Tuesday, January 12, 2010

RIP Mrs. Eunice Johnson; Our Style and Culture Icon

Today We Pay Homage to One Of Our Fallen Cultural Icons Publisher, Fashionista and Socialite - Mrs. Eunice Johnson

Wayyyyyyyyyyy back when we were little fashionistas, we attended the Ebony Fashion Fair as a ritual. it was a beautiful worldclass runway show; focusing on Style. it was clear from the beautiful models to the most beautiful clothes, that Mrs. Johnson had a Haute Couture gene. Black Faces with only the finest fashions and trends - that is the legendary Ebony Fashion Fair. Mrs. Johnson started the event as a charity; and it's grown it to be the largest traveling fashion event in the world. once you go, you always return. the always wonderful fashion show includes a tax deductable ticket, and a year-long subscription to your choice of the fine Johnson Publishing co. magazines. that's what made it an easy sell in the early days.

Mrs. Johnson traveled the globe seasonally. Hand selecting only the finest clothes, designers and models. todays' black catwalkers come from the precious pedigree established by Mrs. Johnson. she was a constant at all the top fashion events globally. the designers who she selected to splash her catwalk were most lucky; because they'd be showcased to venues around the world - and finally given a full spread on the pages of Ebony and Jet Magazines - the top black magazines worldwide.

Many of those Mrs. Johnson selected to be clothes-horses went on to top posts in fashion and acting. the beautiful brown frames of  some of the worlds first super models - Pat Cleveland, Beverly Johnson, Judy Pace, Kimora Lee and Rashumba, all made it to the catwalk, on Mrs. Johnsons' watch. Richard Roundtree was selected to play the part of John Shaft, after being spotted in the Ebony Fashion Fair. recently when inteviewed, he says that if Mrs. Johnson had never seen him - he may never have gotten his chance to act.

That famous raincoat that stopped the show at the NY Hilton in 1974 was designed by my good friend and classmate Tracey Reese; who has gone on to become one of the hottest names in fashion globally. I had one of those raincoats, because we supported Tracey from the very beginning, as she was a homegirl sewing for her homegirls. Thanks to Mrs. Johnson my homegirl Tracey Reese is now a household name. talk about a small world.

Thank You Mrs. Johnson for giving Black People Style, during a troubled time in america.

Rest Peacefully Our Beautiful Black Swan

Eunice Johnson Dies at 93; Gave Ebony Its Name

New York Times 01/10/10  by - Dennis Helve

Eunice W. Johnson, the creator of the Ebony Fashion Fair, a celebrated annual tour of nearly 200 cities that has showcased haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion for a mostly African-American audience for more than 50 years, died on Jan. 3 at her home in Chicago. Mrs. Johnson, who was also one of the first entrepreneurs to market cosmetics made particularly for black women, was 93.

The cause was renal failure, said Wendy Parks, a spokeswoman for the Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines and sponsors the Fashion Fair. Mrs. Johnson and her husband, John H. Johnson, who died in 2005, founded Ebony in 1945. It was Mrs. Johnson who suggested that the magazine, geared to black readers, be named for the fine-grain dark wood.

What started as a favor to a friend — production of a fashion show to raise money for a hospital in New Orleans in 1958 — evolved into a grand traveling tour that has brought the latest creations from designers like Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta and Valentino to runways throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

Notable African-American models like Pat Cleveland, Judy Pace and Terri Springer have graced those runways. And the careers of black designers, including Lenora Levon, Quinton de’ Alexander and L’Amour, have been nurtured by the Ebony Fashion Fair.

One of the tour’s aims has been to bring attention to aspiring black designers. At the New York Hilton in 1974, for example, one showstopper was a white raincoat with loops dangling from the shoulders to hold an umbrella. The design, by a 17-year-old from Detroit, drew a standing ovation.

Over the years the fair has raised more than $55 million for civil rights groups, hospitals, community centers and scholarships.

