I Became My Own: Muse

Black twin models, Alia and Delcia Johnson share their journey of independently breaking into the fashion industry and their inspiration to revolutionize it with more Black existence.

By Shanize Byrd

Have you ever witnessed something so magical that you are reminded of what whimsy felt like as a child? Especially when it’s in the human form. Black Girl Magic personified is the best way to describe it, when you see them. The way they move, strike poses, glare into lenses and visibly adore each other. I mean those afros, deep brown faces and pearly smiles are timeless art pieces. I had known them for a while and witnessed their journeys on social media. And I fanned completely out when I flipped open my Essence magazine and saw their picture in a campaign ad. I tore out the page, neatly cut around their faces and pasted the picture on a black poster board. I was creating  my vision board for the new year and for some reason I wanted them to be a part of it. I professed that I wanted to create with them one day, even though I wasn’t quite sure of the capacity. I took a picture of their section on my vision board and sent it to their DM on Instagram, letting them know how much I admired them and their work. One sister graciously thanked me, passed on the message to the other and inquired about my intention behind the vision board. We exchanged a few messages and she encouraged me to really believe in my vision board and use it to guide how I achieve my goals. A year later, she and her twin sister sat with me to share their journey of becoming Black twin models and visual artists and their revolution in the fashion industry.

Alia and Delica both have graced the pages of magazines in campaign ads, such as Creme of Nature

Alia and Delcia Johnson  (also known as AJ and DJ) are twin models, based in New York City, who you may have seen them in a SheaMoisture and Creme of Nature ad  or BudLight commercial during the Super Bowl (just to name a few). I stan for these Black women and was so appreciative of the moment to sit and listen to their stories. We were in the same graduating class in high school and hadn’t seen each other in over a decade; only through our social media pages. Before I pressed record to document our conversation, we turned on our cameras and  gushed all over each other and gave years-worth of congratulations. They were casually dressed, no makeup on and had their trademark afros fluffed out towards the ceiling. It’s not just the twin thing that makes them so distinctive, but it’s their melodic movement and theatrical expressions. I can hardly find the words to describe it, which is why I recommend visiting their Instagram and TikTok pages to witness it for yourself. As a fan, I was curious to know how they developed their unique style of modeling; particularly their dancelike movement.  In unisom, they both said “music” and then proceeded to share their connection between song and dance. AJ began with simply saying that music, art or whatever they find inspirational around them is where they pull for inspiration in their modeling. DJ expounded by describing how they fuse rhythm and the energy from their audience, on set, to create those photographical moments.

“Music is the key. It’s the relationship we have going on with the music and the relationship with our audience,” says Delcia.

I admitted to AJ and DJ that I study their portraits and videos when I prep for my own photoshoots. I also told them that I don’t identify as a model, but I quite enjoy telling stories through visual art. This prompted me to ask them if they think there is a difference between a model and visual artist and how do they identify themselves. 

“We’re a visual artist and model at the same time. What we consider a model is when you go on set and get the vibe, you get to connect with the photographer and makeup artist at the same time to get a good feeling. But once we’re in front of that camera, our mindset is ‘okay, we’re not going to wait for you guys to say anything,” expressed Alia.

Her sister intercepts by adding on that in front of the camera they are bringing life to a story.

They proceeded to tell me how their mother had a huge influence on them developing an interest in the arts, especially photography. Recalling childhood memories of growing up in their home, I could vividly see what they describe to me as a museum and “magical” backyard. Their mother adorned their walls with her original  bright paintings and messages of positive affirmations. Delcia literally traced the words as she described to me the most memorable phrases. Seeing them light up as they spoke about their mother’s artistic flare and warm household of love and positive energy, made me smile along with them. I felt warm knowing how they were privileged to come up in a nurturing environment where they were encouraged to dream big, imagine and manifest their visions as little Black girls. And you can see how those seeds blossomed throughout their entire body of work.

As AJ and DJ began to find their footing in the fashion industry, they were met with a crossroad. At the time, they both were still living in their south Florida hometown with their family, attending school and working retail jobs. Delcia developed an interest in moving to New York where her and her sister could advance their modeling careers. Torn between staying with their close-knit family and going into uncharted territory, the twin models decided to take a leap of faith all the way to the Big Apple. The sisters arrived in the big city and were invigorated by the energy in the atmosphere. AJ and DJ were not signed to any modeling agencies or talent agents, so they both hustled to get every gig. One of their major big breaks is when they were casted, as extras,  in Spike Lee’s film “Black KKKlansmen” back in 2018. The story involves an African American detective, who successfully infiltrates and exposes the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his White colleague in the 1970s. They shared with me how they both received the opportunity. Alia was working at the time, so she had to miss the casting call, but Delicia seized the opportunity. Apparently, Spike Lee had a specific vision for the aesthetic, in which he wanted the people to accurately depict the 1970s. Delcia stood in line waiting for her audition, when the critically-acclaimed director walked up to her, examined her hair and gave her tips on how to shape her fro. She was eventually casted in the film and when she went to tell her sister the good news, AJ boldly declared, manifested even,  that she will make her way into the film as well.

