Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bravely Inspiring Beauty

"Mrs. Johnson broke all the barriers. What a brave, brave woman." - Pat Cleveland

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair is magnificent and Atlanta is fortunate to be the first city on its three year national tour. Originating at the Chicago History Museum, our own Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) is now inviting visitors to walk the runway and witness fashion that transformed a countless many.

Beyond featuring 40 of the more than 60 ensembles of Inspiring Beauty, the exhibition shares the story of Eunice Johnson, creator of Ebony Fashion Fair and wife of the publishing mogul John H. Johnson. His publishing legacy includes EBONY and JET magazines, and many others.


Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

Ebony Fashion Fair was conceived in the mid 1950s and started touring the United States in 1958. The exhibition features ensemble from as early as 1964—before I was born!

You may be asking why I'm saying "ensemble" instead of dress or gown. Because Ebony Fashion Fair included men's fashion, a few of which are also on display. 

Sadly, 2009 was the final Ebony Fashion Fair. Mrs. Johnson passed away in January of 2010, but her legacy is poised to live forever.


Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

When you're exploring, pay attention to the details...and there are a LOT of details! One that I particularly like is the breastplate featured in the above pictured ensemble.

One significant detail that everyone should know is that Mrs. Johnson made Ebony Fashion Fair more than a fashion show. It was also a major fundraiser. The show raised money for national African-American charities, such as the United Negro College Fund and sickle-cell anemia research, as well as local charities wherever the show happened to be taking place.

Over the years Ebony Fashion Fair raised $55 million for charities!


Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

Each of the Ebony Fashion Fair traveled the country and each had a theme. Among those that you'll enjoy at MODA are selections from "Fashion Scandal" and "Fashion Extravaganza", and each show closed with a wedding dress, yet something that always surprised. 



Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

Linda Johnson Rice, Chair of Johnson Publishing Company and daughter of John and Eunice Johnson, was on hand for the Inspiring Beauty Preview Party, as was fashion designer b michael who traveled from New York City specifically for the show. b michael designed the gown behind him in the above photo. Striking, isn't it?!

The Preview Party was well attended and included persons who had attended Ebony Fashion Fair in years past, as well as some of the models who wore some of the on-display ensembles down the runway. I had the pleasure of meeting the model who wore a dress from the "Fashion Scandal" show...that was a real treat!


Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

Ebony Fashion Fair inspired change on so many levels. It even changed the face of fashion shows themselves. The models shocked audiences with their moves and sometimes the transparent and/or revealing dresses. But audiences came to expect what now is looked forward to. 

Huffington Post said it brilliantly, I think..."The Fashion Fair models were a work of art themselves. They had 'body attitude.' They didn't walk the runway, they worked it." The exhibition features video from shows that proves that observation, without question.


Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

There are so many magnificent garments, for so many reasons, but the one above was my immediate favorite. Surprisingly, visitor favorites are quite varied...that in itself was a pleasant surprise. 

Even if you're not a fashonista or at all familiar with the fashion world, there are a few designer names you'll recognize. Among the dozens of designers represented in the exhibition are household names such as Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint-Laurent, Patrick KellyEmanuel Ungaro, Todd Oldham and Bob Mackie, to name a few.



Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

Ebony Fashion Fair owned more than 7,000 ensembles at one time...can you imagine the size of THAT closet?! For Inspiring Beauty, from the several thousand that remained part of the collection, several hundred were selected for consideration for the national tour. 

Factors that contributed to being selected were feasibility for restoration, ability to stand up to multi-site cross-country transport (some of the selected ensembles will be shown at every other stop, to mitigate excessive wear), and the garment's ability to travel.



Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

When Ebony Fashion Fair invited plus-size models to the runway, the Fair attendees applauded the move with great fervor. Once again, Ebony Fashion Fair was inspiring.

Eunice Johnson opened doors for African-American models, designers, event producers...she opened many doors for many people, not to mention the opportunities that her philanthropy created. I'm glad to see her life's work celebrated.


Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

One of the not-glaringly-obvious and fascinating aspects of this exhibition is that each of the mannequins was designed specifically for the ensemble it features. For instance, Mrs. Johnson wanted to showcase that dark complexions are in fact radiant in bright colors. She was highly inspirational in the African-American community declaring with pride that "Black is Beautiful". 


Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, Museum of Design Atlanta

The Museum of Design Atlanta's Gallery 1 features a red carpet, inviting visitors to explore and experience an icon of American history...and to have some fun while doing so.

The corridor gallery features ads throughout the five decades for Ebony Fashion Fair, some of them featuring ensembles in the exhibition. And there are stations where visitors who attended Ebony Fashion Fair can record and share their experiences.

This is your chance to walk the runway and share in the celebration of a woman, an advent, a movement that was so much more than a fashion show. Ebony Fashion Fair changed the world.

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair is on display at MODA through Sunday, January 4, 2015. Now go...go walk that runway!

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