Join The Mailing List
Never miss a post or video! No spam, promise.
My fascination with the role that culture plays in black women’s fashion and style sensibilities is evolving into an obsession, thanks to Black Panther.
The fashion was beautiful, flawlessly executed, and demonstrated how clothes can embody one’s own culture, character, and strength. BTW, isn’t the fan poster by Mr. Design Junkie super dope?
Ruth Carter, the movie’s costume designer is a black woman. Let’s start there. She’s a veteran of her craft (she’s worked on Malcolm X, Amistad, What’s Love Got to Do with It, and Selma to name a few) and credits her mother’s work as a counselor for teaching her how to empathize with others, important in a story-telling role like hers.
To gather inspiration for Black Panther, she and her team of 30 designers and buyers traveled across the globe leaving no stone unturned. Indigenous African tribes played a big role, not surprisingly. Several of the tribes she drew from include the Suri, Xhosa, Zulu, and Samburu.
Through her travels, she learned that some of the fabrics traditionally assigned to Africa originated from Holland. This is why we don’t see many prints in the movie; they represent colonization, which Wakanda was not impacted by. Instead, what we see in the movie in the influence of the vibrant colors, play on shapes (particularly geometric shapes and triangles), and layered textures, and craftsmanship that features leatherwork and beadwork.
Xhosa (South Africa)
Zulu (South Africa)
Samburu (North-Central Kenya)
Another source of inspiration was Afrofuturism. The movie is making this term mainstream (it’s new to me!), but the concept has been around for decades when it was coined by Mark Dery in his 1994 essay called “Black to the Future.” It’s the idea of imagining what the African diaspora would look like in modern or future times if black people were able to embrace and partake in all of our Black Excellence. So basically: How much more would black and African people have flourished if not for colonization?
Ms. Carter excellently embraced Afrofuturism by advancing the designs and costumes into a forward-thinking dimension that we have never seen before. She also referenced modern Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto to do this:
The balance of traditional and innovative inspo was fresh, sophisticated, and culturally appropriate. It was not corny, trite, cartoonish (a la Jetsons) or overtly obvious. To avoid those pitfalls, she allowed fashion principles to guide her design aesthetic and taste levels. In other words, make the clothes appear wearable and realistic, and not like costumes.
She achieved this through the female characters and each had her own style. This was dope because that not only reinforced her unique personality, but also widened the range of looks for the audience to see (because every character looks different).
The Maasai tribe in Kenya was the major influence for Okoye and her elite female warrior squad, the Dora Milaje pictured above (photo ceredit: Ryan Meinderding, Anthony Francisco/Marvel Studios). The Maasai are known for their bright red tones and beadwork. That is very visible in the characters, who wore bright red military uniforms, with intricate leather harnesses and beading, and metal neck rings and armor that she wanted to look like jewelry. Other influences came from the Ndebele (South Africa), and the Himba (Namibia).
Maasai (Kenya & Northern Tanzania)
Ndebele (South Africa)
Okoye, the leader of the military, mainly wears red in all her looks. The dress from the nightclub was designed and created by Carter’s team, while this coat (I couldn’t take my eyes off of it) was a replica of a Burberry leather woven trench she found on eBay!
Nakia always wears comfortable green garb. It reflects her heritage as Princess of the River tribe. Plus, she has to remain covert since she’s a spy who can “camoflauge” her way through suspect situations. The dress she wears in the nightclub scene is a kente cloth-inspired from the Akan (Ghana), created using 3D design software!
Shuri and Queen Ramonda were obviously heroines as well, both with a unique point of view displayed through their clothes. Queen Ramonda’s look was more classic, while Shuri’s was modern. In addition to them, I REALLY want to profile the elder tribal leader who wore the huge earrings but cannot find anything on the web about her. #bummer
In regards to Afrofuturism, this quote is thought provoking. Where do we go from here?
The notion of Afrofuturism gives rise to a troubling antinomy: Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?” Dery writes. “Furthermore, isn’t the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats, futurologists, streamliners and set designers—white to the man—who have engineered our collective fantasies?