Eunice Johnson
Eunice Johnson at work in 1970 (Courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC.)

Step back in time 50 years ago to see the beginning of African-Americans in high fashion in top designers through the lens of Ebony Fashion Fair.

The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum presents the glorious story of a traveling fashion show that broke color barriers in its newest exhibition “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair.”

Yves Saint Laurent (France), “Picasso” evening dress, haute couture, fall/winter 1979-80. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

“The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to see how the Ebony Fashion Fair was an important part of the black experience for 50 years,” said Camille Ann Brewer, curator of contemporary art at the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum. “The fair was an important annual cultural event and fundraiser in the Washington, DC area, with Washington being one of the three largest venues in the U.S.”

Ebony Fashion Fair was the first fashion show to introduce black models to the runway.

The exhibition includes nearly 100 objects, including ensembles, accessories and videos, to help recreate the Fashion Fair experience.

Founded by Eunice Walker Johnson, wife of John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazine, founded the Fashion Fair in 1958.

Her exquisite personal style and influence in the world of fashion are explored through archival images.

Over the next 50 years, the traveling show blossomed into an American institution that raised millions for charity and helped Johnson Publishing Company reach its audience.

Fashion Fair, originally the name of a section in Ebony magazine, became a fashion show under Mrs. Johnson’s direction.

She gained access to the highest echelons of fashion design, which at the time excluded African-Americans, and she shared that access with her audience.

Givenchy, evening ensemble, haute couture. Spring/ Summer 1974. (Sarafina Wright/The Washington Informer)

Fashion Fair shows were the first fashion productions to feature live music, including stunning gowns, feathered coats and statement designs by Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Givenchy, Azzedine Alaia, Naeem Khan and more.

Organized by the Chicago History Museum in cooperation with Johnson Publishing Company, “Inspiring Beauty” is the first-ever exhibition about the show. It will be on view through July 24.

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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