Eunice Walker Johnson was always much more than the wife of a successful Black businessman. She had her own vision and style and translated her dreams of Black empowerment into a nearly 70-year career as the founder, producer and director of the Ebony Fashion Fair and as Secretary-Treasurer of Johnson Publishing right up until her death. In fact, it was Eunice who came up with the name for the company’s flagship publication, Ebony Magazine. Equating the mission of unveiling the true depth and quality of the African-American experience with the mystique of fine black ebony wood was a stroke of branding genius that is still paying dividends today. Ebony and Jet have been staples in the Black community for more than six decades and Johnson Publishing remains the world’s largest African-American-owned and operated publishing company.
But Eunice Johnson’s greatest legacy is undoubtedly her creation of the world’s largest traveling fashion show. From 1958 to 2009 Ebony Fashion Fair produced more than 4,000 shows in the United States, the Caribbean, Canada, London and Jamaica. Featuring the latest creations from top designers like Christian Dior, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta, as well as aspiring Black designers, like Stephen Burrows, Quinton de Alexander and L’Amour, the show has earned a reputation for sensational fashions that celebrate the unique qualities and sensibilities of African-American beauty. Ebony Fashion Fair traveled to over 200 cities annually and raised more than $55 million for various scholarships and charities.
Eunice Johnson and the Ebony Fashion Fair opened the doors to Black designers and models who had traditionally been ignored by the mainstream fashion industry. It has been a revolutionary force in bringing diversity to the world of fashion and helped launch the careers of a number of Black supermodels including Naomi Campbell, Iman, Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland and Tyra Banks. Eunice also broke new ground in 1973 with the founding of Fashion Fair Cosmetics, featuring makeup and skin care products specifically designed for the unique and varied skin tones of women of color.
Through the Ebony Fashion Fair and her Fashion Fair Cosmetics line, Eunice Walker Johnson engineered a signature movement in support of Black beauty and style. We have lost a pioneer and a woman of exceptional grace and power. Our thoughts and prayers are with her daughter, Johnson Company Chairwoman, Linda Johnson Rice, and the entire Johnson Publishing family.
(Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.)
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