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Dior SS 23 haute couture show

Dior Haute Couture Presents An Ode to Josephine Baker

Erica Silverman

25 January 2023

Christian Dior’s haute couture Spring/Summer 2023 collection was an inspired homage to singer, dancer, and civil rights activist Joséphine Baker. Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri invoked Baker’s fearless journey to mid-1920s Paris—the premier artist destination of the time—and the captivating star’s experience in the international cabaret. Artist Mickalene Thomas created an energetic scenography rejoicing in glamorous, barrier-breaking, women of color, for a notable second collaboration with the house, following the Dior Cruise 2020 collection.

Dior SS 23 haute couture show

Photo by Adrien Dirand, courtesy of the artist and Dior.

The stage was set with Thomas’s larger-than-life portraits of legends such as Diahann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge, Marpessa Dawn, Ophelia DeVore, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Donyale Luna, Josephine Premice, Hazel Scott, Nina Simone, Naomi Sims, Helen Williams, and Baker. In 1925, Missouri-born Baker set Paris aglow with her first performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. She soon became the lead of the Folies Bergères revue, and a cherished client of renowned couturier Christian Dior. Amid her burgeoning success in the world of music, in 1931 Baker enlisted in the air force and evolved into a highly decorated French secret service agent of WWII. For her astounding bravery and continual fight against segregation and racism in the United States, Baker was the first woman of mixed race to become a member of the Pantheon—an extraordinary French honor for a cultural and artistic treasure. 

“Lena Horne once wrote to Ophelia DeVore, ‘It is true that you knew how beautiful black can be before the concept became commercial. More significantly, you did something about it.’ From Donyale Luna and Naomi Sims, some of the first Black supermodels, to Dorothy Dandridge, the first Black woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, this group of women represent many firsts that defied the obstacles put in their way,” remarked Thomas. “It was Helen Williams who was one of Ophelia DeVore’s first clients at her modeling agency, breaking down the racial barriers in modeling. It was Hazel Scott who became the first Black woman to host her own TV show. It is because of their determination and sacrifices, breaking barriers in TV, film, fashion and social activism, that I am able to make this work and be the artist I am today.”

Dior SS 23 haute couture show

Courtesy of Dior.

In silvertone, gold, and violet hues, embellished with embroidery developed by Chanakya School of Craft and ateliers, the artwork provided an ethereal backdrop for Dior’s modern take on classic 1950s style. Black, gold, and pearl coats, as comforting and alluring as a backstage dressing gown, took the spotlight in cloudlike velvet, silk, wool, and cashmere. Draped over satin underwear, swimsuits, shirts, and skirts, the suits and coats were reminiscent of Dior’s rich, masculine fabrics. Graceful embroideries, sparkling fringes, silver studs, and sequins made every look appear lit from within, echoing the women in exquisite surrounding portraiture. 

“The inspiration for the creative process developed through conversation about the importance of Black female role models that broke racial barriers by going against the grain and creating a new platform for many others,” said Thomas. “In choosing these thirteen phenomenal Black women, across continents, the consideration was to research a diverse and eclectic group of women with the odds set against them. In spaces that attempted to reject or impede their success, they persevered with confidence, elegance, beauty and talent. All of these Noir est beau have achieved and accomplished incredible feats that warrant this notable celebration with a brand like Dior.”

Dior SS 23 haute couture show

Courtesy of Dior.

Models wearing burnished crushed-velvet dresses in smoky tones of olive, coffee, aubergine, and caviar—some offering a decadent back cowl—evoked Baker’s storied performances in the Strand Theatre during post-war Europe and in New York’s Carnegie Hall. The chic drape, perfected top stitch, and skillful crystal beading on any given garment were a distinct homage to the graceful power of these historic women in the face of ever-evolving inequality and prejudice. Show-stopping haute couture treasures, such as a long gold lamé jacquard draped dress, a pleated, tapered cape in distressed satin, and a gold guipure dress of embroidered butterflies stole our hearts.

Dior SS 23 haute couture show

Courtesy of Dior.

Dior SS 23 haute couture show

Courtesy of Dior.



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Minjung Kim




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