HOW JOSEPHINE BAKER INFLUENCED FASHION

The first black superstar’s legendary style has inspired Beyoncé, Rihanna, Zendaya, and more.

Josephine Baker’s story is of course, primarily, the story of a fabulous destiny: a poor little black girl who becomes the queen of Paris, then enters the French Resistance and finally turns into a devoted mother of twelve children adopted from the four corners of the world. It is the story of fifty uninterrupted years of a “headline-grabbing career.” From her first appearance in La Revue Nègre in 1925 to her last show, which retraced the story of her life, Baker’s control of her art and her image was unprecedented for her time, even when it came to her unapologetic, over-the-top fashions. It’s no doubt that stars like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Diana Ross, Zendaya, and more have been inspired by the legendary Josephine Baker and have paid tribute with their own interpretations of her iconic looks. 

Beyoncé, who has often given nods to the Black women performers who’ve inspired her, paid tribute to one of Baker’s most iconic costumes, the banana dress, in 2006, when she celebrated Jospehine Baker’s 100th birthday with a banana dance-inspired performance of her hit song, “Deja Vu” on the televised Fashion Rocks special. 

Beyoncé told ABC News in 2006, “I wanted to be more like Josephine Baker, because she seemed like she just was possessed and it seemed like she just danced from her, her heart, and everything was so free.”

Actress Zendaya channeled Josephine Baker in none other than a Chanel dress with pearled sleeves, which was originally named for the designer. Because Coco Chanel was a rumored to be Nazi spy when she was living at the Ritz in Paris during WWII, and Baker was on the other side, working for the French Resistance, the juxtaposition of cultural references is definitely provocative.

Model and mogul Tyra Banks embodied Josephine Baker in a guest star appearance on a 2009 episode of Gossip Girl. Banks played the character, Ursula Nyquist, an award-winning actress looking to offset some recent bad press with her dazzling performance as Josephine Baker in an Oscar-worthy film about the French Resistance.

Who can forget RiRi’s show stopping head-to-toe, Swarovski-crystalled Adam Selman gown she wore to the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards? Rihanna paid tribute in the ultimate way by acknowledging another Black woman who created both scandal and joy with the way she chose to present her body. This look forever goes down as one of our fashion faves!

In 2015, Jada Pinkett Smith channeled infamous dancer, singer and activist Josphine Baker at a Gatsby-themed birthday party in November and then again with her timeless beauty vibes in December when attending Rihanna’s Diamond Ball. The actress, screenwriter, producer, talk show host, businesswoman, and an occasional singer-songwriter was inspired by Josephine Baker’s style yet again at the 2019 Grammy’s when she wore a light pink, backless Roberto Cavalli gown complete with a bejeweled and feathered train. 

Diana Ross, singer, songwriter, composer, actress, producer, screenwriter and legend in her own right,  said her desire to portray Baker had been “almost a lifetime project”, until she was cast as Baker in a three-hour production for Ted Turner’s TNT cable service in 1990.  “I just thought that America and young black women should know her,” Ross said.

Don’t miss

Josephine Baker: The Story of an Awakening

PREMIERING 10/29 @ 9 PM EST

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