Chicago History Museum Showcases 50 Years of Ebony Fashion

68 unique pieces on display through end of year

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Ebony Fashion Fair exposed black American audiences to some of the most cutting edge couture fashions in the world.

But the reason the shows were able to attract such quality was because of Eunice W. Johnson, the wife of John Johnson, who was the head of Johnson Publishing Company.

Mr. Johnson regularly traveled to Europe and purchased couture from the top fashion houses in Europe.

"On the runways, what you saw was her vision of what was fashionable and what was stylish," curator Joy Bivins said. "In the late 1950s, when these black people showed up in Europe to purchase these garments, it wasn't always an easy thing to get their foot in the door. They didn't have the history, they didn't know who we were, what Ebony was."

They amassed thousands of ensembles, some of which will be on display at the Chicago History Museum's newest exhibition "Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair."

More than 68 garments will be on display, including works by designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent.

Mrs. Johnson not only featured the top couture designers, she also made it a point to showcase black American designers as well.

"This was really a unique experience where black women were exposed to the best of the best. We really wanted to establish that this was Mrs. Johnson's vision come to life," Bivins said.

The exhibit opens on March 16 and will be at the museum through the first week of January 2014.

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