EVERY FALL, the Ebony Fashion Fair sweeps into town, bringing with it gowns, jewels, furs and play clothes from top European and American designers -- clothes most often seen only by the rich and famous and in the pages of the glossiest magazines.
The world-class lineup includes names such as Versace, Blass, Valentino, Dior, Ungaro, Cardin, De la Renta.
It is only fitting that proceeds from this showcase of fabulous, unaffordable clothes affords an opportunity for deserving students to continue their educational goals.
The Baltimore Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. has been sponsor of the Fashion Fair since its inception in 1958, and since then has used it to provide scholarship grants, counseling and major endowments. The United Negro College Fund is an annual recipient.
"The Ebony show is an opportunity to enjoy fashion," says Maggie Wiggins, general chairwoman of this year's event. "I have followed the Fashion Fair since 1974, as a Howard University alumna. The fashions are things I could never afford, but they are wonderful to look at.
"The shows in the past few years have come to mean a little more to average people. Those in the audience who can sew can find inspiration and ideas to copy. There are those women who have a certain fashion sense, an ability to put a look together, and they come away with ideas on which they can build the basis of their personal wardrobe."
But the world-class fashion sense that stamps the Ebony show belongs to Eunice W. Johnson, producer and director of the show since its birth. Johnson is the wife of John H. Johnson, CEO and chairman of the board of the Johnson Publishing Co., the corporate umbrella that underwrites the traveling showcase.
She attends the couture and ready-to-wear shows of all the major European and American design houses and buys the trunks of clothes which will spark the imagination of her audiences.
This year, the Ebony tour will give 190 shows in 185 cities bringing along 13 models, stage directors, commentators and wardrobe staff.
Yvonne Queen, a Delta alumna from Johns Hopkins University who this year chairs the hostess committee, says the fashion extravaganza is spellbinding. "It's being able to say you saw clothes you would never ever have a chance to wear. The real treat is sometimes catching sight of the models when they're not all dressed up and realizing the show is fantasy."
The event Sunday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall will also attract a fashion-savvy audience.
Maggie Wiggins says she'll probably wear her 4-year-old Adolfo. "It's the most expensive thing I own, but that's one advantage of good clothes, they look good for a long time. And many women attending the show will make it a point of pride to look good.
"In recent years, the Ebony show has a wider appeal. There is always a full-size model and many women in the audience can really relate to her. She's usually the hit of the show because she wears the clothes instead of the clothes wearing her."
Along with changing fashions come changing times. Sponsors estimate the number of men attending the Fashion Fair will be 25 to 30 percent of the audience -- a dramatic increase from years past.
The Ebony Fashion Fair takes place Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Ticket prices range from $18 to $35 with a one-year subscription to Ebony, Ebony Male or Jet magazine included in the price. For ticket information call Morgan State University at 444-3015 or the Ticket Hot Line, 655-0362.
The Fashion Fair moves to Annapolis Senior High School on Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. under the sponsorship of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority to benefit their scholarship fund. Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for students. Call (301) 266-8060.