Maria Grazia Chiuri came across archive pictures of Josephine Baker performing in Dior couture in New York in 1951 in New York. The shining American-born French Black star and civil rights activist came to perform in Paris in 1925, becoming a leading light of the Jazz Age cabaret and a French citizen. In World War II, she joined French Resistance, and in 2021 was finally honored as one of the greats of the French nation when her name was inscribed at a solemn ceremony at the Pantheon in Paris.
What an inspiration for the creative director to relate to—especially after the discovery that Baker had been a client of the house. “She was really an incredible, empowered woman,” Chiuri said in a preview at Dior headquarters. She dedicated the spring haute couture to her, and surrounded the show with a gallery of portraits commissioned from Mickalene Thomas featuring a new pantheon of similarly ground-breaking Black and biracial Hollywood actors and models of the 20th century, with Josephine Baker at its center.
Instead of leaning literally on the famous imagery of Baker as a showgirl, Chiuri took a more subtle, pared-back approach. She’d studied, too, less well-known photographs of Baker in restaurants, wearing day-suits, and in uniform during the war. The collection was all the more quietly powerful for it.
“The line in this collection is more ’20s,” she said. “More clean, less volume, more my attitude.” Her project, as she sees it more generally at Christian Dior, is “to renovate” and render the classical canon of the house to be lighter and easier to wear—and especially, now, to answer the growing requests from couture customers for daywear.
There were shimmery Deco-like beaded shifts that somehow recalled flapper dresses, for sure. Definite moments of green-room looks, with silver tap-pants or structured lingerie, but covered up with velvet dressing gown coats. A third of the way in came an outstanding gold cloque midi suit, the jacket recalling the iconic 1947 Bar jacket, but structured, sans corsetry to skim the body rather than nip.
She took the same clever approach to de-boning and un-fussifying the grandeur of the off-the-shoulder Dior ballgown, using artfully creased satins, in slate gray, liquid silver, or pale gold. These effects had a beautiful simplicity—like ideal heirloom dresses rediscovered in a family trunk.
But the real surprises were in the time Chuiri took to show her sober and impeccably-cut tailoring: the simplicity of double-breasted Dior gray skirt suits; a minimally perfect tuxedo coat; long, slim silhouettes in black. All there was in the way of decoration was on the feet: velvet, embroidered, ankle-strapped platform sandals. It will surely be more than enough to have modern-minded clients racing to Christian Dior to fill that yawning gap in chic things to wear for the day.
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This article was originally published on Vogue.com.