With more than 50,000 designs in its collection, the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum is no stranger to doing things on a grand scale. Starting on March 16, however, the institution outdoes itself with the grand new exhibition “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair.” Featuring 7,000 square feet devoted to 67 garments from the Ebony Fashion Fair costume collection, “Inspiring Beauty” is one of the museum’s largest temporary exhibitions to date.
Divided into three sections, the show first celebrates the trailblazing spirit of Ebony Fashion Fair director Eunice W. Johnson with “Vision,” which includes such haute couture styles as a Christian Dior day coat from Fall/Winter 1964-65, a fire engine–red Pierre Cardin floor-length, side-revealing tunic from Fall/Winter 1970, and a periwinkle Hubert de Givenchy evening dress and stole from Spring/Summer 1974. “Innovation” captures the essence of Johnson Publishing Company’s bold history with eye-catching ready-to-wear looks by Angelo Marani, Balizza, and Emilio Pucci, while “Power” highlights Ebony Fashion Fair’s groundbreaking contributions to the fashion industry—think Guy Laroche, Halston, Vivienne Westwood, and Yves Saint Laurent. But Johnson’s heart and soul radiates throughout the entirety of the Ebony Fashion Fair showcase.
“My mother would see individual designers, take a look at their clothes, buy them, and display them on the road because she felt that they were really good,” says Johnson Publishing Company chairman Linda Johnson Rice. “And she was really particular—she turned those clothes inside out to make sure [everything] was of the right quality. But she gave them an opportunity. That doesn’t come along anymore.”
“Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair” runs March 16, 2013 through January 5, 2014 at Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., 312-642-4600
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JPC STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER, COURTESY OF JOHNSON PUBLISHING COMPANY