Ever since she first exploded on the Parisian scene in the 1920s, Josephine Baker has been a muse to artists of all types: Whether on screen or on stage, through the written word or the sculptor’s hand, her life has been mined for inspiration time and again over the past century.
So, the only thing surprising about Maria Grazia Chiuri dedicating Christian Dior’s spring 2023 haute couture collection to Baker is that it’s taken the designer this long in her own seven-year tenure at the French fashion house to do so. After all, Baker embodies a mix of glamour and politics, both of which have dominated Chiuri’s work for Dior; even more important than Baker’s star-making stage presence was her commitment to the civil rights movement in the U.S., even long after she’d become a French citizen, as well as her work in the French Resistance movement during World War II.
Adding artistic heft to the messaging behind Chiuri’s couture runway show was the staging, handled by artist Mickalene Thomas. The designer, who has made collaborations with artists a signature of her vision for Dior, has worked with Thomas before—tapping the artist for a take on the brand’s iconic Bar jacket for the cruise 2020 collection, as well as having her put her stamp on a Lady Dior bag. But the staging of the spring 2023 haute couture collection marked Thomas and Chiuri’s biggest collaboration to date: Giant portraits made by Thomas that depicted Baker and the Black women who followed in her steps lined the runway and provided an extra boost of context to the collection.