Yara Shahidi’s Met Gala Look Honored Josephine Baker’s Legacy

When you think of American fashion icons, Josephine Baker’s name is at the top of the list. The legendary entertainer may have been the toast of Paris, but she was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Given that 2021’s Met Gala centers on the Costume Institute’s In America: A Lexicon of Fashion exhibition, Yara Shahidi wanted her look to honor the contributions of one of a true trailblazer. “My goal was to pay homage to [a] powerhouse renegade black American artist,” shared Shahidi post-event. “I just hope I was able to do that.”

Baker onstage at New York’s Strand Theater in 1951 wearing one of her custom Dior gowns

Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Working with longtime stylist Jason Bolden and the team at Dior, Shahidi set out to incorporate elements from Baker’s actual wardrobe into her gown. A committed history nerd, she and Bolden poured over imagery featuring the star. “We start from a place of inspiration, “says Bolden. “Sometimes that is history; sometimes it’s culture—we always begin somewhere interesting.” As Shahidi is a newly minted Dior ambassador, she and Bolden were pleased to find that Baker was a personal friend of Christian Dior. “We used archival photos [during research],” says Bolden. “The ones we loved most were from her American tour where she wore only Dior!” 

The research paid off. Maria Grazia Chiuri and the Dior team created a stunning embroidered gown with a tulle cloak that recalled Baker’s sumptuous costumes. The look was a showstopper, especially when paired with a gold tulle veil, gloves, and a Cartier Sixième Sens High Jewelry Transitional necklace with yellow diamonds and onyx.  Makeup artist Emily Cheng gave Shahidi an ultra-glamorous beauty look using Dior cosmetics while hairstylist, Fesa Nu created a retro-inspired coif akin to the styles Baker wore  “Seeing her on the carpet felt like magic,” says Bolden. “She brought all the magic Black fashion nuance we all needed!. For Shahidi, the night was a thrilling moment of fashion history with a perspective not unlike Baker’s. “It’s so interesting,” she said of the night’s theme and corresponding exhibition. “Even though the focus was “American fashion” it’s clear that the perspective is global.”

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