I am excited to open the lecture series The Tastemakers for the first time. In devoting the first session to the interwar years, I will speak about American dancer and activist Josephine Baker (1906-75), the first African-American to rise to the world’s stage, and the perfect example of a trendsetter of those glorious years. She captured the fascination with African art, with black culture, and with dance of Charleston, all which had put the foundation for her rise. Since her sensational performance in the revue Un Vent de Folie in Paris in 1927, Baker had become famous icon of the Jazz Age, and her costumes, particularly the famed girdle of bananas have become influential for generations to come. During her time, women across the globe wore her signature gelled hairstyle, such amazing couturiers as Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet dressed her, and her cosmetic products were among the best seller skincare. Beyoncé paid homage to Baker by wearing a banana skirt; Rihanna memorably wore a sheer Baker-inspired dress; fashion brands like Prada have periodically noted Baker’s signature style. And all of these without mentioning her role in the French Resistance during WWII, hiding Jewish refugees, and the ultimate adoption of 12 children from around the world. Josephine Baker, cultural icon.
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