The show will include priceless garments collected over the fashion show’s 50-year history. This world-renown show redefined the concept of American beauty. It was the first to showcase the fashion and beauty sense of African American women.
“The Ebony Fashion Fair legacy represents an important part of the rich African American cultural experience in America and I am extremely excited that the Chicago History Museum is bringing my mother’s vision to life,” said Linda Johnson Rice, chairman, Johnson Publishing Company. “My mother often spoke about the importance of African American women feeling beautiful.”
The 5,200 sq. ft. exhibition will feature 60 garments from the Ebony Fashion Fair collection; haute couture significant to late 20th century fashion including statement pieces donned by African American women who at the time were not deemed the standard of beauty. The exhibition will include works from the icons of fashion including Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior, Stephen Burrows, Yves Saint Laurent, Patrick Kelly, and Christian Lacroix among others.
“Our exhibition on the Ebony Fashion Fair show offers an unprecedented opportunity to showcase how fashion became a vehicle for African American empowerment, pride, and achievement,” states Gary T. Johnson, president, Chicago History Museum. “The Museum is proud to play a major role in telling this story and sharing with the public the opportunity to be inspired by Eunice Johnson’s vision and life, and to understand the legacy of the show.”
The exhibition will examine the show’s impact, significance, and the life force behind the show, Mrs. Johnson. As producer and director of the Ebony Fashion Fair show and secretary-treasurer of Johnson Publishing Company, she created theatrical presentations that brought high fashion and scholarship to local communities countrywide.
At the inception of the show, Mrs. Johnson traveled to Europe to buy clothes, but was turned away by designers who thought if their designs were worn by African American women White women would not value them. The exhibition will examine how, despite their reluctance, Mrs. Johnson became one of the first to buy at French fashion houses and as time progressed would travel abroad annually to purchase 200 complete ensembles to feature in Ebony Fashion Fair show’s presentation. Mrs. Johnson had an eye for the undiscovered, amassing a collection of future fashion greats before they were world-renowned including Valentino Garavani, Roberto Cavalli, and Pierre Cardin.
For some visitors, the exhibition will be an introduction to the fashion show, and its charitable heritage—the show donated more than $55 million dollars to African American organizations.
The Chicago History Museum boasts the second largest fashion collection in the world, making it the ideal venue to re-launch the embodiment of what Ebony Fashion Fair show represented. Exhibition curator Joy Bivins is working closely with The Johnson Publishing Company to collect the stories from past Ebony Fashion Fair shows in an attempt to recreate some of the same elements in the exhibition. The exhibition will prove the significant impact Johnson Publishing Company and Ebony Fashion Fair show has on American culture.