“That was a proud moment because I could have simply told her ‘Delcia, go ahead, it’s fine, you got picked.’ She wanted me to be there with her. I told her, ‘you know what? I’m going to go too because I had a feeling I was going to be part of it, too.”

Throughout the interview, I noticed this common thread of manifesting and being unapologetic in their most defining moments. They touched on their family’s undeniable love and support, but I was curious to know about their journeys of self confidence and how they were able to maintain those instilled values. They both let me know that their self confidence is still a working progress, especially in clarifying their own individual identities. As they opened up, I related to their grappling thoughts around how to define themselves and what they find fulfilling to them. We agreed that it is a common thing many of us are experiencing at this age (knocking on 30’s door),  but they have an extra layer to it because of the “twin thing.”

“First off, we have to break it down. It automatically says ‘self’. So I had to keep in mind, ‘if it’s just self, that means just Delcia. Not Alia, not the family. Is that being selfish?’ No, that’s okay. You still have to define yourself by yourself,” expressed Delcia.

One the first big breaks for the Black twin models was starring in Spike Lee’s film “Blackkklansman”

The more they shared their vulnerability and kept it real with me, the more I became a fan. AJ and DJ let it be known that they aren’t your typical “diva-ish” models, who you will catch walking through Manhattan in stilettos, designer clothes and a face full of makeup. Both chuckled when Delcia talked about how their father questioned her for not owning one pair of heels. Most likely the only time you’ll see glam from them is at a photoshoot or fashion show. But you may see them working a shift in retail after you pass a billboard with one of their faces on it. Contrary to what spectators on their social media pages may think, the models have remained unsigned talent. What I loved and found so refreshing is that they spoke about it all with so much ease and confidence. Implicitly letting us all know that you don’t have to follow or fit in with the status quo to meet your goals. I was inspired when they told me how they are rarely directed on sets because they allow themselves to do their own thing; seldom asking for permission. By leaning into their boundless creativity, they are able to create magical moments that can’t be orchestrated by someone else, which draws creators to them. I think we all can copy these notes from this page in their notebook, “just do you.”

AJ and DJ breakdown how they approach each project by honoring their authenticity

My inner child is so giddy when I witness Alia and Delcia because she sees brown skin girls with kinky curls like her. I asked them what type of impact or legacy they both  want to leave in the fashion industry. Alia passionately began with telling how she has observed the industry from different mediums, such as TV, magazines and fashion shows, and rarely saw much Black representation. She described how often there was only one Black model in the photo spread or on the runway, which agitated her.

“If we have the talent and the ability to do it, how come it wasn’t represented and pushed out enough?”

AJ and DJ pride themselves on maintaining their natural aesthetic in their day-to-day life

Delcia agreed with her sister and added on by expressing that their main priority is to  inspire other people. They hope that their representation is a catalyst to others, especially those who look like them,  to pursue their dreams. Continuing to unfold their response to the question, they piggy backed on each other’s sentiment around their values of creativity and artistry. The sisters referred back to their mother, who instilled in them to prioritize making art more than making money. They revisited memories of when their mother would come up with ideas for new photography concepts and how she would excitedly involve her daughters in the execution. The models learned how to freely create and focus on driving their imaginations into reality. AJ proudly claims that her intention of entering modeling was never about fame and riches  because the core of it is to move people to dare to dream and manifest their visions. DJ then shared a gem with other creatives.

“Don’t think about the money, think about the creativity first. The money will come,” said Johnson.

As our conversation came to a close, Alia and Delcia talked about what liberation means to them as individuals  and as visual artists. They both stayed true and consistent to what they lifted up throughout the entire interview. AJ profoundly mentioned how her liberation is tied to her being able to continue to let her creative ideas come into fruition. DJ reiterated that making an impact and revolutionizing the fashion industry with more Black presence is the main focus and by doing so is why their liberation is necessary to them.

The twin models passionately express how the manifestation of their creative ideas are dependent on their liberation as women & artists

I look forward to seeing them both elevate and shift the culture with their brilliant ideas and creative takes. If you want to learn more about or where you can find AJ and DJ, you can follow them on Instagram and TikTok @djandaj.

The full interview is streaming now, you can access it HERE. Make sure to follow us on social media @blackbyrdinitiative

Photo Cred: Photographer/Creative Director, Kendell Bessent
Campaign for Hair by Susy