Dior, Valentino, Mackie, de la Renta Coming to Milwaukee Art Museum

Posted on November 17th, 2014

Milwaukee Art Museum Makes Foray into Fashion
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair travels to Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wis – The Milwaukee Art Museum brings haute couture to the city in Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair. Opening on February 5, 2015, it is a story of vision, innovation and power told through the prism of iconic fashion from Oscar de la Renta, Givenchy, Valentino, Dior, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint-Laurent, Patrick Kelly and Emanuel Ungaro, among others.

Organized by the Chicago History Museum in cooperation with Johnson Publishing Company, Inspiring Beauty provides a multisensory retrospective on the fifty-year history of the charity fashion spectacle that redefined the concepts of beauty, style and empowerment for African Americans through the Ebony Fashion Fair. Over one hundred objects, including ensembles and accessories, as well as archival photographs and video, help to re-create the one-of-a-kind experience and explore the history of the traveling fashion show and its director and producer, Eunice Walker Johnson. The exhibition in enhanced by the addition of Ebony Fashion Fair garments from the collection at Mount Mary University.

“The Museum is thrilled to showcase its debut fashion exhibition and partner with International Arts & Artists to feature Inspiring Beauty,” said Daniel Keegan, director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. “This is a stunning exhibition that will be dramatically installed to give the visitor a true runway experience.”

Inspiring Beauty is presented in three sections that explore the three major themes of the exhibition. The first section of the exhibition, Vision, explores Eunice Johnson’s role as the creative force behind the Ebony Fashion Fair. It features costumes that reflect power, affluence and influence, expressing some of the traveling show’s recurring aesthetic ideas.

The second section of the exhibition, Innovation, looks at the boldness and experimentation of Johnson Publishing Company. Garments in this section reflect the full breadth of fashion fantasy that the traveling show brought audiences while the film highlights the historic significance of Johnson company publications.

The final section, Power, features Inspiring Beauty’s most elaborate, luxurious and dramatic ensembles. Costumes by Valentino, Bob Mackie, Henry Jackson and Alexander McQueen reflect the glamour and showmanship that created the dynamic visual experience that audiences expected.

“At the heart of this dynamic exhibition are the stunning gowns, feathered coats, and statement designs seen in the seventy-plus ensembles by designers including Valentino, Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Bob Mackie, Missoni, Patrick Kelly, Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood, and more, all selected from a collection of thousands that Mrs. Johnson amassed in five decades,” said Keegan.

To celebrate Milwaukee’s local connection to the Ebony Fashion Fair, a section of the exhibition will include thirteen designer garments from Mount Mary University’s signature Ebony Fashion Fair collection, part of the its 10,000 piece Historic Costume Collection. Mount Mary’s selections will feature garments by Koos Van Den Akker, Vivienne Westwood, Thierry Mugler, and Anna Sui, among others.

The Ebony Fashion Fair circuit included 170 stops each year, including Milwaukee. In addition to appearing at the now-defunct Garfield Theater on the city’s north side, Mount Mary University presented the Ebony Fashion Fair to sold-out audiences in its Kostka Theater on several occasions.

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair was developed by the Chicago History Museum in cooperation with Johnson Publishing Company, LLC, presented by the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. It is presented at the Milwaukee Art Museum by Mount Mary University, and supported by Harley-Davidson Motor Company, the Joseph R. Pabst Fund of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Friends of Art, Angela and Virgis Colbert, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, Milwaukee (WI) Chapter The Links, Incorporated, and the Milwaukee Art Museum’s African American Art Alliance. Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair is co-organized at the Museum by Camille Morgan, Exhibitions Curatorial Coordinator at Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago and Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th and 21st Century Design at the Milwaukee Art Museum. It will be on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum February 5 through May 3, 2015.


Prominently situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee Art Museum campus welcomes over 400,000 visitors annually. The Museum was founded over 125 years ago and is the largest and most significant art museum in Wisconsin. It houses a rich collection of over 30,000 works, with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, and American decorative arts. It is the world’s leading repository for work by untrained creators and has one of the largest collections of works by Georgia O’Keeffe. The Museum’s celebrated Santiago Calatrava–designed Quadracci Pavilion, completed in 2001, showcases both Museum-produced and traveling feature exhibitions.

In fall 2014, the Museum began an ambitious project to renovate its two oldest buildings, the Eero Saarinen–designed War Memorial Center (1957) and the David Kahler–designed addition (1975), which house the Museum’s Collection Galleries. Increased gallery space, including an entire floor dedicated to photography and new media, an improved gallery layout, and a new lakeside entrance are among the improvements planned. The collections will be off view through fall 2015; however, the Museum is open throughout construction, with a vibrant schedule of exciting exhibitions, educational offerings, and special programs in the Quadracci Pavilion. For more information, visit mam.org.