Fashion critic André Leon Talley reminisces on his connection with Eunice Johnson, founder of the Ebony Fashion Fair.
Eunice Johnson at work, 1970, Photo courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC
From Eunice Johnson's own wardrobe: Pauline Trigère, Day Ensemble, ready-to-wear, circa spring/summer 1972, linen; Photograph by John Alderson, © 2013 Chicago Historical Society
Eunice Johnson was a tour de force. She crashed the glass ceiling, She was the first African American to embrace the quality of high fashion through her support of European haute couture and American fashion at a time when multicultural diversity didn't exist in fashion.
She not only made twice-annual trips to Europe to acquire iconic examples of designs of great houses as well as little-known ones; she also supported American designers through the Ebony Fashion Fair.
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair opens October 28 at the NCMA. Tickets are on sale now.
With the Fashion Fair's yearly tours, Mrs. Johnson brought her sense of style to cities throughout the USA. She gave black communities the advantage to see, not only in photographs Ebony, but through real-life presentations for both men and women, the work of giants such as Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Christian Dior, and Fendi, as well as American masters Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, and Scott Barrie.
She was a woman of great style and authority. Her financial support enabled the late Diana Vreeland to include Josephine Baker's theatrical wardrobe in her 1975 Costume Institute show, American Women of Style, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I knew Mrs. Johnson well and worked with her for one year, accompanying her on trips to Europe and New York. It was a unique moment to capture how her visionary belief in aspirational fashion could enhance the black communities and raise funds for local charities. It's an honor to celebrate this exhibition.