Artist Mickalene Thomas creates the set for Dior’s Josephine Baker-inspired couture show

American artist Mickalene Thomas collaborated with Maria Grazia Chiuri on the scenography for the designer’s latest Dior haute couture show in a celebration of pioneering Black women

Dior runway finale with show set by Mickalene Thomas
Dior haute couture S/S 2023, featuring a set by American artist Mickalene Thomas
(Image credit: Photography by Adrien Dirard, courtesy of Dior)

During her tenure as creative director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri has championed women artists through collaborative projects – in particular, on the immersive sets for the house’s shows in Paris. Collaborators have included Judy Chicago, Anna Paparatti and Eva Jospin; other sets have celebrated underappreciated artists from history, like Surrealist Leonor Fini, and often feature feminist messages and slogans. 

The latest collaborator is American artist Mickalene Thomas, who created the show set for Chiuri’s S/S 2023 haute couture collection presented yesterday (23 January 2023) in Paris. It marks the second time that the pair have worked together during the Italian designer’s time at Dior; previously, Thomas created a version of Christian Dior’s 1947 bar jacket for the 2020 cruise show held in Marrakech, Morocco (British designer Grace Wales Bonner was also drafted to create her version for the project). The set for this latest show – which was held in the grounds of Musée Rodin – is described as a ‘new creative dialogue’ between Thomas and Chiuri. 

Mickalene Thomas collaborates with Dior on haute couture show set

Dior show set by Mickalene Thomas

Dior S/S 2023 show set, featuring artworks created by Mickalene Thomas

(Image credit: Photography by Adrien Dirand, courtesy of Dior)

Providing a backdrop for a show which looked towards African-American performer Josephine Baker and her years in Paris in the 1920s for inspiration –  Chiuri called her an ‘embodiment of modernity’ – Thomas’ show set comprised 13 portraits of pioneering Black and mixed-race women. These included Baker, musician Nina Simone, models Donyale Luna and Naomi Sims, and Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award, among others. The house called it ‘a new pantheon of women’, ‘born out of a conversation dedicated to the importance of Black and mixed-race figures who have become exemplary by choosing to think and act differently’.

‘These women have broken many barriers in television, film, fashion and social activism,’ says Thomas (whom we interviewed in 2021 regarding her four-city exhibition series ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’). ‘It is because of their determination and sacrifices that I am able to make this work and be the artist that I am today.’

The various portraits, which stretched around the edge of the show space, also featured embroidered embellishments by the Chanakya ateliers and Chanakya School of Craft, a group of artisans based in Mumbai. Founded by Monica Shah and Karishma Swali in 2017, the non-profit aims to empower female craftspeople and preserve historic Indian techniques. In an ongoing collaboration, the school also worked on the large-scale embroidered ‘Chambre de Soie’ artwork by Jospin for the house in 2021.

Dior show set created by Mickalene Thomas

Dior S/S 2023 show set, featuring artworks created by Mickalene Thomas

(Image credit: Photography by Adrien Dirand, courtesy of Dior)

The collection itself saw Chiuri attempt to capture Baker’s ‘transgression of stereotypes and prejudices, the mixing of cultures and shared experiences that notably animated the vibrant world of cabaret’, as well as her adoption of French fashion. As such, the collection had a sensual line and silhouette – made to ‘glide over the body and caress it’ – with elements inspired by the 1920s, including a series of delicately beaded gowns which recalled flapper dresses of the era. 

‘For Maria Grazia Chiuri, each haute couture défilé is an opportunity to explore the complex thought processes connected to a garment constructed for a body,’ says the house. ‘The couture garment is a body-garment. A body-home. A body-manifesto.’

Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*, joining the team in 2022. Having previously been the digital features editor at AnOther and digital editor at 10 and 10 Men magazines, he has also contributed to titles including i-D, Dazed, 10 Magazine, Mr Porter’s The Journal and more, while also featuring in Dazed: 32 Years Confused: The Covers, published by Rizzoli. He is particularly interested in the moments when fashion intersects with other creative disciplines – notably art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and reporting from international fashion weeks. Across his career, he has interviewed the fashion industry’s leading figures, including Rick Owens, Pieter Mulier, Jonathan Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner, Christian Lacroix, Kate Moss and Manolo Blahnik.