It was not always easy. In the early years, when the chartered bus bearing the dozen or so models and the fashions selected by Mrs. Johnson stopped at gas stations in the segregated South, signs said, “No Blacks in the Ladies Room.”

Resistance also surfaced on renowned runways. “We were the ones who convinced Valentino to use black models in his shows back in the ’60s,” Mrs. Johnson told The New York Times in 2001. “I was in Paris, and I told him: ‘If you can’t find any black models, we’ll get some for you. And if you can’t use them, we’re not going to buy from you anymore.’ That was before he was famous.”

Something else perturbed Mrs. Johnson back then: the chore of mixing makeup colors to enhance the varied skin tones of her models. It gave her the idea of starting, in 1973, Fashion Fair Cosmetics, a prestige line that African-American women could buy, for the first time, in top department stores. Stars like Leontyne Price, Diahann Carroll and Aretha Franklin appeared in the company’s ads.

Within three years, the growing popularity of Fashion Fair Cosmetics prompted Revlon to introduce the Polished Ambers line for black skins, Avon to start Shades of Beauty and Max Factor to produce Beautiful Bronzes.

Eunice Walker was born in Selma, Ala., on April 4, 1916, one of four children of Nathaniel and Ethel McAlpine Walker. Her father was a physician, her mother a high school principal.
She graduated from Talladega College in Alabama in 1938 with a degree in sociology, and earned a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University in Chicago in 1941. She met Mr. Johnson at a dance in Chicago in 1940, and they married after she graduated from Loyola.

Mrs. Johnson is survived by her daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, who is chairwoman and chief executive of Johnson Publishing, and a granddaughter.

In 1942, with a $500 loan secured by furniture owned by Mr. Johnson’s mother, the Johnsons began publishing Negro Digest, a magazine modeled on Reader’s Digest. Within a year it had a circulation of 50,000. That inspired the couple to start Ebony, a monthly with flashy covers like those of Life magazine. Ebony now has a circulation of 1.25 million. Jet magazine, a weekly, was started in 1951 to highlight news of famous African-Americans; it now has a circulation of 900,000.

Mrs. Johnson, who was secretary-treasurer of the publishing company, continued to produce and direct the Ebony Fashion Fair through last year.

Over the years, hundreds of the shows have been held on Sunday afternoons, with women of all generations — many turned out in flowery hats, fine jewelry and proper dresses — leaving morning church services to get to the fair.

At the 1974 show in Manhattan, Mrs. Johnson drew a roar from the crowd when she stepped onstage during intermission and said that she could “run a fashion show from the audience.”

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Dori said...

Mrs. Johnson was truly a legend indeed. As you wrote, many of us grew up with the Ebony Fashion Fair as a great part of the culture. Seeing those beautiful women walking that walk of theirs was always an inspiration to me too. Great post :)

RE Ausetkmt said...

oh yes. if you were a proper lady; you went to the Fashion Fair when it hit your town. I hear it was extra special in atl. I know she had the largest presentations when sponsored in larger Black southern cities like atl, montgomery, memphis, nashville and nawlins. they often had several shows to accomodate the demand. SHE ALWAYS gave her best.

In Detroit she always did the largest theater in town which was the fox, even in the beginning. and yes she sold out all 5000 seats. usually twice in a weekend.
Mrs. Johnson was a true Icon. laughlingly, if leon talley could morph I bet he would want to be her. they were inseperable friends.

askcherlock said...

She certainly was a trailblazer for African American women in a venue that was extremely closed. She had such a good heart as well in all her charity ventures. As far as the Civil Rights Movement, she surpassed many men in her boldness and courage. Her luster will be sadly missed.

RE Ausetkmt said...

oh yes cher, she was a freedom fighter. all black models have her to thank for opening up the catwalks of european designers. she was a great leader by example. always perfect and prepared for what ever happened. she was a trooper.