Haute Couture: Fashion Fair and the Empowerment of the Black Community | National Humanities Center

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Haute Couture: Fashion Fair and the Empowerment of the Black Community

July 17, 2020

Friday, Olympia (Social Media and Strategic Marketing Coordinator, National Humanities Center)

Fashion Design; Museums; African American Art; African Americans; North Carolina Museum of Art

I recall flipping through Ebony magazine as a child in the 80s and often seeing pictures of Fashion Fair models. It didn’t dawn on me then how the power of fashion was being used to inspire an entire community. After seeing “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair” at the North Carolina Museum of Art, it became clear to me. I developed a deeper sense of the importance of John and Eunice Johnson’s creation.

The Johnsons started Fashion Fair in 1958. This quote by Mr. Johnson, which was a part of the exhibit, placed Fashion Fair into greater context for me:

“Ebony was founded to testify to the possibilities of a new and different world. In a world of despair, we wanted to give hope. In a world of negative Black images, we wanted to provide positive Black images. In a world that said Blacks could do few things, we wanted to say they could do everything.” –John H. Johnson, from his autobiography, Succeeding Against the Odds, 1989

Fashion Fair was more than models strutting the runway in expensive designer clothing. It was an empowering and uplifting cultural force and antithetical to the negative portrayal of Blacks at the time. Fashion Fair debunked commonly held beliefs about Blacks. It showed them as beautiful, successful, glamorous, classy, and dignified. Ebony Fashion Fair ended in 2009. Yet, it cemented its place in history.


Art / Fashion Design / Museums / African American Art / African Americans / North Carolina Museum of Art /

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