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In Memoriam: 'Ebony' Matriarch Eunice W. Johnson

Fashion pioneer Eunice Johnson died on Sunday of renal failure in her Chicago home. The woman who gave Ebony magazine its name was born Eunice Walker in Selma, Ala. She studied art at Talladega College in Alabama, social work at Loyola University in Chicago, journalism at Northwestern University and interior decorating at the Ray-Vogue School of Design.

Eunice was married to John H. Johnson, who founded Johnson Publishing Co., the home of Ebony and Jet magazines. In 1961, she began producing the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show that set the pace for black fashion for half a century.

In addition to the Fashion Fair, Eunice Johnson helped start a line of cosmetics for women of color.

According to Andre Leon Talley, editor at large for Vogue magazine, Eunice Johnson thought about the beauty needs of women who, before her, may not have been able to find lipstick or foundation to match their unique hues.

"Mrs. Johnson [was] smart enough as a businesswoman, as a visionary, to take color and translate it to the needs of women of many hues," Talley says. "Everything with Mrs. Johnson became a celebration of who we are, of who black women were."

When Yves Saint Laurent produced a screaming orange or pink lipstick that became a must-have in the fashion world, Talley says, Johnson translated that for black women.

"She knew how to express style, translate trends into viable products for the African-American woman, whose budget very often is not one that can support a lipstick tube that would cost ... $100 nowadays," Talley says. "She made sure that Ebony Fashion Fair products were for people of all walks of life."

She was a aware of style on the runway, behind the makeup counter, in the offices of her husband's publishing company, and at home.

"Her world of style not only was about the proper or most extraordinary dress from Paris or jacket or sequined evening gown," Talley says. "She also was one of the first African-American women to have a Picasso in her living room in Chicago."

According to Johnson Publishing Co., the Ebony Fashion Fair has produced more than 4,000 shows and raised more than $55 million for charity.

"She loved what she had become and what she did give to the world," Talley says. "And that love was shared by millions."

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