Sexy and revolutionary fashion was indelibly expressed to reflect the social shift in the U.S. during the middle of the sexual revolution (1960’s - 1980’s) and the Black Panther Party movement (1966-1982).  Black beauty images were segregated in magazines and on film with very few exceptions.  Model pioneers of the 40's and 50's such as Sarah Lou Harris Carter and Dorothea Church paved the way for familiar faces of the 60's and 70's to crack beauty ceilings in print and on screen, i.e. Naomi Sims, Donyale Luna, Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson.  However, Jet and Ebony magazines, the brainchildren of Johnson Publishing Company founded in 1945, were right out front and the go to for thousands of black women who wanted to see themselves represented to the world in the same way they expressed themselves in their own communities. The company's matriarch, Eunice Johnson, expanded that vision by creating the Annual Ebony Fashion Fair in 1958.  It soon became a national tour with a runway extravaganza not to be missed. The stage was set and the world had a front row view of how black women valued themselves through their style which has always been an expression of mood, spirit, but also that of status and political activism.  Black women mattered, ne demanded to be noticed and Audrey Smaltz would be the voice.

Ebony Fashion Fair began as a charitable event and grew to become THE fashion event of the season for black women and their daughters until its end in 2009.  At its height, the show was uniquely led by its iconic former model and premier commentator, Audrey Smaltz, from 1970-77.  I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Smaltz at Constance CR White’s ‘How To Slay’ book signing in NYC IN 2018 where she accepted my invitation for an interview.  I wanted to learn more about the less well known black designers she encountered during her time at EFF.  The ones you don’t learn about in fashion school.  So, back to school I went with Ms.Smaltz.       
LM: Today, there are a number of books about the black fashion industry.  Most of the well-known black fashion designers of the 70’s were men:  Stephen Burrows, Willie Smith, Jeffrey Banks, for example.  Can you recall any notable and not so well known black female designers featured in the show?

with HALSTON and made clothes for them. My favorite designer was HALSTON.  I love cashmere and his cashmeres were the best.  I wore SCOTT BARRIE, too. LOIS K. ALEXANDER LANE was a fashion designer and founded the Black Fashion Museum in Harlem. (This precursor of the National African American Museum in Washington, DC is no longer in existence, but pieces from her life's work of curated collections by black designers are exhibited there).
LM: By now everyone should know about Philly’s own MAE REEVES, featured milliner in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of AA History and Culture in DC.  B.MICHAEL was designing hats behind the scenes for the TV series, Dynasty, before he was put front and center with a hat Mrs. Johnson requested for an Ebony magazine shoot.  Can you recall any African-American milliners used for the shows during your tenor as commentator and was there a great hat moment that you can remember?
AS: Not just one hat moment that I can think of.  Each show was special.  Ebony Fashion Fair included hats from a lot of milliners:
GLORIA GIBBS - out of Chicago
IDA COOPER -Milliner who made beautiful crowns
MADAME (Willie) POSEY - I used to model for her and to commentate her shows.  She's the mother of Faith Ringgold. 
About the museum...I’ve been several times, but what was missing?
Clothes, MORE clothes!!
There was a dress worn by Johnnetta B. Cole, president of Spelman College, and Michele Obama’s dress by TRACY REESE, and others but some of the most important fashion moments and designers were missing. 
LM:  Political statements of the seventies were front and center of Ebony and Jet magazines.  Did politics ever permeate the runway shows?

AS:  Not really, but as more and more European designers began to supply the shows and began to sell to the black clientele, which they never did before, so did the color of their runways and collections.  GIVENCHY's entire model cabine was black during the 70's.  Politics dictated that he get rid of them if he wanted to get coverage in fashion publications.  Eventually he did.  YVES ST. LAURENT‘s 'Jazz' series was comprised mostly of black models.  [EMILIO] PUCCI's house model at his palace in Florence, Italy was black.
LM:  How was authentic African style represented in the shows?

AS:  Traditional African clothes and prints weren’t used for the shows, but PUCCI incorporated African prints into his collections and those were included on the tours.

LM:  What was the most spectacular overall show that you can site and why?

AS:  I can’t name just one.  Each had a different theme and was spectacular!
Spectacular as was the interview.  Ms. Smaltz lit a fire with the stories and names she shared from her experiences with Ebony Fashion Fair.  Some I am aware of, but I wasn't familiar with most that she mentioned.  Audrey has definitely encouraged me to go beyond the fashion footnotes to learn more about the rich history of black folk's creative contributions to the fashion industry at large.  School should never end.
Thank you Ms. Smaltz.
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