I am pleased to join my friends and colleagues in honoring Black History Month. While everyday is a great moment in history, I must acknowledge our longstanding struggle for equality and justice against enormous odds. For every accomplishment there are several stories to tell and we are obligated to continue to write the narrative.
Today I am proud to salute Mrs. Eunice W. Johnson, creator of Ebony Fashion Fair, a highly celebrated fashion extravaganza that traveled to nearly 200 cities each year. This eagerly anticipated show featured haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion for a mostly African-American audience throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.
Ebony Fashion Fair started in 1958 when Mrs. Johnson responded to a friend’s request to raise money for a hospital in New Orleans. For the next fifty years Ebony Fashion Fair would become an iconic fashion show that also served as a major fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund, several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), sickle-cell research and hospitals. Mrs. Johnson exposed audiences to the latest designs from major fashion houses including: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, Valentino and Emanuel Ungaro.
Mrs. Johnson also used Ebony Fashion Fair as a platform to introduce emerging Black designers including: Lenora Levon, Quinton de’ Alexander, L’Amour, Patrick Kelly and Steven Burrows. African-American models Pat Cleveland, Judy Pace and Terri Springer were also featured in the show.
As a girl, I remember attending Ebony Fashion Fair at the Hilton New York Hotel (then the New York Hilton Hotel & Towers) and the Savannah Civic Center. I loved to see the models strut down the runway in their fabulous outfits. When I attended Audrey Smaltz was the commentator and she ran each show with great style and precision. For me, the highpoint of the evening was the wedding scene. Once I saw the bride walk down the runway in her trendy gown I was ecstatic.
Mrs. Johnson died on January 3, 2010 in Chicago at the age of 93 years old. She was among the first business owners to create and market a line of cosmetics for women of color. I still remember purchasing my first foundation from Fashion Fair Cosmetics. When I opened the pretty pink case, I knew that I was on my way to becoming an adult.
In 2013, the Chicago History Museum curated a special exhibition, Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, as a tribute to Mrs. Johnson’s life and accomplishments. Presently, the exhibition is on view at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester now through April 24, 2016. For further information, please access this link to the exhibition.
Brooklyn Legends is pleased to join the world in saluting Mrs. Eunice W. Johnson for breaking down barriers and creating opportunities in the fashion and cosmetics industry.
New York Times – January 9, 2010 article by Dennis Hevesi
Huffington Post – May 29, 2012 article by Julee Wilson, Senior Fashion Editor
Ebony.com – Additional information regarding Mrs. Johnson and Ebony Fashion Fair