08/03/2012 07:14 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2012

Eunice Johnson: Fashion Icon Never Mentioned On International Best-Dressed List, Due To High Profile Rivalry?

We've been pouring over Vanity Fair's 2012 International Best-Dressed List that was released this week, highlighting the sartorial prowess of the world's most stylish beings. Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Ozwald Boateng and actress Farida Khelfa are just a few of the notables who snagged spots on the coveted list. While we were surprised by a few of this year's honorees (Morley Safer, seriously?) it was an even bigger shock to find out that in the list's 72 years of existence fashion icon Eunice Johnson never garnered a spot on the list.

Cathy Horyn, fashion editor at The New York Times, exposed this bit of information in her "On The Runway" column today and we're still trying to pick our jaws up off the floor.

Johnson, who died in 2010, was a pioneer and legend in the Black fashion world. As the wife of John H. Johnson, the founder of the Johnson Publishing Company of Ebony Magazine fame, she was the creative force behind The Ebony Fashion Fair, the famous touring fashion show for women of color. Johnson was among the first to bridge the divide between the world of high fashion and the Black community. And she did so when no one else would--or cared to try.

"Ms. Johnson was far ahead of her time in recognizing that fashion should be beautiful but not elitist," Horyn wrote. "I was surprised, then, to discover that she never made the Best Dressed List. Not in any year. Even if she had more substantial accolades during her lifetime, surely her activities and personal taste merited this small attention."

As Horyn recalls, she first learned of this most glaring omission from the Vanity Fair list when she met with Joy Bivins, a curator of the Chicago History Museum, and Virginia Heaven, an assistant professor of fashion studies at Columbia College in Chicago, to discuss an e exhibition the museum is presenting on The Ebony Fashion Fair in March 2013.

Biographers of Eleanor Lambert, the New York City socialite and founder of the venerable Council of Fashion Designers of America which served as the gatekeeper of the Best-Dressed list from 1940 to 2003, say that a rivalry between Lambert and Johnson may have kept her off the list.

Johnson was at the helm of the "World's Largest Traveling Fashion Show," which from 1958 to 2003 presented approximately 5,000 fashion shows and raised more than $55 million for various causes that included civil rights initiatives and scholarships. At the same time, according to John Tiffany, Lambert's biographer, Lambert was constantly trying to reach the masses with her own agenda. She died in 2003.

Still, Tiffany is also a bit puzzled as to why Johnson was never honored on the list. He says that Lambert was "always promoting black models." Even so, Tiffany says that Johnson’s success and wealth “was a sore spot for Ms. Lambert.”

Take a look at some of the stunning pieces from The Ebony Fashion Fair's 8,000-piece designer archive.



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