CHICAGO- The Chicago History Museum presents Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair a story of vision, innovation and power told through the history of Eunice Johnson, Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company, and the prism of iconic fashion from Yves Saint-Laurent, Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, and Patrick Kelly among others. This 7,000-square-foot exhibition, which is one of the largest special exhibitions in the museum’s 157-year history, opens March 16, 2013 and runs through January 5, 2014.
“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 Ebony Fashion Fair began in 1958, and over the next 50 years the traveling fashion show blossomed into an American institution that raised millions for charity and helped Johnson Publishing Company reach its audience. Visitors will be introduced to the excitement of the Ebony Fashion Fair by entering the exhibition on a red carpet where three ensembles preview the more than 60 garments within the exhibition.
The exhibition introduces visitors to Eunice Walker Johnson, Ebony Fashion Fair’s longtime producer and director. “My mother often spoke about the importance of African American women feeling beautiful,” said Linda Johnson Rice, chairman, Johnson Publishing Company. “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.”
Under Eunice Johnson, who became producer and director in 1963, the traveling show achieved new heights as she overcame racial prejudice to bring the pinnacle of European fashion to communities that were eager to see new aspirational images of black America—the hallmark of Ebony and Jet magazines.
“We hope visitors will have the impression of attending an exclusive event that was put together just for them where they will be wowed by fantastic garments and a powerful American story,” said exhibition curator Joy Bivins. “We want them to feel what it was like to attend this spectacular event, and learn about Chicago, American and fashion history in the process.”
The exhibition is presented in three sections modeling the traveling show’s format. The first section of the exhibition, Vision, explores Eunice Johnson’s role as the creative force behind the Ebony Fashion Fair and features more than 30 costumes including some of the most revered names in 20th century fashion such as Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Courreges, Givenchy, Christian LaCroix and Paco Rabanne. Twelve ensembles answer the question of what power, affluence and influence look like. Another grouping of eight costumes reflects the use of color as a means to express beauty and risk-taking. The section concludes with six garments that celebrate the female body, accentuating curves and showcasing skin.
The second section of the exhibition, Innovation, looks at boldness and experimentation of the Johnson Publishing Company story. That story is explored through media installations, supporting objects, and two costume groupings. One grouping includes seven costumes that highlight bold stylization, dynamic shapes and innovative technique. The other grouping features three ensembles that represent Ebony Fashion Fair’s response to the desires and influence of youthful audiences with looks by Balizza, Emilio Pucci, and Angelo Marani.
The exhibition saves it’s most elaborate, luxurious and dramatic ensembles for the finale. The third section, Power, features 19 garments that reflect the glamour and showmanship that created the dynamic visual experience that audience members came to expect using pieces by Valentino, Bob Mackie, Bill Blass, Lagerfeld, Eric Gaskins, McQueen, Valentino, Guy LaRoche, Halston and Dior.
Virginia Heaven, assistant professor of Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago and the exhibition’s consulting costume curator, aided the ensemble selection process, pouring over the more than 3,500 remaining pieces in Johnson Publishing Company’s Ebony Fair Fashion archive.
“As we selected ensembles our challenge was not what to include, but what to leave out when presented with a collection that resembled a pirate’s booty of extraordinary fashion significance,” said Ms. Heaven. “This exhibition clearly reveals that Eunice Johnson had a flair for the glamorous, the luxurious and the dramatic.”
About The Chicago History Museum
The Chicago History Museum, a major museum and research center for Chicago and American history, is located at 1601 N. Clark Street.
- The Museum can be reached by CTA buses 22, 36, 72, 73, 151, and 156.
- Parking is conveniently located one block north of the Museum at Clark and LaSalle Streets (enter on Stockton Drive).
- Admission to the Museum is $14 adults with audio tour, $12 seniors/students with audio tour, free for children 12 years and younger.
Please call 312-642-4600 or visit us at www.chicagohistory.org. The Chicago History Museum is affiliated with the Chicago Historical Society and gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the citizens of Chicago.