Art exhibit celebrates Ebony Fashion Fair history

“When I first heard about the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit being held at the North Carolina Museum of Art, right here in my backyard in Raleigh, I thought it was a dream,” said Mary Thompson, an exhibit attendee. “I actually went to one of the shows as a child, a birthday surprise from my parents.

“So to be here today at this exhibit, with beautiful gowns that I saw in a show growing up, is amazing to me.”

The Ebony Fashion Fair, also referred to as the Ebony Traveling Fashion Fair, was created as a platform to showcase and empower African-American models, designers and photographers in a way that has never been done before. It began in 1958 and ran until 2009.

An event that was produced annually, the Ebony Fashion Fair was a traveling fashion extravaganza that was charged with inspiring black beauty and wellness. The show also was setup to function as a philanthropic entity, which is responsible for $55 million worth of donations to various African-American charities, such as community outreach programs in struggling inner city communities throughout the United States.

The Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair exhibition is currently on display at the North Carolina Museum of Art. It opened on Oct. 28 and will be shown through Jan. 21, 2018. The show features couture creations, which include awe-inspiring, elaborate floor length gowns, as well as spunky, modern, casual streetwear by notable designers such as Alexander McQueen, Bob Mackie, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Christian Dior.

“I don’t know when was the last time I had so much fun at an art exhibit,” said Jennifer Douglas, an attendee from Hickory, N.C. “The virtual booth where you can see your face in all these breath-taking dresses was a great addition. It gets the viewer involved.”

The exhibit featured interactive stations throughout the gallery floor. A guest could virtually see themselves in several of the couture gowns in the exhibit through a wall-mounted monitor, and with the wave of a hand see themselves in several of the couture gowns in the exhibit.

There is another station set up with a designer-in-residence on site, connecting with the exhibit goers, showing and explaining the fabrics and embellishment pieces to be added onto a garment being constructed live on the gallery floor.

“The idea is to start and complete a garment right here in the middle of the exhibit from day one of the show (until) closing day,” said Katherine Diuguid, the designer-in-residence of the exhibit.

Diuguid is a local designer and fashion arts department professor at North Carolina State University, and along with Precious Lovell, also a fashion design professor at North Carolina State University, is available on weekends at the museum to answer questions about the exhibit. Additionally, they are constructing a gown live on-site. The pair also produced a video that explains elements of how to create a garment from start to finish for attendees to view at their station.

“I’m so proud to be apart of such a historical event,” said Diuguid. “You know, what’s so great is people’s reactions and people’s feedback when they round the corner and notice us setting up here.”