Ebony Fashion Fair: Living the Fantasy
PERHAPS the best example of the continuing impact of Johnson Publishing Company on the fashion world is the Ebony Fashion Fair, which is the largest, most exciting and most colorful traveling fashion extravaganza in the world. For more than three decades, the show has been taking its million-dollar collection of designer fashions to predominantly Black audiences in hundreds of cities around the world.
In the process, Fashion Fair helped redefine Black beauty and pave the way for supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Iman and Beverly Johnson.
Over the years, the show has made quite an impact on the fashion world in general, demonstrating that bright and brilliant colors look great on bronzeskinned models, and that Black women, regardless of income and background, have an innate sense of style and beauty. In recent years, fashion magazines and designers themselves apparently have begun to look favorably on brown-skinned and otherwise ethnic-looking runway and print models, and Ebony Fashion Fair takes credit for opening the doors and showcasing beautiful Black women for decades.
The show is coordinated by EBONY magazine and directed by Eunice W. Johnson, wife of CEO and publisher John H. Johnson. Sponsored locally by notable charities such as the Urban League, United Negro College Fund, NAACP, YWCA, National Council of Negro Women, and the various Black sororities and fraternities, the show has raised more than $38 million for worthy causes. However, the show is not a money-making venture for Johnson Publishing Co., though a small portion is deducted from each ticket sold for subscriptions to the JPC magazine designated by the ticket-buyer.
During this the 35th season, the show will visit 185 cities across the U.S., five of which have scheduled two shows due to demand for tickets. Also included on the current itinerary are shows in Canada, St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Nassau in the Bahamas. On alternating years, the show travels to other Caribbean islands. More than 325,000 people attended the show during the 1991-92 season.
Originally presented in a few select cities, Ebony Fashion Fair initially was planned for the purpose of featuring lovely Black models in fabulous creations from world-famous fashion designers. The show's elegance caught the interest of the fashion-conscious public and its highly favorable reception prompted additional sponsor requests, which necessitated expansion of the show's tour to two seasons, fall/ winter and winter/spring.
The idea for the Ebony Fashion Fair show was conceived in 1956 when Jessie C. Dent, the wife ofthen-president of Dillard University, asked Johnson Publishing Co. to sponsor a fundraiser for the Women's Auxiliary of Flint-Goodrich Hospital in New Orleans. The first fashion show was such a success that the publisher, in consultation with his wife, decided to take it on a cross-country tour to benefit other worthy charities. During this era, most fashion shows in the Black community were organized for charity and presented in church halls, school gymnasiums and other multi-purpose neighborhood facilities. …