‘Inspiring Beauty’ at MAG: A Feast for the Fashion-Starved Student
Review & Photography by Christine G. Adamo

If you’ve yet to visit Memorial Art Gallery, “Inspiring Beauty” is a must-see.

Fashion Fair artifacts line the wall in MAG's Grand Gallery.
A variety of Fashion Fair artifacts line MAG’s Grand Gallery wall.

The exhibit launched with a special Press-Only event held Fri., Jan. 29. Naz Girl About Town was there to take pictures and poke around on your behalf. “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion” came to MAG by way of the Chicago History Museum and is inspired by the efforts of Ebony magazine founder Eunice Walker Johnson.

The 40 looks on display, in MAG’s Grand Gallery, were conceived by:

•  Christian Lacroix (France)
•  Hanae Mori (Japan)
•  Todd Oldham (U.S.)
•  Fausto Sarli (Italy)
•  Vivienne Westwood (U.K)
• -&- dozens of other world-class designers

"Inspiring Beauty" fashion designs on display at Memorial Art Gallery.
“Inspiring Beauty” fashions, in the round, at Memorial Art Gallery.

Some of the most striking pieces include:

•  A pink, silk chiné taffeta and horn cocktail dress by Tilmann Grawe (France)
•  A corded silk, gold leaf and satin kimono-style ensemble by Hanae Mori (Japan)
•  -&- a fur, lace, leather and denim ready-to-wear look by Angelo Marani (Italy)

With ample room to move around the gallery, it’s easy to get a 360-degree view of some of the more stunning designs. Mori’s kimono-inspired look comes to mind, as one outfit you’ll be grateful to be able to fully appreciate and take pictures of in-the-round. Easy-to-read placards accompany each look, making the experience both illuminating and, well, inspiring!

An alternate view of the "Inspiring Beauty" fashions on display at MAG.
An alternate view of the 40 fashion looks on display now at MAG.

“Inspiring Beauty” is a spectacular display which at its core, MAG notes, is intended to redefine “the concepts of empowerment, pride and achievement for African Americans.” It also helps celebrate Black History Month with a nod to Mrs. Johnson’s achievements as an inspiration, entrepreneur and woman determined to find her own place in the fashion landscape of the not-yet-fully-desegregated 1950s.

In writing “Separate, Unequal and Ignored” for The Chicago Reader (a subsidiary of Sun-Times Media) in 2011, Steve Bogira noted that “racial segregation remains Chicago’s most fundamental problem.” Yet, he said, Federal District Court Judge Richard B. Austin called for a formal end to segregation, in 1969, while weighing in on Dorothy Gautreaux vs. the Chicago Housing Authority and residential segregation.

Eunice Walker Johnson is pictured at left in this pic from the "Inspiring Beauty" exhibit at Memorial Art Gallery.
 Eunice Walker Johnson (pictured at r.), “Inspiring Beauty” at MAG.

Which makes Mrs. Johnson’s efforts all the more remarkable. Her own husband and business partner, John, wrote of the rejection she faced while trying to incorporate herself into the fashion world, characterizing it in his autobiography as follows:

“Certain (European and American) designers assumed that White women wouldn’t value their designs if they were worn by Black women. We finally got through to one or two of the leading designers and the others followed.”

So, at a time when African American women were largely excluded from the fashion world, Ebony Fashion Fair (est. 1958) and Ebony magazine helped showcase, celebrate and give voice to the otherwise hidden aspects and aspirations associated with black life and raise millions in support of social causes.

Rochester, as it turns out, was one of the first cities to welcome the Fashion Fair.

Coveted designed from MAG's "Inspiring Beauty" exhibit.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t covet the coat pictured here (far r.).

“Inspiring Beauty” is presented by the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum and is currently on a national tour under the direction of Int’l. Arts & Artists, which is based in Washington, D.C. Locally it is presented by the Gallery Council of the MAG and the N.Y.S. Council on the Arts.

The exhibit runs thru Sun., April 24—with MAG identified as the only Northeast venue hosting the show.

Admission to MAG, which includes entry to the Grand Gallery, costs:

• $14 – general
• $10 – senior citizens
• $5 – ages 6-18 and college students w/ID
• FREE – children <6, members of MAG and U of R students

The City of Rochester also hosts FREE admission, from 10am to 12pm, once monthly on Saturdays. Upcoming, applicable dates include March 5 and April 2. Learn more online at, @magur on Twitter or via MAGRochester on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

The "Inspiring Beauty" Fashion Fair exhibit is on display at MAG thru April 24, 2016.
“Inspiring Beauty” is on display at MAG thru April 24, 2016.

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