Black Panther is Marvel’s first black superhero movie, with the movie boasting a predominantly black cast as well as lauded for its representation of strong female characters, and set in the imaginary African nation of Wakanda.
Apart from its box office success, the movie features fashion and beauty looks inspired by Africa, whilst the Hollywood premiere celebrated African royalty with attendees dressed in looks inspired by Africa.
The popularity of the movie successfully highlighted the importance and need for representation and diversity in popular culture. Over the years, movie-inspired make-up and hair looks have become iconic and it is very likely that 2018 beauty looks will be inspired by Black Panther, particularly with the movie’s strong focus on aesthetics and maintaining authentic African looks.
According to Black Panther’s costume designer, Ruth Carter, she says “Wakandans are serious about fashion.”
Her vision for Wakandan dress draws from traditional and contemporary African fashion.
Carter said she kept four words on her vision board as she designed: Beautiful. Positive. Forward. Colorful. The costumes had to fit seamlessly into the film, telling a story of their own but not competing with or distracting from the plot. The result is a dramatic look that makes clear that Wakandans use clothing as an important form of self- and community expression, to honor their ancestors, and to maintain a progressive social order.
African fashion has always been cosmopolitan, and Carter was careful not to depict it as frozen in the past. Contemporary designers across the continent are remixing tradition, creating innovative silhouettes and combining prints and textures. Carter and her team collaborated with several vanguard fashion houses to reflect the range of tailoring and textile production that animates the current African fashion scene.
She was drawn to the impeccable Ghanaian-inspired tailoring of Ozwald Boateng, as well as Ikiré Jones’s florid textiles, which re-imagine Nigerian culture through high Renaissance art. South Africa’s MaXhosa by Laduma, with its futuristic knitwear based on graphic Xhosa prints, and the peculiar silhouettes and color clashing of Duro Olowu—the Nigerian designer who dressed Michelle Obama—add an avant-garde edge. Together, the styles channel the dandified elegance of Congolese sapeurs and the transgressive spirit of the Afropunk festival to express the characters’ wide range of personalities.
Ever since the release of the blockbuster, American based African clothing stores have experienced a surge. Fans aren’t just buying clothes inspired by Marvel’s movie; they’re influencing trends, Dalton-Tyree, a store owner says.“This is absolutely something that we will see at fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara, and we’ve already been seeing everything from the fabrics, whether it’s a Ikot print or tribal necklaces. You see those trickle down into the masses, and of course, it’s fabulous fashion!”
African Designer Wunmi Olaiya, says African fashion has long been a source of inspiration for Western designers. “If you’re a stylist who’s trying to bring something new and you’re checking what’s going on, you’re checking the African scene,” she said. “Look at the Louis Vitton, where they did the Ghana Must Go bag. Come on, that didn’t come out from nowhere. There’s somebody in house there was definitely very aware of the African scene … Stella McCartney … everyone has been bitten by the African bug.”
If the African design aesthetic is now part of the established fashion cycle, what could this mean for the independent designers who are at the cutting edge? Bo Anuluoha of Kutula is cautiously optimistic: “I think African fashion now has a place in fashion, and that cycle is part of the course. We just hope that it continues to turn so that new trends come and new fabrics and designers come out that help people advance the overall spectrum.”