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Why Black Panther is one of the most important fashion moments

Nadja Beschetnikova
February 21, 2018

Actually it was obvious that Marvel’s Black Panther won’t be a middling movie. But it seems that the effect surpassed the most daring expectations.

On its opening weekend the comic book adaptation dominated in the cinemas, notching $242 million. But its success goes beyond cinematic values.The top-grossing film with a black cast become a social and political statement. A sense of frustration and disappointment after the 2016 Oscars faded away being replaced by optimism.

Users on social media are heaping praise on the film for its bold message: there is a place for people of color and women in the superhero universes.

Many celebrities tweeted their love for the film. Now former first lady Michelle Obama praised the movie by tweeting «it will inspire people of all backgrounds to dig deep and find the courage to be heroes of their own stories».

"Audiences deserve to see themselves reflected on the big screen," Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis told the Hollywood Reporter.

But the movie is not only helping young people to become more confident. Black Panther is a big fashion moment.

First of all, the film features gorgeous costumes. Ruth Carter, the Oscar-nominated costume designer, created the stunning gowns for the characters. The main challenge was to combine an African and a futuristic, modern aesthetic without falling into a stereotypes. Carter’s goal for all the characters was to root the costumes in traditional African attire while making each piece serve the story in a specific way. However, the costumes should not have looked like costumes.

“This is something that’s super special to this particular story and this particular costume.  It cannot look like a costume. It has to look like a uniform that is worn by women who are fighting. It has to feel real,” told Carter.

Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa, an African prince endowed with superpowers, who returns to his fictional homeland of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa, to thwart an evil rival.  

It was a hard work to craft a vision which would reflect the image of black superheroes. Carters described it as Afro-futurism, a style which takes Africa and African American culture and looks at it with a twist of future and fantasy. At the same time, the clothing had to combine aesthetic and functionality to make characters look naturally in the fighting scenes. 

It was important to handle the traditional background respectfully to be able to modernize it. Carter spent a lot of time, researching the indigenous tribes. Working on the extraordinary white gown with a cylindrical hat, worn in the movie by T’Challa’s mother, Carter studied  African lace patterns to make the dress look more authentic and not so Victorian-era-inspired.

Another source of inspiration was the original comics. Carter took time to study images from Black Panther stories by Reginald Hudlin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and used those images as a jumping-off point for her own work. With her costumes, she tried to pay homage to those designs while also taking them to the next level.

The result is that the costumes help to tell the story. And that’s a sign of the great movie, where all elements are harmonized.

The fact, that the film will have the enormous cultural influence was perfectly illustrated at New York Fashion Week. Marvel Studio sponsored a charity event at the fashion show, where young designers could present their Afrofuturism inspired creations.

The presentation featured designs by LaQuan Smith, Chromat, Wale Oyejide of the brand Ikire Jones, Fear of God and others, including the jewellery of Douriean Fletcher in a capsule collection.

We can expect that African-inspired style comes back to the mainstream, and we’ll see even more interpretations on the catwalks soon.

No wonder that film gave a strong creative impulse to the fan base. Many moviegoers have been showing up in traditional African shirts, dresses, head wraps and more. The premiere nights turned into the colorful and stylish fashion shows.

Across USA people were enthusiastic to represent their heritage, wearing fine kente, batakari, dashikis, wax prints and ahenema adorned with rich jewelry.

Many women admitted that they were encouraged to wear the outfits, which represents their personalities, but which they would not have put on in another situation, fearing of prejudice towards black women.

“This jumpsuit reminds me of everything I was told not to be in life as a black woman. It is loud, obnoxious, eye-catching, and colorful. It represents my personality in its truest form. For years, I was told to be quiet and fit in with society’s definition of what a woman of color should be. When I wore that jumpsuit, I felt like I was defying every expectation set upon me by society. I felt beautiful and black,” says Paris-born New Yorker Esther-Lauren Mutolo.

And is it not true that in very deed freedom of personal expression can give us more confidence and pride than faceless luxury?