Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair at the Milwaukee Art Museum certainly lives up to its name. The “beauty” part is to be expected; how could it not be beautiful, with ensembles created by Givenchy, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Vivienne Westwood, Thierry Mugler, Yves Saint-Laurent, Bob Mackie and more? This fashion obsessive was swooning to be in the same room with these stunning pieces.
Most people never get a chance to see haute couture in person, much less from this close up, so I would heartily recommend that anyone who loves clothes check out the exhibit for that opportunity alone. The exhibit is carefully set up to allow you to view almost every ensemble from a variety of angles, and you better believe I was craning my neck to take in every last detail. Thanks to the Mount Mary University collection, visitors in Milwaukee will get the chance to see thirteen additional garments from the University’s signature Ebony Fashion Fair collection, an awesome opportunity that makes seeing the exhibit here, at the Milwaukee Art Museum, even more special.
But more importantly, the exhibit really shines when it comes to the first part of its name: “inspiring.” Upon entering the show, you’re greeted with an over-sized photograph of Eunice W. Johnson, the creator of Ebony Fashion Fair. Over its 50 year history, the Fair raised $55 million dollars for charity and featured all African American models. But when the show began in 1958, the European designers were reticent to sell their clothes to a black woman. There was a belief that bright colors didn’t suit dark skin, and touring through the south meant that models who wore the finest of haute couture were not able to eat in a restaurant.
The aspirational side of the Fair, highlighted in the exhibit’s themes of vision, innovation and power, can’t be underestimated. This event was about a change of beauty standards and empowering African American women. Eunice Johnson’s vision is the very definition of inspiring; as Camille Morgan, the guest curator of the exhibit, said, Eunice was “a fashion civil rights activist.” There’s more than one way to inspire people, and more than one field in which to make a difference.
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair is on display February 5 – May 3, 2015. Learn more about the exhibit here.