'Black Panther' Has Over 700 Costumes Fusing Futurism, Indigenous Dress, and High Fashion

Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter tells The Hollywood Reporter it took an "army" to craft a "new African diaspora with 700 costumes fusing futurism, indigenous dress and high fashion," according to THR.

Carter, who served as costume designer for Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and Selma, worked alongside five illustrators, 14 designers and mold makers, fabric dyers, and jewelry makers to imagine Wakanda, the fictional African country home to King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his people.

She turned to fashion by avant-garde pleating master Issey Miyake, African-style vintage pieces by Yves Saint Laurent and Donna Karan, utilizing mood boards with images of African dress from the Maasai, Tuareg, Turkana, Xhosa, Zulu, Suri and Dinka peoples, along with abstract examples of drapery, beading, and piercings and body art.

Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong'o, who plays T'Challa's romantic interest and ambassador-slash-undercover agent Nakia, wears only shades of green, each hue worn just once. "It's not only nailing one character, it's nailing several in one person," Carter says.

“Ruth, [director Ryan Coogler] and I wanted Nakia to look both elevated and grounded in her work as a spy and each costume reflects those things,” Nyong'o says. “Neither aesthetic nor utility were compromised.”

Equally fashionable are Okoye and Ayo (Danai Gurira and Florence Kasumba), fierce members of T'Challa's personal bodyguard force known as the Dora Milaje, who don colorful beaded armor resembling jewelry.

Shoppers were recruited to explore Ghana and South Africa in search of real artifacts, textiles and jewelry to use as prototypes for the women's accessories, with Carter turning to rubber remakes of Nbebele neck rings for the actresses' safety.

Zuri (Forrest Whitaker), Wakanda's spiritual guru and keeper of the herb that gives the Black Panther his jungle cat-inspired powers, is draped in regal purple threads and a micro-pleated robe.

Another Wakandan elder, T'Challa's regal mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), accompanies her son to the icy highlands of Wakanda, ruled by the Jabari, or the mountain tribe. “I used Africa’s Dogon tribe as inspiration for all things Jabari,” Carter says of the remote Mali civilization.

The scene sees Bassett sport blanket textiles, inspired by hand-batik cloth found at an antique mart in Atlanta, Georgia. "The Jabari also wear these phenomenal grass skirts that Ryan Coogler just fell in love with," Carter says.

Ramonda's looks were inspired by South African activist and politician Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela.

“I had video of her arriving at a birthday party in South Africa wearing a traditional Zulu woman’s ceremonial costume and headdress that was just beautiful,” Carter says.

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T'Challa's mother wears a 3D-printed shoulder piece made from African lace designed in a circuit pattern that "paid respect to specific tribal inspirations that we came up with while creating a look that was entirely unique," Coogler says.

Wakanda steps into the spotlight when Marvel Studios' Black Panther opens February 16.