A woman with a love of color and a passion for helping others, Eunice W. Johnson started Ebony Fashion Fair in 1956, as a fundraiser for a New Orleans hospital. Under her direction, the Ebony Fashion Fair grew to become the world’s largest fashion show, touring across America and internationally.
Born in 1916, in Selma, Alabama, Johnson received a degree from Talladega College in Alabama and a master’s degree from Loyola University in Chicago. She worked as a social worker until 1945, when she joined her husband to start the first magazine committed to showcasing the triumphs and lifestyles of people of color.
Ever the style-minded businesswoman, Eunice named the magazine Ebony, and together with her husband worked tirelessly to build the publishing empire, Johnson Publishing Company, which also went on to produce Jet magazine. In 2010, Ebony celebrated its 65th anniversary, while Jet will turn 60 in 2011.
Bringing together her love of fashion and her desire to give back, Eunice created the Ebony Fashion Fair. She spent decades traveling the globe to select the most glamorous creations from the world’s greatest couturiers and designers. Along the way she earned a reputation as one of the world’s most prominent fashion icons.
A great couture client, friend to the designers and voracious advocate for black women, Eunice charmed and cajoled the fashion world to include women of color on the runways of Europe’s and America’s oldest and most storied fashion houses.
Eunice’s eye for showmanship, Southern grace and natural style set the tone for the Ebony Fashion Fair spectaculars. From its inception, Ebony Fashion Fair has toured 180 cities across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean and raised over $55 million for scholarships.
Through these shows, Eunice brought fashion to generations of women around the world and inspired women from all walks of life to celebrate their style and embrace fashion. Ebony Fashion Fair launched the careers of many of the most important black models, including Iman, Pat Cleveland and Terri Springer, as well as numerous Black celebrities from film, television and politics.
While traveling with the show, Eunice noticed that her models had to mix their own makeup to achieve the correct pigments for their skin tones. In response, she launched Fashion Fair Cosmetics, which revolutionized the way generations of Black women saw themselves and taught them to dress and live for the love of color.