Events,  Style Icons

Style Icons: Celebrating Eunice Johnson & 50 Years Of The Ebony Fashion Fair

Inspiring Beauty: 50 years of the Ebony Fashion Fair is a touring retrospective in the US and currently on exhibit in Atlanta at MODA, the Museum of Design Atlanta.  The Ebony Fashion Fair, full of Broadway theatrics and pure fabulousness,  wasn’t just a fashion show it was a revolution that advanced the image of African American beauty in fashion everywhere.

EFF Pat Cleveland in Valentino pink feathersEbony Fashion Fair model Pat Cleveland in Valentino pink feathered gown


EJ and PCleveland 1972Eunice Johnson with model Pat Cleveland in Valentino

All Photos Courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC

EFF - Bob Mackie wedding close-up  Bob Mackie wedding gown in Ebony Fashion Fair Runway Show in 2001.

Eunice Johnson was a fashion pioneer who became a style icon as founder and director of Ebony Fashion Fair, the world largest traveling fashion show.   In her own unique way Eunice Johnson broke the color barrier in high fashion.  She showed the world their was no limit to African American beauty while raising money for important causes  that supported our community through partnerships with local organizations.
Eunice Johnson was intially shunned at European haute couture fashion houses because of their ambivalence about seeing black women wear their garments.  Over time Eunice established her reputation as a force in major couture fashion houses by traveling and yielding significant cash buying as many as 200 ensembles a year.  She also introduced European designers like Emillio Pucci, YSL and others to the powerful presence and showmanship of African American models.
Fashion Fair began as the style section of Ebony magazine featuring African American models.  The first Ebony Fashion Fair runway show began as a benefit fundraiser for a New Orleans Hospital in 1958.  The show was so successful it expanded into a touring fashion show.  Through the years the Ebony Fashion Fair runway show grew to include a live band, custom designed sets, hundreds of thousands dollars of the most avante garde designer clothing and toured 170 cites a year in the US, Canada and the Caribbean.

Ebony Fashion Fair Models w Eunice Johnson Eunice Johnson with models of the Ebony Fashion Fair a spectacle of glamour and broadway theatrics

Introducing Ebony Fashion Fair Ebony coverEunice Johnson was my kind of woman and a genius at raising money with a flair like no other.

Here are a few things to know about Eunice Johnson & Ebony Fashion Fair:

Before the movie Mahoghany, Before AA models took over the runways in Paris, Milan and New York the fashion show of shows was the Ebony Fashion Fair.

  • Raised $55 million for African American charities through ticket sales over the course of the  Ebony Fashion Fair Show.
  • Eunice Johnson became one of the top American purchaser of couture by acquiring 8,000 ensembles for the Ebony Fashion Fair Shows.
  • Eunice Johnson  was the 1st to promote young black designers like Stephen Burrows, Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, and B Michael often elevating their exposure and career by association.   Designer B. Michael was designing hats for the TV show Dynasty when Eunice Johnson called, and it changed his life.
  • She discovered model Pat Cleveland and gave her a start as an Ebony Fashion Fair model at age 14.
  • Eunice Johnson came up with the name Ebony for the magazine.
  • She created the Fashion Fair cosmetics line in 1973 when she realized her models were having problems finding makeup to match their skin tones.
  • Eunice Walker Johnson was born April 4, 1916 in Selma, Alabama.  Her father, Dr. Nathaniel Walker, practiced medicine in Selma and Her mother, Ethel McAlpine Walker, was principal of the high school and taught art and education at Selma University.
  • Married John Johnson in 1941.  A year later they started Ebony magazine and created the Johnson Publishing company.
  • Eunice’s husband, John Johnson became the first African-American to make the Forbes 400, Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

Eunice Johnson 1972Eunice Johnson was intially shunned at European haute couture fashion houses who were ambivalent about seeing black women wear their garments.  But her perserverance paid off.   Her visionary efforts at Ebony Fashion Fair helped raise over $55 million for charitiitable causes.

Eunice Johnson w EFF model in ValentinoEunice Johnson with model in Valentino ensemble.

vixen_fashion-fair 1977 B&W


Eunice Johnson & YSLEunice Johnson with YSL in 1972.  She wanted to prove there was no barrier to our beauty and she did masterfully.

EFF Greyhound posterThe models even made the Greyhound bus fashionable.

 EFF 2008 NY Astoria

EFF at MODAInspiring Beauty: 50 Years Ebony Fashion Fair Exibition at MODA

Eunice Johnson, who was from a socially prominent family in Selma, loved fashion and style, and she used it for black self-empowerment.


John & Eunice Johnson founders of EFF & Johnson PublishingJohn & Eunice Johnson founders of Ebony Fashion Fair & Johnson Publishing Company.

All Photos Courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC

When I was a little girl attending the  Ebony Fashion Fair shows introduced me to a world of fashion fantasy and transported me around the globe wrapped in images of brocade, feathers, fur, fine fabrics and rhinestones.  The  Ebony Fashion Fair more than any other event in my young life gave me the privilege of dreaming of a career in fashion far beyond my front door.

I thank Mrs. Johnson for opening the eyes, and doors for so many people of color by showing us a world of fashion we had never known.

Inspiring Beauty Exhibition

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair is touring the US and currently on exhibit in Atlanta at MODA, the Museum of Design Atlanta.  The tour began in Chicago at the Chicago History Museum and the exhibition at Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) ends in January.

Here is the Tour Schedule:

Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
January 28, 2015 – May 3, 2015

Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, MN
May 22, 2015 – August 16, 2015

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American HIstory, Detroit, MI
September 18, 2015 – January 3, 2016

Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, NY
January 30, 2016 – April 24, 2016

Bellevue Arts Museum, WA
May 20, 2016 – August 12, 2016

The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Washington, DC
February 10, 2017 – June 4, 2017


Don’t miss the opportunity to see this part of fashion history.

Until next time …

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