A high society entrepreneur, co-founder of the Johnson Publishing Co. agency, along with her husband John H. Johnson, on whose publishing empire publications such as Negro Digest, Ebony or Jet were erected; Founder of Ebony Fashion Fair and Fashion Fair Cosmetics, Eunice Walker Johnson is considered the pioneer of fashion, specifically Haute Couture, and black beauty in the United States.
A woman who from the beginning was very clear about what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it, without letting anything or anyone stop her. She broke all the schemes within fashion, dissolving all the canons set so far, making her one of the most acclaimed entrepreneurs of the moment.
Born in 1916 in Selma, Alabama, Eunice Walker graduated in sociology from Talladega College in 1938 and, after high school, entered Loyola University in Chicago to train as a social worker. He also studied journalism at Northwestern University and interior decoration at the Ray-Vogue School of Design, and was a member of Delta Sigma Theta. During her college years she met her future husband,John H. Johnson, editor of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company in 1940, whom she married after completing her studies.
In the 1940s, long before the black conscience movement of the modern civil rights era, Eunice and her husband founded Johnson Publishing Co., the world’s largest black-owned publisher. Their publications are aimed primarily at readers from the United States, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe and stand out for their spirit and a positive image of power, dignity and beauty in the black community. Their first project was founded in 1942, Negro Digest, a magazine similar to Reader’s Digest, which included articles about great African-American scholars and significantly impacted the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and early 1970s.Shortly thereafter in 1945 they founded the company’s flagship magazine, Ebony magazine, whose name Was conceived by Eunice and was the African-American response to Life magazine, with bold and interesting photographs. Later, in 1951, Jet magazine began editing.
In addition to working as a secretary-treasurer of the publishing empire, Eunice had her own vision and style and translated her dreams of black empowerment into a nearly 70-year career as founder, producer and director of the Ebony Fashion Fair, which she founded in 1958. An haute couture fashion show and pret-a-porter that annually went on a tour throughout the country and that was aimed mostly at African-American audiences. Her main purpose was to transfer the glamour of europe’s major fashion brands, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Chanel, Pierre Cardin, Balenciaga, Ungaro, Christian Lacroix or Valentino to the United States with black models. She also was committed to American designs and, above all, supported black designers such as Lenora Levon, Rufus Barkley and Angela B’Nai.It was about using fashion as a driving vehicle to inspire the black community in their expectations or way of life through luxury. A radical act at a time when segregation remained the norm and black women were highly excluded from Haute couture.
Given her economic position, since the founding of both the magazine and the fashion fair, Eunice did her best to obtain the most avant-garde ensembles of the time. To this end, as some of Europe’s big firms were reluctant to make their designs look like black models, Eunice spent a lot of money on boutiques or retailers where she could get the best designs. And she did not settle for little, he always sought the creme de la creme so that he could offer his customers exclusive and quality designs. She became a fashion producer, fashion and styling editor and chaired, in addition to being director, Ebony Fashion Fair for nearly 50 years, from 1961 to 2009.
Eunice Walker Johnson also played a decisive role in the establishment in 1973, of the fashion fair cosmetics line of beauty products, formulated for the tez of black women. It was the direct response to the difficulty of the models to be able to make up, since they manipulated the products of the market to obtain the right skin tone. Eunice was smart enough as an entrepreneur, as a visionary, to translate the needs of black women and become a beauty revolutionary. She knew how to express style, translate trends into viable products for African-American women based on socio-economic circumstances, and hence make their products affordable for the entire community. Fashion Fair Cosmetics was strategically marketed in high-end department stores.The line continued to expand as it introduced skin care products, fragrances and hair care. Fashion Fair Cosmetics was one of the largest black-owned cosmetics companies in the world and its initiative led other cosmetics companies, such as Max Factor, Revlon and Avon, to follow suit.There is no doubt that Eunice Johnson was the pioneer and laid the foundations of the black cosmetics we know today, Iman Cosmetics, Mented Cosmetic, Black Up, Fenty Beauty or Pat McGrath Lab, among others. Thanks to her approaches and cunning, now the big firms like Lóreal and Estee Lauder are also expanding their market towards diversity.
Eunice Walker Johnson, along with her husband, created the empire of black excellence based on publications by her Johnson Publishing Co agency, the fashion event, Ebony Fashion Fair and the cosmetics line, Fashion Fair Cosmetics. The agency became the first black company to be listed on the American Stock Exchange and reached $100 million in sales volume, of which it donated more than $50 million to various initiatives aimed at fostering philanthropy and education.In addition, Ebony Fashion Fair produced more than 4,000 shows raising more than $55 million which also went to social works.
In 1987, her daughter Linda Johnson took control of the companies and later she became president and CEO in 2002. After the death of their parents, in 2005, John and 2010 Eunice, the companies had to face the new challenges of the market.In 2016, Johnson Publishing Co. was acquired by Black Operations LLC (Ebony Media Operations LLC) which includes Ebony magazine, Ebony.com and Jetmag,com. On the other hand, Linda Johnson Rice was president emeritus of Fashion Fair Cosmetics until, in 2019, the company was acquired by former executives of Johnson Publishing Co, Cheryl Mayberry McKissack and Desiree Rogers.