We’re into the second month of 2016 and for many of us who are of African descent, it becomes an important time of reflection, honouring and rebuilding as we focus on those who came before us. We try in some way to learn more about our ancestors and their contributions not only to our community but to the world at large.
This month I’ve decided to look at black women who have made significant impact in the Beauty & Fashion industry. Many black women have managed to breakdown stereotypes and pushed the boundaries to make significant contributions to the evolution of style and beauty. These icons have paved the way and revolutionized the way in which we look at black beauty. This is but a humble list as I can no way cover all the wonderful and beautiful black women who have made great contributions to the beauty and fashion industry. This will be a post series beginning with the honouring of the women of the past and ending with a focus on the women of today who continue to make strides in black beauty and fashion.
So let’s begin with a woman like no other who changed the fashion and beauty world completely !!!
This American-born French dancer, singer, and actress is praised as one of the most influential style icons of her time and is revered today. She is noted as the first black fashion trendsetter. Decked out in diamonds and pearls and sporting a skirt of bananas, a topless Josephine Baker made her Folies Bergere debut to the shock and admiration of Paris. So phenomenal was her performance at the Folies Bergere in 1925, she ignited the trend of sun tanning among whites. She was even called “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” by Ernest Hemingway. The “Black Pearl” or “Bronze Venus” as she was so affectionately called, forged the path for the glamorous ‘flapper girl’ style of the Jazz Age.
She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 3, 1906 to washerwoman Carrie McDonald and vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson. Josephine grew up cleaning houses and babysitting for wealthy white families who reminded her “be sure not to kiss the baby.” She got a job waitressing at The Old Chauffeur’s Club when she was 13 years old. She was married and divorced four times, a brief marriage to Willie Wells, a marriage to American Willie Baker in 1921 (whose last name she chose to keep), Frenchman Jean Lion in 1937 (from whom she attained French citizenship) and French orchestra leader Jo Bouillon in 1947 (who helped to raise her 12 adopted children).
Josephine toured the United States with The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers in 1919, performing various comical skits. When the troupes split, she tried to advance as a chorus girl for The Dixie Steppers in Sissle and Blake’s production Shuffle Along. She was rejected because she was “too skinny and too dark.” Undeterred, she learned the chorus line’s routines while working as a dresser. Thus, Josephine was the obvious replacement when a dancer left. Onstage she rolled her eyes and purposely acted clumsy. The audience loved her comedic touch, and Josephine was a box office draw for the rest of the show’s run.
However, her true success as a performer and style icon came when she moved to Paris, where her stardom and influence flourished and afforded her great success.
Want to learn more about this phenomenal woman? Check out: http://josephinebaker.com/ and http://www.cmgww.com/stars/baker/about/biography.html