Asheville knows style. Local designers have blossomed in recent years and take regular opportunities to parade their creations. But for fashion fans who want a first-hand look at this year’s trends from world-renowned designers, Ebony Fashion Fair promises fashion-week-worthy big-name style.
“We will see cutting-edge trends and rare collections of clothes for men and women,” promises Ebony Fashion Fair Chairperson LaFredia Morris, who’s helping to coordinate the Asheville show.
The Runway Report: What’s Hip. What’s Hot. What’s Now! is the title of this annual fashion extravaganza, now in its 51st year. Christian Lacroix, Sarli, b michael, Carolina Herrera, Ruben Singer and Jean-Louis Scherrer are some of the designers whose creations adorn the 13 models who travel with the show on its tour of 175 cities in the United States and Caribbean.
While the catwalk and high-end designs are part of the show, this is in many ways a departure from the runway. Ebony Fashion Fair is more on the scale of a Broadway show, equipped with special effects and set to hip-hop and R&B music. Expect dancing.
“It’s a fun show, and every time it comes to Asheville, everybody loves it,” says Connie Jefferson of the YMI Cultural Center.
As the fashion show travels, it raises money for various nonprofit organizations and scholarship funds. To date, the Ebony Fashion Fair has donated more than $55 million to African-American charities. In Asheville, the YMI is sponsoring the local event as a benefit for its cultural-arts education programs.
The driving force behind Ebony Fashion Fair is producer-director Eunice W. Johnson who, in 1956, was the first African-American to purchase from designers across the Atlantic for a traveling fashion show. Her travel mission expanded the following year when she joined the entourage of then-Vice President Richard Nixon on a goodwill tour of nine African countries.
She helped create Fashion Fair Cosmetics in 1973 to provide skin-care and makeup products for women of color. Johnson also is involved in numerous community organizations, and acts as secretary-treasurer for Johnson Publishing Company Inc.—the world’s largest African-American-owned and operated publishing company—which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines.
The show itself has made a splash with daring apparel. In 1976, shock waves rippled when Ebony Fashion Fair featured a thong two-piece swimsuit designed by the late Rudi Gernreich (who had created the infamous topless bathing suit 12 years earlier).
This year’s event promises a return of ‘80s-era boho with an emphasis on velvet and big, bright jewelry and handbags. Rounding out the offerings is a line of professional styles for working folk. “A lot of it now is stuff that people would wear,” Jefferson says of the clothing. “It used to be all haute couture, but a lot of stuff now could be worn to different events.”
Many black designers, actors and models got their start working with the show. Richard Roundtree (who went on to star as detective John Shaft in the Shaft movies) was discovered by Johnson in 1967. Janet Langhart Cohen (an award-winning journalist and one of the first African-American women on television) worked as model for the Ebony Fashion Fair after finishing college. And Aretha Franklin was the first to model Fashion Fair Cosmetics.
“Not just models, but role models,” is how current Ebony Fashion Fair commentator Jada Collins describes her colleagues. In addition to a being a writer and supervising models, Collins is co-founder of the Be-You! Foundation, which focuses on self-esteem building for abused women and children.
Star power aside, the fashion fair is more than a parade of beauty and style: It sends inspiration and a contribution to the community down the runway.
[Liz Allen is an Emma-based freelance writer.]
who: The Runway Report: What’s Hip. What’s Hot. What’s Now!
what: The 51st annual Ebony Fashion Fair
where: The Orange Peel
when: Wednesday, Oct. 29. 7 p.m. ($25. 225-5851 or www.ebonyfashionfair.com.