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.
Of course, Baker was also a fabulous dresser, which means any fashion inspired by her should be equally stunning—and on this front, Chiuri delivered. It was a lush, sensuous collection packed with textures begging to be held close to the body, whether in the form of deep velvet or slinky silk. Several looks were paired with the haute couture version of a dressing gown, proving that if anyone can make bathrobes look chic, it’s Dior.
Although this was technically a spring collection, the color palette remained muted, dominated by shades of black, white, and gray. Still, the overall effect was incredibly romantic: Life as seen in an old movie, Baker’s dancing days captured on monochrome film. It allowed for the special details to pop, like delicate quilting on a jacket or knife-sharp pleating on a crumpled silk dress.
An underlying tenet of Chiuri’s Dior—for better or for worse, depending on who you ask—has been about understated luxury over statement-making gimmicks. Which, in this case, is almost a shame: Still photos of these garments don’t do justice to the way the delicate beading moved and sparkled in the light. Some of the beaded fringe moved with the lightness of feathers, a real feat of engineering.
And while couture might not be in the budget of the everyday customer, each look was finished with a pair of platforms, often in a matching shade of crushed velvet and featuring eye-catching embellishment—an ideal styling move to copy for the season. But perhaps the best takeaway from the Dior spring 2023 haute couture show might be the artistic ethos inside which it was wrapped.