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Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter is no stranger to creating film looks that shine a light on black history and culture; she’s the mastermind behind the costumes in Amistad, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Selma, and many more. But designing the outfits for Marvel’s Black Panther, out February 16th, was her biggest challenge yet.
Armed with extensive research — plus a team of more than 100 craftspeople, fabric dyers, tailors, and jewelry makers — Carter created 700 different costumes for the movie that paid homage to a number of different African peoples. And at the launch for the limited-edition Clarks Originals x Black Panther sneaker, Racked spoke with the costume designer to learn how that inspiration played out on screen.
The red armored outfits for the all-female Dora Milaje secret service draw on elements from the Turkana, Himba, and Maasai tribes; the neck rings, which Carter remade in rubber for filming, are a nod to the South African Ndebele. Meanwhile, the all-green wardrobe Lupita Nyong’o wears as Wakandan spy Nakia pays tribute to the Suri tribe.
But it’s the costumes for Angela Bassett’s Ramonda and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther (aka T’Challa) that best exemplify the film’s celebration of Afrofuturism, or the fusion of science fiction and fantasy with African culture. Ramonda wears a 3D-printed take on the Zulu hat traditionally worn by married women, while Black Panther’s suit features patterned triangles, the “sacred geometry” of Africa.