black and white photograph of Josephine Baker who wears a ball gown

Josephine Baker: Fashion icon

Inspiring photographers and designers

Marta Franceschini (opens in new window) (European Fashion Heritage Association)
Anna Carniel (European Fashion Heritage Association)

Josephine Baker, the legendary entertainer, was not only celebrated for her remarkable talent and groundbreaking contributions to the world of entertainment but also for her distinctive sense of style that left an indelible mark on the world of fashion.

Born in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker's journey from a humble background to international stardom was accompanied by a transformative relationship with fashion.

black and white photograph of Josephine Baker on stage with musicians behind her
black and white photograph, Josephine Baker sits cross-legged and wearing a tuxedo and top hat

Baker's early years in showbiz saw her donning the flapper fashion of the Roaring Twenties. Her iconic bobbed hair, sleek evening gowns, and ornate headbands became symbolic of the era's liberated spirit.

But it was her daring performances at the Folies Bergère in Paris that truly catapulted her into the limelight.

Baker's off-stage style was equally influential. She embraced androgynous fashion, often wearing tailored suits, bow ties, and cropped hairstyles. Her fondness for menswear-inspired clothing challenged traditional gender norms.

black and white photograph, Josephine Baker sitting on a chair, wearing a sequinned outfit

Her striking style was immortalised by many photographers, who contributed to turning her into an enduring fashion icon.

Man Ray was one of the first to capture Baker's image as the face of the avant-garde. George Hoyningen-Huene photographed her at her most glamorous and sophisticated.

Martin Munkácsi captured Josephine Baker in a more dynamic and candid light, showcasing her vivacious energy and the excitement necessary for her stage performances.

Carl Van Vechten, known for his portraits of influential figures of the Harlem Renaissance, highlighted her beauty and unique sense of style while also reflecting the cultural and social significance of her work.

black and white photograph of Josephine Baker, who wears a long coat and hat

These images capturing the multifarious soul of Josephine Baker have inspired numerous fashion designers over the years.

Designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs often spoke of Baker as the inspiring force behind their bold designs. The famous shoe designer Christian Louboutin even designed a pair of shoes inspired by her iconic banana skirt, paying homage to her groundbreaking fashion choices.

black and white image of Josephine Baker performing, she wears a bikini and many necklaces

African American fashion designer Patrick Kelly gained recognition in the 1980s in the Parisian fashion scene. He celebrated black culture and cited Josephine Baker as a muse for many of his collections. Kelly was known for his playful and bold designs, often featuring humorous motifs and vibrant colours.

In a similar vein, creative director of Balmain Olivier Rousteing has spoken about his admiration for Josephine Baker's groundbreaking efforts in promoting racial diversity and has incorporated elements of her style into Balmain's collections.

a model on a catwalk wearing a black dress with a pink, green and purple skirt, the letters YSL are printed on the wall behind her

Not only designers, but also models have drawn inspiration from Baker’s distinctive look and pioneering spirit.

Somali-born supermodel Iman, a trailblazer for models of colour in the fashion industry, had an impact on diversity in modelling that resonates with Baker's groundbreaking efforts to challenge racial norms.

photograph of a model on a catwalk who wears a black suit

Similarly, Grace Jones’ androgynous style and avant-garde fashion choices reflect elements of Josephine Baker's boundary-pushing approach to style and beauty.

a model on a catwalk, wearing a long white dress with black buttons and a black 'mermaid tail' skirt

Naomi Campbell has acknowledged Josephine Baker as one of her inspirations, as did Tyra Banks: Banks has cited Baker's confidence and ability to break barriers as a source of inspiration for her career and her mission to empower aspiring models and promote diversity on and off the catwalk.

Josephine Baker's influence on fashion extended far beyond her lifetime.

Her fearless approach to style, her celebration of diversity, and her willingness to challenge societal norms continue to resonate with contemporary fashion icons and designers. Her legacy serves as a reminder that fashion is not just about clothing - it's a powerful tool for self-expression, empowerment, and social change.