This first-ever exhibition on the Ebony Fashion Fair explores the 50-year history of the fashion spectacle that redefined the concepts of beauty, style, and empowerment for black Americans. Curators Joy Bivins and Virginia Heaven examine the history of the Fair and its creator, director, and producer, Eunice W. Johnson. Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair showcases nearly 100 objects including ensembles and accessories displayed on fully stylized mannequins to create the runway experience, as well as archival photographs, video and Johnson’s personal effects to tell the full story of these unparalleled events. At the center of this dynamic show are the stunning gowns, feathered coats, and statement designs seen in approximately 40 garments selected from a collection of the more than 7,000 Johnson amassed over five decades. Works by designers including Stephen Burrows, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, Bob Mackie, Missoni, Jean Patou, Nina Ricci, Sarli, Emanuel Ungaro and Vivienne Westwood illustrate themes of vision, innovation, and power as exemplified by Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit, flair for fashion, and philanthropic goals as co-founder of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines.
This glamorous exhibition is free with museum admission. Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair was developed by the Chicago History Museum in cooperation with Johnson Publishing Company, LLC, presented by the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.