Glamour touched Jennifer Brice’s life even before she was born. “It all began when my mother was pregnant with me and one evening she went to the movies with her sisters in 1954”. Jennifer told MMM60s in a recent interview. “She didn’t have a name for me yet. After she saw the movie she decided to name me after Jennifer Jones.“”She was going to give me up for adoption but when she gave birth to me,” Jennifer continued, “she said I was the prettiest chocolate bald-head doll she had ever seen and decided to keep me.”
It was a struggle for the young mother to bring up a child as a single parent. Jennifer’s mother worked as a florist and made children slippers to make ends meet. After returning home to Greenville, South Carolina Jennifer’s mom met a high school friend who soon became her first husband. They got married in 1960. “I was six years old at the time.” Jennifer said. “He adopted me as his own child. My mother and I relationship had changed but she still had love for me. She encouraged her daughter to improve herself, always behave as a lady, enrolling her in beauty pageants and charm schools. “My step father worked for the military and was very strict and believed in don’t spare the rod and spoil the child. I never got spoiled. And I always believed love is the touch with our hands and with our hearts.”
Her first fashion show was at Easter in 1965 when Jennifer was eleven years old. “My mother sent me to a charm school in the church in Washington DC.” Jennifer told us. “They taught us grace, poise, etiquette, how to walk and sit like a lady, and how to be lovely.” “At twelve, I got the opportunity to go to the White House where I met Lady Bird Johnson. I represented my school Stanton which received the Beautification Award.” We took a picture on the lawn of her dog and us two.”
At age fourteen, Jennifer attended the Sears Charm School. “They had the best booklet charm school page!” Jennifer declared. “Ms. Kelly was the teacher. I always will remember how sweet and charming she was. I got a Certificate for Completion of Sears for Good Etiquette. I attended these classes with my best friend Cassandra.
“I met my first husband downtown Washington DC I was only 15 years old.” Jennifer continued. “We got married when I was eighteen years old. He worked at a shoe store. I felt like he was my prince with my glass slipper
At age sixteen Jennifer Brice entered and won Miss DC Teenager in the Miss Teen USA Pageant. “That opened only a few doors, Jennifer said, “such as going to church gatherings and church fashion shows such, nothing really out of the ordinary. I finished High School at “The School Without Walls”. And got married to my first love.”
Jennifer owed much of her success to Ms. Nina Hyde, fashion editor of the Washington Post. “I finally got my big debut.” Jennifer explained. “I dedicate my success to Nina Hyde. Without her direction I don’t know how my career would have gone. She took me by the hand to the Model of the Year Pageant in 1972.” Jennifer told us. “With her help I won.”
Jennifer was flown to New York to represent Washington, DC, which gave her national exposure. The nationally televised event was held at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Although Miss Colorado won, Jennifer Brice did not go unnoticed. And after a whirlwind few days in the Big Apple, Jennifer returned to Washington. She soon received a call from Stewart Modeling agency saying that she was in great demand and that they had received a lot of calls from people wanting her for modeling jobs.
She had met supermodel Naomi Sims at a book signing a while back and had asked for some modeling advice. Naomi gave Jennifer and her mother her card and told her to call when she moved to New York. When she did, Naomi took Jennifer under her wing, met with her several times and even steered her to a few jobs that she herself could have done. In her book “How to Be a Model”, Naomi Sims describes the shy, seventeen year old Jennifer as “tall, very slender, with excellent legs and an open, friendly quality that I liked.”
Naomi went on to say in her book: “…in Jennifer, I recognized a quality that might one day blossom. I was not likely to forget her, because a few months later I was happy to see her on national television as a finalist in the Model of the Year Pageant, sponsored by the Stewart Models, the pageant that launched Cybill Shepherd on her career. Jennifer had already blossomed. She was graceful and confident in front of the cameras.”
“The Stewart agency talked me into moving to New York,” Jennifer stated. “My husband and I moved to New Jersey because we couldn’t afford the rent in New York just yet.” She gave birth to her first child January 11, 1975 and when the baby was ten months old the family moved to Manhattan. Jennifer switched to the Wilhelmina modeling agency. They had more clients who liked Jennifer and she became a top model in New York. During the next few years she also worked with Ford and Elite, the top agencies at the time.
The height of her career was the fairy-tale trip to Paris as one of a group of legendary African American models who made fashion history. In November of 1973, the legends of French haute couture: Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Pierre Cardin were showing their collections in the majestic Palais de Versailles. These designers, who were renowned for their elegant and traditional shows were soon to be upstaged by some of America’s best and brightest fashion stars including Anne Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Halston and Stephen Burrows.
Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, the creator of this fabled event said: “It was as if, on this cold night, all the windows of Versailles had been blown open.” The dazzling spectators included American socialites, models and movie stars, some of the richest women in France, and Princess Grace of Monaco. But as notable as those ladies were, the event was transformed by the presence of several African-American models including: Amina Warsuma, Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Charlene Dash, Alva Chin, China Machado, Billie Blair, Bethann Hardison, Jennifer Brice and several others.
The amazing style, verve and energy of these young beauties transformed fashion and fashion show for years to come. They soon found themselves and others on every runway and fashion magazine in the world, bringing cultural diversity and vibrancy to life. Oscar de la Renta recalled: There was no cohesiveness in the French presentation, but for the Americans, for a moment in time, we were all one! The models made the magic!
Jennifer divorced in 1978. She remarried 1982 and moved to Boston where she found ample modeling work for the department stores who advertised in the Boston Globe. After the subsequent births of her next three children, Jennifer retired from modeling and dedicated her life to raising her family, who she calls “My Loves.”
An exciting highlight in 2011 was Jennifer’s invitation to the recent high style luncheon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This ultra glamorous event brought together style setters, designers, writers, journalists, celebrities to commemorate historic significance of that moment in Versailles. Donna Karan, Iman, Liya Kebede, Veronica Webb, Renauld White, Jason Wu, Ruben and Isabel Toledo, Sam Fine, Lynn Whitfield, Kathryn Chenault, Cicely Tyson, Veronica Webb, Audrey Smaltz and Soledad O’Brian were among the celebrants.