Born to a mother of African-American and European heritage and a father of African-American and South American Indian ancestry, Donyale Luna transcended all racial stereotypes and categorisations. When she became the first African-American cover girl of  British Vogue in 1966, she had overcome years of racial prejudice, yet her success was perhaps also her downfall.

Born Peggy Ann Freeman, Luna was a strange, perpetually daydreaming little girl. Her sister later described her as being “a very weird child, even from birth, living in a wonderland, a dream”.

Ethereal in both attitude and looks – her tall, gamine figure and huge eyes made her a Sixties fashion ideal – she was discovered by  photographer David McCabe in 1964, who took the then 18 year-old  to New York and introduced her to Nancy White who had her sketched by an illustrator. The drawings were used in the 1965 edition of Harper’s Bazaar, the first ever to feature a black model. More fashion spreads followed swiftly, and she was under exclusive contract to the photographer Richard Avedon for a year.

Yet, only a short time into her career, fueled by the tragedy of her mother fatally shoting her father in self-defense, Luna’s stellar rise in her native US began to wane. Alcohol, drugs and continuous racism lead her to leave for London in 1965, where she became instantly famous, shot the Vogue cover and became one of the most iconic faces of the Swinging Sixties.

Despite her influence, she remained resolutely unpolitical and never commented on the Civil Rights Movement. When asked whether her appearances in Hollywood films would benefit the cause of black actresses, Luna answered, “If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less.”

Always up for creating fantasy, Luna changed her background story continuously, adding to her mysterious look. She made celebrity friends – The Stones, Mia Farrow – and soon became involved with German actor Klaus Kinski, who eventually threw her out of their shared home for her excessive drug taking. Her addictions began to influence her work – she would miss bookings and act erratically on shoots. Years of instability followed, she shot a Playboy cover in 1975, and she acted in European art house films, yet her career never recovered.

In 1979, only aged 32, and leaving behind a baby daughter with her then estranged husband, an Italian photographer, Donyale Luna died in Rome of an accidental heroin overdose.