No fashion series would be complete without a sculpture inspired by Eunice Johnson and Ebony Fashion Fair. The contributions that Eunice made to the world of fashion, and African American women, are legendary. A woman of vision, Eunice brought high fashion to communities across the nation while raising millions of dollars for various charities. Her story inspired me to create Esther. The beauty and stance of this 26” sculpture evokes strength and self-assuredness, traits which reflect Eunice’s unique spirit. This sculpture is dedicated to the memory of Eunice Johnson. A truly remarkable woman whose legacy lives on.
I have never been to an Ebony Fashion Fair, so having the opportunity to attend the Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of EBONY Fashion Fair exhibit at The George Washington University Textile Museum was the next best thing. Last year, I spent hundreds of hours researching Eunice Johnson and Ebony Fashion Fair for my sculpture “Esther”. Reading about Ebony Fashion Fair is one thing, but to see these beautiful creations by some of the top fashion designers in the world in person was nothing short of breathtaking! Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Patou, Alexander McQueen, and the list goes on. Many of the haute couture pieces featured were one of a kind designs purchased by Mrs. Johnson for Ebony Fashion Fair. For over fifty years Ebony Fashion Fair was a traveling fashion extravaganza that toured the country bringing high end fashion to African American women everywhere. Fashion Fair was not about selling clothes, but rather was about exposing African American audiences to the world of high fashion. It was intentionally replete with images of beautiful successful, well-heeled African American women and served to elevate in the minds of its viewers what was possible. These theatrical shows were considered the event of the year in communities throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.
The first part of the evening event included a guided tour of the collection by the curator of the collection, Ms. Camille Brewer. Ms. Brewer did an outstanding job of telling the story of Ebony Fashion’s beginnings and provided much antidotal information about Mrs. Johnson and Johnson Publishing Company.
The second part of the evening was even more interesting as it featured a lecture by Shayla Simpson, Ebony Model and Fashion Fair commentator. Ms. Simpson gave poignant insight into the world of fashion and the pivotal part that Ebony played. Starting initially as a model, then commentator, Ms. Simpson eventually became a buyer under Mrs. Johnson’s tutelage. Listening to Ms. Simpson speak was utterly fascinating. She eloquently weaved a story that pulled you in and kept you there! She talked about her buying trips to Paris with Mrs. Johnson. Initially, being a rookie, her job was to cover the lesser known shows and report back to Mrs. Johnson what she should buy. After approximately two years of making recommendations and Mrs. Johnson never purchasing a thing she picked out, she was utterly bewildered. Finally, she asked about it and was told that this was a part of her being groomed for the big shows. Subsequently, she went on to attend all the major shows in Paris, Milan, London, and New York and was a major buyer for Ebony Fashion Fair.
This experience provided me with an even greater appreciation of not only Ebony Fashion Fair, but of the Fashion Industry as a whole.
I have never met Eunice Johnson, but honestly wish I could have. Eunice was, bar none one of the most influential women of the 21 century. She was an entrepreneurial visionary whose drive and ambition changed the fashion industry for African American women everywhere. Her contributions are legendary. Volumes have been written about how she brought high fashion to communities across the nation by launching Ebony Fashion Fair, while simultaneously raising millions of dollars for various charities. This is in addition to creating Fashion Fair make up, and founding Ebony and Jet magazine. Eunice used fashion to break down cultural barriers and raise expectations of what was possible. Everything she did, she did with world class style, glamour and panache.
Aside from her huge contribution to the world of fashion, what interests me most about Eunice, is Eunice herself. I do not have to have known her to know that she was blessed with the unique ability to motivate, empower and impart a sense of hopefulness in others. She must have been hugely optimistic, believing in herself and others and in her sense of mission. She was able to build relationships with unlikely partners and find creative ways in which to accomplish her goals. She was a brilliant woman who viewed obstacles as opportunities. One antidotal story tells of her collecting press releases from around the country referencing specific designers in the Ebony Fashion Fair. She used this information to help persuade these designers of the benefit that could be had by partnering with her.
It is a combination of all these traits that inspired me to create Esther. It is my hope that the beauty and stance of this piece evoke a feeling of the strength and self-assurance, traits which Eunice possessed in abundance. This sculpture is dedicated to the memory of Eunice Johnson. A truly remarkable woman, whose legacy lives on.