Peggy Dillard Toone consumes you with a robust grace the moment you hear her voice. Her voice is soft and delicate, but her spirit is sturdy and strong. She is a combination of a Southern peach and a New York apple: sweet and tender, yet crisp and firm. Her philosophy is that beauty is a mental process. Raised in Greensville, South Carolina, she was the youngest of 13 children. Peggy moved to New York at age 17 to study fashion, art and music at Pratt Institute, but little did Peggy know the world would study her. She became a major icon in Japan, being in one of the first television commercials modeling lingerie, which at the time was still considered taboo in America. Peggy was the second black model to ever grace the cover of Vogue magazine. She also founded the iconic Turning Heads Salon in Harlem, New York City, which was instrumental in creating the first natural black hair care curriculum for licensing in New York State. She now spends her time between South Carolina and New York with her husband, renowned artist Lloyd Toone.
Q: What are your early memories of beauty growing up?
A: It was everywhere you looked. It was the trees, the earth. It was my family. Everything we needed to maintain beauty grew in our backyard. We used to play in the red clay that was near my house. My mother used the same clay to make cookies to eat and masks for our face.
Q: What was the difference between the women you grew up with in South Carolina and the women you met when you came to New York to pursue school, fashion and modeling?
A: There really wasn't much of a difference. The teachers in my school in the '50s and '60s were very fashionable and dressed like women you wanted to look like. My mother made costumes so I understood artistic expression.
Q: What was it like being a black model pioneer in the '70s? How did this influence how you saw beauty?
A: I was very confident in my look. I didn't aspire to be a thin waif-type model, with an unhealthy body type. I was physically fit and natural and that's what I became known for.
Q: Why did you start Turning Heads Salon? Was there a strong need for 'natural' black hair care in the mid '80s as apposed to the '70s when, as you say, most black women were wearing natural afros?
A: There was a need for a license to do black hair that didn't require a chemical. I was glad to be a part of the curriculum that started this, and now one can make a living doing this. It's a part of our cultural rights to have this option. We were at that time known for helping women making transitions from chemical hair to natural hair, which is a very spiritually moving process.
Q: What are your favorite beauty rituals and philosophies now?
A: Beauty is a mental process. My mother used to say, 'The cow does not give milk
without a little lipstick.' Meaning, make an effort on a daily basis. Take time with yourself. My philosophy is to incorporate the elements into a beauty regimen. Drink enough water, breath enough air, walk on the earth and get enough sun, or heat. My favorite rituals always involve water. I love baths for spiritual and physical purposes. I have a [chlorine-free] mineral pool in South Carolina.
Q: How is beauty celebrated and shared in your life today?
A: I share beauty with others by sharing my two guest houses. One in New York, called Villa 121, and one in South Carolina, called Villa 681. People come and stay. I create a warm holistic environment that stimulates all the five senses. I'm also a firm believer that cleanliness and beauty walk hand and hand.
Images courtesy of Peggy Dillard Toone.