Josephine Baker used lemon juice to lighten her skin. Black fashion role models of the Forties and Fifties -- Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt -- possessed the shade of light-brown skin that was acceptable to white audiences. In 1974, Vogue made Beverly Johnson the first black woman to appear on its cover. In the world of high fashion, black models remain a noticeable minority, often appearing as the sole dark face in a sea of Caucasian maidens. The fashion world hasn't always been kind to black people, but there have always been fashionable black people. According to the cliché, with no offense meant to Josephine Baker, when life hands you lemons, it's better to make lemonade.
Forty-seven years ago, the Ebony Fashion Fair was created as a fundraising event for a hospital in New Orleans. The event was so successful that Eunice Johnson -- producer, director, style maven extraordinaire -- decided to turn it into a traveling spectacular to benefit charities throughout the nation. The rest, as they say, is history. The Ebony Fashion Fair has blossomed into the kind of event that society pages live for, liberally studded with names in bold type and adorned with photos of slinky women in flamboyant gowns. It is the largest traveling fashion show in the world, the only one of its kind. And even after nearly five decades, it remains on the cutting edge.
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Models will be sporting clothes from many of the top European, Japanese, and American designers. Besides known names like Oscar de la Renta, Versace, Bob Mackie, Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood, and Valentino, you'll get to see work from up-and-coming African-American designers like Fushá Designs, the new clothing line from Wyclef Jean's wife Marie Claudinette.