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Fashion, legacy live on with Ebony Fashion Fair Collection auction

The auction of the Ebony Fashion Fair Collection by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, 1338 W. Lake, will be at 10 a.m. March 19. Previews are March 16-18.

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Updated: March 25, 2013 6:42AM



It’s the age-old question women have while staring at their closets.

What will I wear today?

Eunice Johnson, the wife and business partner of Johnson Publishing founder John Johnson, heard the call and launched the Ebony Fashion Fair in 1958. The biannual shows brought high fashion to African-American women across the United States. For some, the show answered their wardrobe challenges. Others gained a lifelong appreciation of fashion design. Mrs. Johnson, who died in 2010, had an eye for the modern and featured pieces from world-famous designers — Christian Dior, Bill Blass, Valentino, Kevan Hall and Zang Toi to name but a few — exclusively curated and purchased looks for the traveling shows.

In May, Casey Monda, director of vintage couture and accessories at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, eyed more than 2,500 designer pieces from the archives. She was asked to cultivate an auction-worthy collection that showcases the best of Mrs. Johnson’s shows. The result: 748 designer gowns, fur coats and dresses available for public auction. The shows ended in 2010 (a revival is planned this year), so the 52-year history spans the fashion spectrum.

“The collection in its entirety is really dedicated to the modern,” Monda said. “There are pieces that are current — right on trend — but for the range of time, she really had an eye for timeless design.”

Monda said collectors of all types are keen to shop the auction. Many buyers want to own a piece of history but not keep it under wraps. “People will really fall in love with fashion of this caliber,” Monda said.

Sherri Hoke, former celebrity fashion stylist and Glenbrook North High School alum who has dressed celebrities for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Grammys and all the parties in between, said she plans to attend the March auction. In the spirit of the Oscars, she offered her selections from the Ebony Fashion Fair Collection for the Best Actress nominees.

Jessica Chastain: Carolina Herrara jeweled red silk chiffon gown. “She has to be in red, and this is such a bold color. I love red on redheads. And the pronounced shoulders are beautiful.”

Jennifer Lawrence: Christian Lacroix champagne lurex with mink gown. “This is cool and elegant — a difficult combination to achieve. This is how I see her and the character in the film.”

Emmanuelle Riva: Oscar de la Renta gold-sequined evening gown. “This complements her beautiful light skin, and the ombre sequin detailing is figure flattering.” Hoke did say she would sew up the slit.

Quvenzhane Wallis: Finding an age-appropriate dress for the 9-year-old nominee was a bit of a challenge for Hoke. “Feathers can be cute for little girls,” she said. She ultimately decided on an Emanuel Ungaro dress, but with some tweaks. “I like the style, but not the fabric. For a look that is not childish, but not too grown up, this dress in a pastel color with silk tulle underneath works.”

Naomi Watts. “She tends to wear unfussy, chic, clean lines. Her past trips on the red carpet, she wears noncolors — nude and silver. She’s from New York, not a Hollywood girl, so this works and shows off her gorgeous legs.”



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