Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair

“…An unprecedented opportunity to show how fashion became a vehicle for African American empowerment, pride, and achievement.”

– Gary T. Johnson, President, Chicago History Museum

The first-ever exhibition on the Ebony Fashion Fair, Inspiring Beauty explores the 50-year history of the charity fashion spectacle that redefined the concepts of beauty, style, and empowerment for African Americans by examining the history of the show and its director and producer, Eunice W. Johnson. Inspiring Beauty showcases nearly 100 objects including ensembles and accessories displayed on fully stylized mannequins to recreate the runway experience, as well as archival photographs, video and Johnson’s personal effects to tell the full story of these unparalleled events. At the center of this dynamic show are the stunning gowns, feathered coats, and statement designs seen in the 40 garments selected from a collection of thousands Johnson amassed in five decades. Works by designers including Stephen Burrows, Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix, Bob Mackie, Missoni, Jean Patou and Sarli, illustrate themes of vision,innovation, and power as exemplified by Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit, flair for fashion, and philanthropic goals as co-founder of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines.

Exhibition highlights include garments from fashion greats such as Valentino, Pierre Cardin and Alexander McQueen for Givenchy before they reached world-renowned status. An Yves Saint Laurent ‘Picasso’ cocktail dress, Nina Ricci evening ensemble of a shirred jumpsuit and ruffle coat, Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé beaded gown, Vivienne Westwood animal print evening gown and Emanuel Ungaro two piece bridal gown are examples of the spectacular trends of fashion and attitude of style.

Developed by the Chicago History Museum in cooperation with Johnson Publishing Company, Inspiring Beauty offers an unprecedented multisensory experience to visitors who have never attended an Ebony Fashion Fair, as well as reconnects those who experienced it first-hand.

Number of Works:
Nearly 100 objects including 40 full ensembles, accessories, photographs, and ephemera
Exhibition Components:
Mannequins with stands, digital files for mural reproductions, and various environmental components including video and sounds
Organized by:
Chicago History Museum in collaboration with Johnson Publishing Company
Joy Bivins, curator, Chicago History Museum and Virginia Heaven, consulting Costume Curator
Approximate size:
5,000 square feet
High security
IA&A makes all arrangements; exhibitors pay outgoing shipping costs within the contiguous U.S.
Booking Period:
12 weeks
October 2014 – December 2017
Fully-illustrated, companion catalogue published by Chicago Historical Society
Museum of Design Atlanta, GA
October 18, 2014 – January 4, 2015

Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
February 5, 2015 – May 3, 2015

Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, MN
May 22, 2015 – August 16, 2015

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American HIstory, Detroit, MI
September 18, 2015 – January 3, 2016

Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, NY
January 30, 2016 – April 24, 2016

Bellevue Arts Museum, WA
May 20, 2016 – August 12, 2016

The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Washington, DC
March 18, 2017 – July 24, 2017

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC

October 28, 2017 – January 21, 2018

The Ebony Fashion Fair: Changing History on The Catwalk
NPR Morning Edition, by Jacki Lyden, February 15, 2014

Chicago History Museum Ebony Fashion Fair ‘Inspiring Beauty’ Exhibit Opens Saturday (PHOTOS)
The Huffington Post, March 15, 2013

Black Power Dressing
W Magazine, by Vanessa Lawrence, March 2013

Ebony Looks to Its Past as It Moves Forward

The New York Times, by Matt Haber, December 7, 2012

How a Couture Pioneer Changed Fashion
The Wall Street Journal , by Christina Brinkley, May 23, 2012