Roundup of Some Black Panther Costume Design Articles

Design & Designers, Geek out!, Movies & TV

Black Panther opens tomorrow! I am so excite! I’ve been looking forward to it since forever. Ok, not forever even if it feels like it; something to the effect of July last year is more like it.

To me, visuals have been one of the most interesting aspects of this installation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here are a few of the costume design articles I found most useful.

Booth Moore’s article in Hollywood Reporter gives some background for the design work. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter teamed up with 5 illustrators, 14 designers, mold makers, fabric dyers and jewelry makers, among others. She says she was inspired by African dress from the Maasai, Tuareg, Turkana, Xhosa, Zulu, Suri and Dinka peoples.

Her sources of inspiration also included materials such as glass bead, animal skin and cowry shells, and more abstract examples of drapery and beading plus piercings and body art. International high fashion was not forgotten: Carter also examined Yves Saint Laurent, Donna Karan and fashion by Japanese avant-garde pleating master Issey Miyake.

Hollywood Reporter Anthony Francisco Marvel Studios Black Panther Secret Service

Wakandan secret service Dora Milaje. Concept art by Anthony Francisco / Marvel Studios, via Hollywood Reporter.

Moore’s article refers in passing to a scene in the cold highlands and the fictional Jabari people dressed in blanket textiles. Carter’s inspiration for them was the Dogon tribe in Mali. Having grown up in a cold part of the world myself, I’m really curious to see how Carter’s team dressed the Jabari.

Looks like they’re included very, very briefly in this teaser trailer at about 1:26 mark:

Black Panther Teaser Trailer [HD] by Marvel Entertainment

Love the colors! I managed to get a blurry screencap:

YouTube Marvel Entertainment Black Panther Teaser Trailer Screencap

Marvel Entertainment via YouTube.

An article in Essence by Danielle Kwateng-Clark quotes Carter on the importance of research:

“I looked at the Senegalese wrestlers,” she said. “I looked at the Maasai tribe, the Tuareg and they’re all very distinctive in their looks. South Africa is different from West Africa, Nibia is different from Botswana. It was important that once I was guided in the direction of what each part of Wakanda looked like, I could assign each faction to an African tribe. […]

“In South Korea we had a hanbok designer, who was designing for our casino scene” […] “All of the servers wear this hanbok dress, so I really wanted to make sure we did a real authentic version of one. They had their team of cutters and sewers making that.”

Essence Marvel Studios Black Panther Nakia

Nakia. Marvel Studios via Essence.

Some of the key details in Wakandan costumes include Botswanan triangular Okavango pattern on T’Challa’s Black Panther outfit and individual insigniae on the secret service members’ belts:

“Each Dora [Milaje] has her own special trinket on her tabor [crest on belt] that means something to that particular wearer… You’ll notice on Lupita, there’s a little alligator that signifies she’s from the river tribe.”

In an Elle interview by Kendra James, Carter says that

“[…] authenticity is very important to me. With Wakanda, I’m sort of piecing together a puzzle. It’s the puzzle that is our history. Black history didn’t start with slavery or end with the civil- rights movement. I’m trying to put together that puzzle while considering everything that relates to us, including present stuff like the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“We’re speaking to an international black culture that knows film, that’s smart, that travels, that knows what’s happening in the world. I want to respect that. I start designing by saying ‘Don’t make it up.’ After the research, then I can make it up. [original emphasis]”

PRI Keith Christensen Marvel Studios Black Panther Nakia Casino Dress Concept

Nakia. Concept art by Keith Christensen / Marvel Studios, via Public Radio International.

Lindsay Peoples at The Cut starts with Carter’s road from theater costuming to the design room on movie productions. The interview shares this tidbit on the Black Panther visual ethos:

“[Director] Ryan Coogler and I agreed that it had to be spectacular. It had to be a feast for the eyes, with different wardrobes for different tribal councils. The nation of Wakanda needed to represent a forward-thinking and rich culture, but also I needed to project a look of royalty. […]

“I was also under a lot of pressure to create something that didn’t look like appropriation or stereotypical. Everything had to appeal to my fashion sense and be modern — not space-age, the way movies always use a diamond pattern on somebody’s robe or put points on their sleeves and a big collar. It’s just like your iPhone: each version progressively got sleeker and a little bit better.”

Carter goes on to talk about social considerations in her designs and mentions that Okoye, the leader of Wakandan secret service, wears gold neck rings while the rest of her warriors wear silver. The Queen Ramonda’s headdress is based on ceremonial Zulu headgear but 3D-printed for a modern, high-tech look.

Twitter Joe Kucharski Marvel Studios Black Panther Ramonda Pale Outfit

Marvel Studios via Joe Kucharski on Twitter.

Make sure to take a look at the nine character portraits by photographer Kwaku Alston in Entertainment Weekly. Such. Amazing. Detail!

Entertainment Weekly Kwaku Alston Black Panther Zuri

Zuri. Photo by Kwaku Alston / Entertainment Weekly.

I find costume design absolutely fascinating. So many aspects have to come together – character, story, and look, not forgetting practicality for a movie shoot. At best, it’s a vital part of the actors’ preparation to play their characters.

Entertainment Weekly Black Panther

Entertainment Weekly, via Joe Kucharski on Twitter.

Carter’s work for Black Panther looks PHENOMENAL – nuanced, layered and resembling a living tradition. As astonishing as the Black Panther suit is, compared to the other costumes it’s almost boring!

Now, if Ruth Carter doesn’t win an Oscar for her work I’m going to be mighty annoyed. (Hat-tip for the Oscar idea to Kaila Hale-Stern at The Mary Sue.)

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

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