So now sitting at “my table” is one of the coolest kids of the lot for reasons already stated by me and for those stated by the man himself, so here is Renauld White in his own words…..
Jeffrey Felner: What came before your present situation or in other words… some personal history.
Renauld White: When I graduated high school in New Jersey in 1962 I had to go to work right away, I couldn't afford college and I was the sole financial support for my mother and my sibling. Within a week I found a job as a teller at the Howard Savings Bank. Almost immediately after that, I found out about a job as a clerk at Western Electric in Kearney NJ. It was not a stressful job and allowed me to build my clerking skills. The job at Western Electric (I left the bank after a week) left me free to pursue nighttime courses at Rutgers. And it was at Rutgers that I began to meet an eclectic group of friends that ultimately would include FI.T alums Roz Rubinstein, Stephen Burrows, and the male model Jeff Blynn. My friends and I would go to the Palladium on Sunday nights for Latin dancing wearing clothes we bought at Newark thrift shops and re-fashioned as our own. I was a big kid (see overweight) initially, in high school, and it wasn't until I was forced onto the football team by Coach Higgins that I started to become interested in exercise, proper diet, and losing weight. Eating whole grains and vegetables, something stressed by my mother, and seeing the pounds start to melt away gave me the confidence to buy my first pair of bell-bottoms. Seeing my transformation, Jeff, who was an established model, suggested that I should try my hand at modeling by going to see Tom Fallon at Bill Blass who was holding an open casting for models. Tom liked my looks but was concerned when I said that I had no model representation. As I was already in the city, I found out the address of Ford Models and marched right in, and was promptly discouraged by head booker Jenna, who was put off by my lack of experience and the fact that I did not fit into standard size model's clothing. There was also the issue of my large afro and the scar across my nose. But she did offer this caveat: Wilhelmina Cooper, the legendary former Ford model, had started her own fledgling agency and might, just might, be interested in seeing me. Not wanting to waste the trip into NY, I looked up the address and phone number of Wilhelmina Models and walked the few blocks to the agency. Not wanting to risk another rejection, which I thought might be because I was black, I marched right in and claimed that I was from the NAACP and was checking to see how racially diverse the agency was. Fearing a commotion in their waiting room, I was quickly ushered into a private office where I was told that my brusque manner and lack of conservative dress might be off-putting to potential clients. "Go away and cut your hair, and come back in quieter clothes and maybe there is a possibility we will hire you." Securing an overnight stay at a friend’s house, I found a barber bought some new collegiate clothes and went back the very next day...and Wilhelmina’s associate offered me a contract, on the spot. The rest, as they say, was history.
My first runway fashion show was for Bill Blass on February 25th, 1970, walking along with established models like Peter Stanley and Uva Harden. I even landed a picture in Daily News Record (DNR), the newspaper bible for the menswear industry.
JF: Being a a groundbreaking model with a history such as yours is a rarity ... what advice would you give an aspiring model today?
RW: My advice would be, find role models you identify with. Focus on these inspirational individuals, taking from them the things that make them special, and then try to become an individual yourself! I always loved Marlon Brando and Malcolm X. These men gave me hope that one day I could excel in my chosen field like they did.
RW: #1 would be Jesus Christ for obvious reasons followed by Leonardo da Vinci; I think he was phenomenal as a renaissance man, his many gifts enlightened the world in a time of darkness and I can never learn enough about him. Next up is Mrs. O'Sullivan, my high school art teacher, who not only believed in me but who gave me many words of wisdom that I still follow today and last but not least my original ancestor from Africa, who crossed the ocean in 1619 and landed in Florida. I'd love to talk to him or her.
JF: What would you say was the high-water watermark of your modeling career and why? What's your take on the so-called Instagram models of today?
RW: The first time in 1977, I was acknowledged with an award from a black organization, saying that I had made a significant difference because of the color of my skin, letting other men of color know that making a difference was a distinct possibility; also when the Mayor of Newark along with Senator Cory Booker celebrated my 50 years as a groundbreaking model by declaring a Special Proclamation.
As far as today's Insta-models are concerned, I am different. I don't want to be all things to all people. I believe in a little mystery, I like shading and nuance. I don't want to put it all out there in a post.
JF: If you could choose any collaboration, who or what would that be and why?
RW: It would be as a Coach and mentor, which I am already doing, in the field of karate. As young men mature, lifting weights may not still be possible, however, karate continues to give the body both flexibility and strength and I think practicing it is the key to my physical well-being today. I am proud to now being able to coach others about what I have learned from this sport, along with proper rest and constant exercise.