Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair
The exhibition explores the 50-year history of the Ebony Fashion Fair (1958–2009), an unparalleled charity fashion show event that redefined the concepts of beauty, style, and empowerment for African Americans. A spectacle of glamour and performance, the traveling fashion show grew out of the pages of Ebony magazine (first published in 1945). Similar to the publication, the fashion event provided transformative images of African Americans as beautiful and successful. Far more than a display of fabulous clothes, the show offered black women a vision of what they could wear and, ultimately, who they could be. Featuring 40 stunning ensembles (gowns, coats, suits), the exhibition includes works by designers such as Stephen Burrows, Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Patrick Kelly, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, Bob Mackie, Alexander McQueen, b. Michael, Missoni, Jean Patou, and Vivienne Westwood.
Eunice Walker Johnson (April 4, 1916 – January 3, 2010) was the wife of publisher John H. Johnson and an executive at Johnson Publishing Company. Johnson was best known as the founder and director of the Ebony Fashion Fair, which was started in the 1950s as a hospital fundraiser and became an annual fashion tour that highlighted fashion for African-American women that ran until a year before her death.
The fashion tour was a pioneer in using African-American models on the runway and helped highlight the works of African-American designers. Building on her difficulties in finding cosmetics suited to the skin tones of her models, Johnson created Fashion Fair Cosmetics in 1973 as a line of makeup that would be sold in leading department stores.
The Ebony Fashion Fair was launched in 1958 by the Johnson Publishing company and repeated annually for five decades under Eunice Walker Johnson; the director and producer of the show. The Ebony Fashion Fair (also known as the Ebony Travelling Fashion Fair), traveled to 30 cities over its 51 year run providing exclusive fashion to “hundreds of thousands attendees across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean” . The show was held in 187 venues with audiences as large as 5,000 attendees. The Ebony Fashion Fair not only helped to boost the Johnson Publishing Company’s brand identity, it also raised $55 million in funds for African American Charities. The show featured male and female models of mostly African-American descent modeling fashions from top European designers such as: Yves St Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, and Emanuel Ungaro.
The exhibit features 40 stunning ensembles, with works by designers such as Stephen Burrows, Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Patrick Kelly, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, Bob Mackie, Alexander McQueen, b. Michael, Missoni, Jean Patou, and Vivienne Westwood.
See more from the exhibit here.
THE RUNWAY SHOW
In partnership with North Carolina design schools, the NCMA hosted a design competition called PROJECT NCMA. Thirteen students were chosen to design a piece inspired by one of the 40 dresses in the exhibit. The show was hosted and emceed by the legendary Audrey Smaltz the voice of the Ebony Fashion Fair for seven years.
Designers were judged by four fashion industry professionals, Sarah Yarborough and Victor Lytvineko of Raleigh Denim, Zang Toi , who also showed his current collection available at Saks Fifth Avenue and Receive $275 OFF* your purchase of $1000+. Use code BUYMORE. Valid 11/8 – 11/9. Online Only. Shop Now!Faye Clerk Mosley founder of FLAIR & former Ebony Fashion Fair Model (seen below), and Justin LeBlanc designer, assistant professor and Finalist on Season 12 of Project Runway.
FORMER FASHION FAIR MODELS