Black Fashion History: Ebony Magazine


Ebony Magazine. A name that carries weight, both in the curation and cultivation of black history. Flicking through archive print copies of the magazine from this millennium, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with nostalgia and fond memories. Especially seeing an ageless Janet Jackson in a waistcoat showing her midriff, with studded accessories from October 2006. Also, Kelly Rowland, Common and Ciara’s concerted wide-grins, matching in angelic white to celebrate Ebony’s Black music Month. Ebony played an integral part in determining the trends and culturally relevant issues of the black community. Month after month.

A movement birthed by a then-upcoming businessman Johnson H. Johnson with a $500 loan from his mother over 75 years ago. The conglomerate Ebony Magazine has sealed black stories and black celebrity into the social and cultural stratosphere. Being held in such high regard, the brand helped the culture as a whole occupy high levels we once weren’t given access to.

With intent to “enlighten, encourage, empower, and entertain”, Ebony was a monthly uplift and cut no corners by covering the whole black lifestyle in a relatable yet aspirational way. For decades on end, the publication has been synonymous with black fashion and culture. It’s without question that it has been both the standard and the benchmark for editorials by us, tailored to us. Before there were countless fashion inspo Instagram pages, before Pinterest, Ebony was the guide to what was hot and who was who. Over the years, it spotlighted the pomp and pageantry of Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin gowns, the innovative style of Prince and Michael Jackson, the grace of the late Cicely Tyson, the rise and rise of Tracee Ellis Ross’ fashion sense (circa. Girlfriends era), and the color coordination of The Supremes to Destiny’s Child. Fast forward to today, in retrospect you can easily see how it has become quintessential grail of what black luxury editorial is and should be.

“On the Scene”, was one of its most memorable features. A few pages showcasing celebrities at events with the latest fashions on display. It was a chance to take note of the black designers that Black Hollywood was wearing – from Mary J. Blige’s eccentric custom two piece ensembles to Will Smith’s leather jacket and trousers.

Ebony let us know of the many layers to black fashion and the trailblazing urbanwear movement by championing the likes of Sean John, Baby Phat and Phat Farm. It was the perfect platform and made for a lucrative marriage of editorial and fashion. Nothing beat seeing a full page dedicated to Alek Wek on the Baby Phat runway donning a hooded, fur coat, tweed pants and gold boots and a shimmery bronzed handbag. Naomi Campbell in a crochet bikini for Ebony’s resort wear coverage too. A real sign of the times. A time when high waisted, wide, tie belts were the rave for women. 

                                                                                                                                                          Ebony was especially methodic in officially introducing and inviting black America to Italian name brands, in an attainable way that catered specifically to them. It brought home luxury European runway shots and fed the relevant highlights to black consumers around the world. Each edition of its ‘Fashion Fair’ column would feature black girls on the runway for the likes of Pucci, Oscar De La Renta and Roberto Cavalli. Proudly putting emphasis on the designs, vibrant colours and embellishments made for black skin.

The buck didn’t stop there. The magazine supported African American designers who brought innovative and cultured twists to couture and luxury design to the mainstream. We’re talking luxury that actually considers fuller figures and black perspectives. Which other publication was catering to black people in this way?

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