Eunice W. Johnson traveling Retrospective Exhibit

*Back in 1956, beloved Eunice W. Johnson, who died in 2010, founded and created the nonesuch Ebony Fashion Fair; the nation’s largest traveling fashion show which is presently on hiatus.

The spectacular runway show brought the collections of top designers to predominately African American audiences for 50 years, raising more than $55 million for charity.  Johnson is credited with including Black designers in her shows and affording them the same exposure she gave to other top American and European designers.

In honor of Black History Month Macy’s partnered with Ebony magazine to honor the fashion maven and her famous Ebony Fashion Fair at a reception held on the 8th floor of Macy’s Herald Square on Thursday, January 27, 2011 that brought fashionistas out in droves to pay respect to the First Lady of Johnson Publications Company (JPC) that included Ebony and Jet magazines and Fashion Fair Cosmetics.

Macy’s CEO and chairman Terry Lundgren greeted over 100 fashion plates who attended the special salute to the woman who transported Black fashion to the masses.  Mr. Lundgren spoke about Macy’s commitment to this exhibition and called everyone’s attention to Macy’s windows featuring the vintage couture collection from Mrs. Johnson’s fashion archive.  The window displays have been a big hit with Macy’s customers and window shoppers.

“It is an honor for Macy’s to stage a celebration of Eunice Johnson’s contributions to fashion, beauty and American history,” said Martine Reardon, executive vice president of marketing, Macy’s.  “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to partner with one of America’s most iconic and revered lifestyle authorities.  Through the Ebony Fashion Fair shows, Mrs. Johnson filled a void in fashion by producing runway presentations that brought a new sense of style, drama and diversity to the industry, and we’re excited to present a glimpse of these historical shows to our customers.”

Macy's CEO & Chairman Terry Lundgren, Desiree Rogers, Linda Johnson Rice

JPC’s chairman Linda Johnson Rice opened up her mother’s cherished fashion vault and contributed haute couture designs from Johnson’s private collection that included iconic images, exceptional couture designs and other memorabilia for the Eunice Johnson Retrospective Exhibit.

The celebration of Johnson’s unique legacy was on display at Macy’s thru February 1 and the beauty, fashion and lifestyles tribute to the life and style of the fashion doyenne is now touring 10 Macy’s locations across the country throughout Black History Month.

Ebony Fashion Fair productions often lasted several hours and incorporated a live band and entertaining performances by the models, including two men and a full-figured woman.  The show toured for nearly 10 months with some 200 shows in the United States and the Caribbean.

“You would be in a different city every day,” says Port Arthur native Rebecca Briscoe, who walked the runway in 2003.  “Even supermodels don’t work that hard, but it was a once in a lifetime experience to be an African-American model in an all African-American production. You felt you were part of a legacy.”

The month-long exhibit features designs by some of the World’s most renowned and critically-acclaimed designers, including Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood, Carolina Herrera, Stephen Burrows and b michael to name a few.

“It is a sign of my mother’s determination, confidence, and creativity that more than 50 years after launching the renowned Ebony Fashion Fair show, her timeless sense of style endures as a guidepost for today’s fashion loving women,” said Rice.  “We are honored that Macy’s, a 30 year retail partner of Fashion Fair Cosmetics, selected Eunice Johnson as the anchor for these exciting exhibits.”

Joining Rice at the reception was two members of JPC’s senior management team, Desirée Rogers, chief executive officer, JPC, and Amy DuBois Barnett, Ebony’s new editor-in-chief, along with Fashion Fair Cosmetics makeup artists who encouraged guests to sample the limited edition For the Love of Color lipstick collection that was inspired by Mrs. Johnson’s passion for vibrant hues.

(Photos by Margot Jordan and Ronnie Wright)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.