Way before Beyoncé and Tina Turner, there was Josephine Baker, a St. Louis, Missouri born dancer, singer, actress, and all around entertainer.
Born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906, Josephine caused a splash on the 1920’s Parisian scene, thanks to her enthusiastic dance moves and unparalleled beauty. She made her French debut at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées with La Revue Nègre, an act where she performed a Danse Sauvage dressed in nothing but a feather skirt. Her moves had magic in them–she was an overnight sensation and in 1927, she was the highest paid entertainer in Europe.
Her stage costumes and accoutrements were the things of legend: who else could pull off little more than a banana skirt, gold chains, and large Art Deco earrings?
See her perform her dance here:
The Créole Goddess (as she was dubbed) and her infamous banana costume were given tribute in Miuccia Prada‘s Spring/Summer 2011 fashion show. Models sported Josephine inspired slicked down marcel curl hairstyles, and were styled in pieces printed with bananas, black women, and interestingly, monkeys.
See Prada’s Spring/Summer 2011 campaign video here:
Josephine worked hard to separate herself from her on stage ‘savage’ persona by adorning herself in the finest threads. She spent most of her salary on clothes by Paul Poiret, Balenciaga, Chanel, and Dior, jewelry, Louis Vuitton luggage, and pets (she had a Cheetah named Chiquita, who had her own diamond encrusted collar).
Apparently Josephine loved nothing more than matching her outfits from top to toe.
Baker’s slicked down hairstyle and dark lips, along with her costumes, have provided inspiration to countless future entertainers and ‘it’ girls.
Stay tuned for more of our favorite artists in our Black History Month series!