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Art Thu Aug 01 2013

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair at the Chicago History Museum

Exhibit curator Joy Bivins.

Eunice Johnson was a fashionista before the word was invented; she was a fashion visionary just as her husband, John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony and Jet magazines, was a publishing visionary. She saw fashion as beauty that should not be confined to the elite and made it her personal mission to bring it to the African-American community. She did this through her direction of the Ebony Fashion Fair, known as "The World's Largest Traveling Fashion Show."

The exhibit at the Chicago History Museum tells the story of Eunice Johnson's persistence in gaining access to the fashions she wanted to show and describes how she brought high fashion events to African-American audiences all over the US. At a time when blacks were not visible in American business or society, she traveled to London, Paris and Milan and bought fashion directly from the runways of famous designers, such as Yves St. Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, and others. She bought designs for her own wardrobe as well as for the fashion shows and later, she was able to add the work of black stylists and designers such as Patrick Kelly, Henry Jackson, Rufus Barkley and Stephen Burrows.

To Mrs. Johnson, fashion was important in several ways: It encouraged African-American women to take pride and joy in their appearance; it provided employment and visibility to black models in the 60s and 70s, when black models were otherwise invisible; and it showcased the work of African-American fashion designers and brought the work of European designers to a new American audience.


The exhibit itself is dramatic and glamorous with vibrant colors in backdrops and signage. Curator Joy Bivins has organized almost 70 costumes into three sections: Vision (Johnson's role as a fashion visionary), Innovation (the impact and effect of Johnson Publishing Company), and Power (glamorous ensembles).

Chicago has another art and fashion exhibit that is getting more publicity than Inspiring Beauty. The Art Institute of Chicago is showing a blockbuster exhibit, Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity that is well worth seeing; however, the Ebony Fashion Fair is far more than gorgeous fashion artfully displayed.


See Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., now through January 5, 2014. For museum and exhibit hours, admission prices and other information, visit the website or call 312-642-4600.

Photos: Chicago History Museum.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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