Everyday during Black History Month, Jones Magazine will highlight a style maven whose contribution has transformed Black Beauty and Fashion in this country. Today's Black History Month Maven is: Eunice Johnson.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen without a vision for success. Eunice W. Johnson had a vision with a purpose and changed fashion forever.
Mrs. Johnson was born in Selma, Alabama on April 4, 1916 to Dr. Nathaniel D. Walker and Ethel McAlpine Walker who taught education and art at Selma University. Needless to say, education was a priority in the household, so Mrs. Johnson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in art from Talladega College. She later graduated from Loyola University in Chicago with a master’s degree in social work.
In the 1940s, Mrs. Johnson quit her job as a social worker to support her husband, John Johnson’s dream of developing a magazine that focused on Black people. Based on Mrs. Johnson’s art background, her husband asked for her advice as he developed a publication that has stood the test of time—Ebony Magazine.
In 1958, Ebony Fashion Fair was conceived from an evening that began as a charity event. Little did Mrs. Johnson know that she was making history in the process. She and her husband would travel to Europe to buy French haute couture, but this came with a lot of resistance from designers that felt that white consumers wouldn’t value their product if it were worn by Black women also. Eventually, Mrs. Johnson started spending $1 million annually European haute couture for her fashion shows. She also took chances on designers that were starting out and needed exposure like Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, and Robert Cavalli.
Although Mrs. Johnson invested a lot in European designers, she never neglected the talent and needs of Blacks. She exposed the Black designers Willi Smith, Patrick Kelly, and Anthony Hankins to name a few. She also developed Fashion Fair Cosmetics so that her models and women of color could have access to make-up that suited their skin.
Five decades after Ebony Fashion Fair’s conception, over 4,000 shows have been performed in the United States, London, and the Caribbean having raised more than $55 million for scholarship funds. Mrs. Johnson was hand-on with all aspects of her role in Black media, beauty, fashion, and the education of college hopefuls up until her sight began to fail her. Mrs. Johnson passed away on January 3, 2010.
Eunice W. Johnson, Jones Magazine salutes you.