clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Eunice Johnson, Doyenne of Ebony Fashion Fair and Her Endless Collections of Couture

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

This week, we've been targeting 'whales', as in, the people who like to spend copious amounts of money, and the places where they can spend it. Today's 'whale' is more of a philanthropic figure, a person who with the vision for a certain democracy has brought countless women closer to couture.


In the late 1950's, 1960's, and the 1970's and up until her death in January of 2010 Eunice Johnson had been the spearhead for Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show of the world's best couture. As a Windy City transplant from Selma, Alabama, Eunice lived and breathed fashion as an extension of her husband, John's publishing company and called Chicago home until she was 93.

Through the years, Eunice was one of the few, sometimes the only black woman at designer runway presentations. In Milan she was with hanging out with Pucci, in Paris she watched Karl sketch, gave input on the Emanuel Ungaro showcase and because of her power in publishing and bringing high design and couture to the masses, seen as an influential fashion heavyweight.

The Ebony Fashion Fair, for which Eunice bought and commissioned countless couture pieces from houses like Gaultier, McQueen while he was at Givenchy, Christian LaCroix and Courreges was shown across the US, Canada and the Caribbean. The fairs were marketed as a social, ticketed event that over its run had raised 55 million dollars for charities and college students.

On March 16, this spring, The Chicago History Museum will open its largest special exhibition in the museum's 157-year history. The show is dedicated to the life of Eunice Johnson, opening the vault on Fashion Fair's accurate selection of 60+ garments made for Fashion Fair. Late last year, well-known Chicago-based auctioneer with five regional offices, Leslie Hindman held a tag sale of 1,500 designer pieces to pare down the half-decade's amassment of clothing. Similarly, the year before, 700 garments were auctioned. This spring, Leslie Hindman will again host an auction of even more couture and collectable garments. So keep posted for that.

In the aftermath of Eunice's death, her daughter Linda Johnson-Rice has assumed her role as head of the publishing company and brought on Desiree Rogers as the new CEO. Changes in just three short years have been great for the company withthe launch of Fashion Fair Cosmetics under the ">creative direction of Sam Fine, a scholarship for the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, an office move sans-clubhouse and the makeover of the website. Soon, perhaps even this spring to coincide with the opening of Inspiring Beauty at the Chicago History Museum, many expect some major announcements regarding the reinvention of Fashion Fair in Eunice's legacy.
· Ebony [Official Site]