The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) is currently hosting their first fashion exhibit with “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair.”
Organized by the Chicago History Museum, the exhibition celebrates 50 years of the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show that took place from 1958-2009 and featured high fashion pieces from designers such as Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and more.
Created by Eunice Johnson, the Ebony Fashion Fair ended its 51-year run in 2009 due to Johnson’s death. The fair even inspired a line of cosmetics, Fashion Fair Cosmetics, created by Johnson and her husband in 1973.
Created at a time when racial tensions were high, the Ebony Fashion Fair was about more than just fashion and beauty — it was about empowering African-American women, featuring mainly African-American models.
“At the time that it was first presented… racial discrimination affected every aspect of life for African-Americans in the United States and that black fashion designers and fashion models were basically non-existent,” Linda Dougherty, Chief Curator at the NCMA, said. “With this fashion show, Eunice Johnson presented high fashion to the African-American community.”
It also showed the world that all women were beautiful.
“It made designers see that (women of color) could also be beautiful and wear couture designs,” Kimberly Lane, a former Ebony Fashion Fair model, said. “The Ebony Fashion Fair inspired a lot of little girls to do great things.”
Not only did it inspire young girls, it brought people together with all types of people attending the show.
“Ebony Fashion Fair gave me a feeling of unity, even though it was mostly African-American models, " Lane said. "It really means unity.”
As the show brought people together, the exhibit brings together 50 years of fashion trends.
“It gives you this incredible time capsule of 50 years of fashion,” Dougherty said. “You can see how fashion has evolved and changed over those five decades.”
In addition to the garments on display, new garments are being created over the course of the exhibition by two designers-in-residence, Katherine Diuguid and Precious Lovell. The two designers showcase couture techniques, and through those demonstrations will be creating complete garments.
Diuguid drew her inspiration from Ann Lowe. Lowe was an African-American designer known for designing Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, but is not featured in the exhibit.
“Even though she’s not part of the exhibition, I thought that she fits really well into the spirit of Ebony Fashion Fair because she is part of African-American fashion history,” Diuguid said.
Diuguid’s design and the other couture designs of “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair” are on display at the North Carolina Museum of Art until Jan. 21.
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