The Ebony Fashion Fair fashion show was established in 1958 by the Johnson Publishing Company under the close management of Eunice Walker Johnson, wife and co-founder of Johnson Publishing Company and wife of its founder, John H. Johnson. Co-founder Eunice Johnson had a keen eye for style, so it made sense that she would be the one to bring editorial fashion shoots to life on the runway.
Johnson Publishing at that point had been in business more than a decade, producing EBONY (1945) and JET (1951) magazines. In 1956 they were approached by Jessie Dent, wife of the president of Dillard University, to source models for a charity fashion show. Leadership at Johnson Publishing was apprehensive about sending its lineup of professional models from EBONY to a college-produced fashion show, but still wanting to help, John H. Johnson offered to supply the wardrobe for the show. Each ticket purchased would come with a subscription to either EBONY or JET. The operation was a success, and in 1958 the first Ebony Fashion Fair show, produced by Johnson Publishing Company, was born.
Johnson Publishing was established on the premise of celebrating and uplifting African- Americans. The Ebony Fashion Fair was a traveling show that would visit up to 30 cities per year over the course of its 51-year lifetime Black models showcased the looks of designers of color including b. Smith, Stephen Burrows, Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith and L’Amour. Shows also featured haute couture icons such as Yves St. Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Emanuel Ungaro, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and Givenchy. The tradition that started with the first show at Dillard University was kept intact: Every ticket purchased came with a free subscription to EBONY or JET, and a portion of the proceeds were donated to charity. Over the lifetime of the production, more than $60 million was raised from the show for Black nonprofit organizations, scholarships, schools and hospitals.