Former Ebony Fashion Fair models gather in Atlanta

They could stomp and twirl with the best of them.

They were the Ebony Fashion Fair Show models, gorgeous women who glided across U.S. stages raising money for various social and civic groups and inspiring thousands of young African American women — and sometimes men.

They wore designer clothes and some that seemed more like Mardi Gras costumes.

It didn’t matter to fans like Miranda Mack McKenzie, of Stone Mountain, who remembers going to the shows as part of a bonding ritual with her friends.

“It was the social event to go to every year,” said McKenzie, a donor relations and community engagement consultant for Atlanta Technical College. “The ladies on the stage were so elegant, classy and beautiful that I could just imagine myself being one of them. It served very much as a motivational and cultural experience for me.”

Nearly 100 former Fashion Fair models and 200 former commentators, stylists and others who supported the traveling show will be in Atlanta this weekend for a Fashion Legacy Association for Industry Recognition (FLAIR) event.

FLAIR is a nonprofit founded in 2012 by former Fashion Fair model Faye Clerk Moseley to encourage more diversity in the fashion industry, provide scholarships and bring together former models and others who worked on the show.

Started by Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Co., the show “represented the image of what people wanted to see and we took them to places they couldn’t otherwise afford to go,” through its fashions,” said Clerk Moseley, who modeled for the show during the 1983 to 1984 run. “It represented the possibility of what black people could do. There would be standing room only of people watching the most beautiful black women and men walk down the runway wearing couture fashions from all over the world.”

The 6-foot Clerk-Moseley, who now lives in Los Angeles and works in corporate human resources, estimates there are more than 500 former models scattered over the world as well as former staffers and commentators.

People like Shayla Simpson, Audrey Smaltz, Judy Pace, Pam Fernandez and Sonjia Young, an Atlanta resident who owns an event planning and communications company and runs a nonprofit.

A native of Baton Rouge, La., Young was 17 when she joined the show around 1960. Both parents had died and her older sister made her promise to tour for one year, then return to her schooling.

By the end of the run, she was happy to do so. “It was a good experience, but it was a lot more than I bargained for,” said Young, who was then Sonjia Amar. “We were up at 4 a.m. to have our make up on. We traveled by bus from city to city. We lived in people’s home because back then we couldn’t find hotels in some cities. We couldn’t go into restaurants. We had to take our little snacks and sandwiches. I was so unfamiliar with the world.”

She realizes, though, the value of the tour. They would spend time after shows talking with young black women about fashion and self-esteem. They helped raise money for sororities and civic groups that was then put back into the community.

Regina Mixon Bates , a native of Louisville, Ky., also walked the stage as a model during the 1986-87 run.

She was one of nine young ladies selected from a field of more than 500 to take part in the show.

Mixon Bates, who now lives in Smyrna and is a business owner, said she was as green as the grass under her feet.

Being part of the show, “helped build and motivate me to be the person that I am today,” she said. “It was an eye opening experience to know there was more than just Louisville out there.”

The organization will honor several people for their contributions, including former model and restaurateur B. Smith, Sonjia Young and designer Patrick Kelly, posthumously.

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