"Just finding the love of my life at this point in my life has been amazing," Johnson tells PEOPLE exclusively of her recent engagement to financier Brian Maillian

By Liz McNeil
July 15, 2020 08:15 AM
Advertisement

Ask Beverly Johnson what makes her fiancé Brian Maillian such a good match and she says with a laugh: "This is the first time I've dated someone so close to my age! We know the same songs and we've lived through a lot of the same things."

They also share a deep bond.

Johnson, the supermodel who made history as the first Black woman on the cover of Vogue in 1974, says, "As I was breaking boundaries in the fashion industry, he was doing the same on Wall Street."

Now 67, Johnson tells PEOPLE, "just finding the love of my life at this point in my life has been amazing."

Turns out her engagement to the 70-year-old financier with whom she lives with in Rancho Mirage, California, was not exactly planned.

It happened while they were attending an event in Palm Springs, with members of their extended family. "My older sister Sheilah was there and she said to Brian, 'I didn't hear you give my sister an answer when she asked you to marry her,'" Johnson recalls. "And he said, 'I have answered her. I have asked her to marry me. And she said, No. Besides that — I don't have a ring.'"

Michael Letterlough Jr.

With that, Johnson says, "Brian's 88-year-old mother took off her wedding ring and passed it down the table till it got to Brian and he got down on one knee. I was sobbing uncontrollably and he said 'Will you marry me?' and I said yes!"

Maillian put the ring on her finger and when Johnson took it off to give back to his mom, her soon-to-be mother-in-law told her: "You can keep it on until the rest of the day!"

Michael Letterlough Jr.

After they became engaged, Johnson says laughing, "I was like how the heck did that happen? I was saying I'm never going to get married again." (She was previously married to real estate agent Billy Potter and later music producer Danny Sims, father of their daughter Anansa.)

Even though she told him she was not interested in a ring, Maillian brought her to a jewelry store where he had picked out one for her to look at. But Johnson, who's known for not always having a filter, recounts: "I said 'Brian, I don't know how to say this but I don't want a diamond ring, let's buy a house instead.'"

And that exactly what they did.

Johnson recently made news when she wrote a powerful Washington Post Op-Ed about racism in fashion, inspired by her own experience, from her early days in the modeling industry, when she was often the only black model on a shoot, and "reprimanded" for asking for Black hairstylists and make-up artists.

Beverly Johnson's historic Vogue cover
Francesco Scavullo/Conde Nast via Getty

In the piece, she proposed "The Beverly Johnson rule." As she wrote, "it's similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL that mandates that a diverse set of candidates must be interviewed for any open coaching and front office positions."

She is now proposing something akin to that for the fashion, beauty and media industries: "that at least two black professionals be interviewed for influential positions."

"This is a time of disruption and with disruption, there is a crack in the door," she says. "The door that was always closed is a little more open now. You can shout through the crack and people are listening."

As she notes, "Policy happen in the boardrooms, and the C-suites."

Johnson has also made a point to work with Black photographers, such as Michael Letterlough Jr, who took her portrait, as well as the photo alongside with her fiancé Maillian featured in this article and in this week's issue.

For more on the legendary supermodel and how she continues to push the status quo, pick up a copy of this week's PEOPLE.