Linda Johnson Rice: The Ebony Fashion Fair show was and is very important to its audience. The show was often an introduction to high fashion–the show was the first time they got to see high fashion up close and personal and in such a theatrical presentation. The show was a sense of pride for the audience. A show that came from EBONY and was developed just for them, it made them feel special. The audience was proud that a Black woman brought fantastic clothes to their communities and exhibited them. All of that, and it was a sustained and reliable way to raise money and give back to their communities—more than $55 million raised in the 50 years.
Conversely, what kind of influence do you think your mother and EFF had on the designers she bought?
My mother’s relationship with designers and fashion as a whole, had impact on them, their designs and the community. Pucci asked my mother to find a black model for him, one of the first models to appear on the runway. Pucci was inspired by my mother; he witnessed her style, grace, elegance and sophistication. He saw her influence in the states and that she was buying his clothes, picking the most fabulous of them, and presenting them to a new audience in a theatrical way. Yves St. Laurent could also be said to have been influenced by her; his designs certainly had influences that were African-American and African. Her presence opened their eyes to African American buying power.
Why buy instead of borrow such expensive couture pieces? What was the significance of that?
Simply, it was more practical. The show wasn’t a one-off charity show, where you can use it and send it back. She bought the clothes so she could showcase them, from city to city—from 10 cities, to 20 cities and so on.
Did she experience any resistance from the global fashion community in organizing this annual event?