Bellevue Arts Museum hosts first-ever exhibition on the Ebony Fashion Fair, Inspiring Beauty
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair is on view at Bellevue Arts Museum May 20 – August 14, 2016
Bellevue, WA—Bellevue Arts Museum is pleased to bring Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair to the Pacific Northwest this spring. Organized by the Chicago History Museum in cooperation with Johnson Publishing Company, Inspiring Beauty is the first-ever exhibition on the Ebony Fashion Fair. The exhibition presents a groundbreaking retrospective on the 50-year history of the fashion spectacle that helped redefine the concepts of beauty, style, and empowerment for African Americans. The exhibition also profiles the Fair's visionary director and producer, Eunice W. Johnson, co-founder of Johnson Publishing Company and publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines.
Among the approximately 40 statement designs on view are stunning gowns, feathered coats, and sensational hats by icons of fashion including Stephen Burrows, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, Missoni, Nina Ricci, Sarli, Emanuel Ungaro, and Vivienne Westwood among others. The ensembles—displayed on stylized mannequins—recreate the way audiences were introduced to these fashion-forward designs on the catwalk. The exhibition also showcases photographs, video, and ephemera.
Originally the fashion feature in Ebony magazine, the Fashion Fair’s success can be attributed to Eunice W. Johnson’s determination to gain access to the upper echelons of fashion design—which at that time excluded African Americans—and then sharing that access with her audiences. In a constant struggle to break the color barrier, Ms. Johnson and the Fashion Fair ultimately provided a platform and financial backing for black designers to be presented side by side with the world’s leading fashion houses.
“Bringing those garments to a black audience and putting them on black models said not only ‘You can wear these things’ but also ‘You are the standard of beauty... It was a revolutionary act,’” said Joy Bivins, co-curator of the exhibition and Curator of the Chicago History Museum (W Magazine, March 2013 issue).
The Ebony Fashion Fair was always more than a fashion show. Visitors experienced a multisensory presentation of music and fashion while raising funds for their charitable interests. Over the course of fifty years, the annual tour traveled to nearly 200 cities and gave more than 4,000 performances, raising more than $55 million for civil rights groups, hospitals, community centers, and educational scholarships.
Inspiring Beauty offers an unforgettable experience to visitors who never had the opportunity to attend Ebony Fashion Fair, and illustrates themes of vision, innovation, and power as exemplified by Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit, flair for fashion, and philanthropy.
In the spirit of the Fair, Bellevue Arts Museum is proud to partner with the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) and Cornish College of the Arts to put together a Teen Fashion Intensive. The program is presented in conjunction with Inspiring Beauty as well as NAAM’s Posing Beauty exhibition, and Cornish College of the Arts’ prestigious Teen Summer program. Area teens will articulate their vision and create their own looks, with a focus on the artistic process and the professional world of fashion. Design processes will be documented and presented during Cornish’s summer showcase and final looks will be displayed BAM’s Community Education Gallery in fall 2016. Additional exhibition programming can be found on BAM’s website.
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair was developed by the Chicago History Museum in cooperation with Johnson Publishing Company, LLC, presented by the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. The local presentation of this exhibition is curated by Stefano Catalani and supported by Nordstrom.
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Bellevue Arts Museum is a leading destination in the Pacific Northwest to experience art, craft, and design. BAM engages the community through exhibitions, programs, and publications, featuring regional, national, and international artists. bellevuearts.org.