The lack of diversity in fashion is a hot-button topic every fashion week. With that in mind, it's hard to believe that the Ebony Fashion Fair has been a tradition since 1958. An exhibit at the Chicago History Museum celebrates the travelling fashion show first launched by socialite Jessie Covington Dent. The show was taken over in 1963 by Eunice Walker Johnson of Chicago's Johnson Publishing Company which published Ebony and Jet magazine.
The fashion fair had multiple missions. One was to bring Haute Couture and introduce European designers to a community embracing the new vision of African American style. Another mission was a fundraising one. In its decades of running the fashion show, the organization has raised over $55 million dollars for scholarships and charities.
The exhibit at the museum encompasses over 7000 square feet with backdrops as glamorous as the original events. Almost 70 looks on mannequins from the likes of Christian Dior, Louis Feraud, Chloe and Oscar de la Renta were curated from the publishing company's costume collection. Each ensemble is meant to represent key points and moods throughout the fashion history of each era. The exhibit also made a point of choosing a wide variety of mannequins in different skin tones and body shapes.
I was a little surprised that there didn't seem to be a lot of African American designers represented. I understand that the initial goal was to expose the elite European designers to the community for aspiration value. However in the last few decades, there have been many African American designers who have reached fame and prestige. Like the 1973 Models of Versailles, it would have been nice to show the progress of how the upscale fashion industry as a whole has progressed socially as well.
Either way, if you are in town in Chicago, this is not an exhibit to be missed! Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair runs until January 5, 2014.
Photo from the Chicago History Museum