities and connections through family and friends. Transitioning from an earthy landscape filled with tall mango trees to the bright lights and sophistication of Upper Manhattan would be an adventure for the fourth Remponeau child because it would reposition her to become one of the first BLACK Supermodels and the cultural icon whom we know as Jany Tomba.
I’m Black and I’m Proud and Black is Beautiful became lifestyle mantras at the height of the Civil Rights Era because Black Americans were reclaiming their dignity and self-esteem. In the meantime, a female photographer, admiring her high cheek bones and attractive physique, asked Jany if she was a model and wanted to take her picture for a magazine; oblivious to what modeling was, she vehemently declined. Peculiarly, that same month, a woman professing to be the Beauty Editor of Glamour Magazine extended an invitation to visit her office to explain the possibilities of becoming a model. One could assume that the young woman was moved by its elegant atmosphere relative to the doctor’s office where she was working as a medical assistant. Tomba was sent to a hair salon for grooming and was assigned a photographer. Using her confident vibe and naturally curly hair as a canvas, she began her calling as a model with the Ford Agency in 1969.
In January 1970, Tomba secured her first cover, Mademoiselle Magazine, but was naïve to the reason why the fashion industry and America was so receptive to her. “‘Now in retrospect, I can see why it happened. Then I didn’t know, I had the perfect look for the time, ’” said Tomba. A political ploy to capitalize from the Black is Beautiful movement while strategically maintaining the American standard of beauty had been initiated; this strategy provided a vast array of opportunities for Tomba because she was BLACK, but still white enough to appear to be non-threatening to her blonde and brunette colleagues. “‘White photographers told me, at the time, it was easy to light me because at that time they didn’t really want an image of a black person because that was a little already too scary, but I was that mix, that blend that they wanted, ’”she said. Over the next twenty-five years, Tomba was the cover girl for Woman’s Day Magazine and American Girl, but highlights her three Essence Magazine covers as very exclusive experiences.
The Remponeau’s came to America to flee the oppressive culture in Port-au-Prince just to be introduced to the oppressive climate in America. Even so, what their oppressors did not anticipate was that what they meant for evil would cause Jany Remponeau Tomba to become an icon. Amidst a fulfilling career, Tomba married and gained a daughter, whom she raised with values reminiscent of her Haitian culture. With the strength of both experience and authenticity, she’s confident that aside from the politics that there was indeed something about her that attracted the people, her smile.