The next layer of bringing Wakanda to life on the big screen was the task of
costume designer Ruth Carter, who in concert with Academy Award-nominated
effects makeup designer Joel Harlow and hair department head Camille Friend
capture the heart and soul of Wakanda's people.
At the core of Carter's approach was keeping her designs steeped in the
African custom while elevating it to reflect the fantastical elements inherent
mysterious country and culture. She worked closely with the production design
develop a complementary color palette chock full of vibrant African color,
ultimately capture the African tradition and weave it throughout their visual
"I'm looking at the whole continent and a wide range of people, like the
Maasai and the
Suri," says Carter. "It all becomes a part of the framework of Wakanda. Most
who read the comic books know
Wakanda is a mountainous area, and
it's a secret place that's not necessarily
trading and interacting with the rest
of the world. They're more advanced in
technology than other civilizations. We
are creating that world and trying to
create a culture and pride that feels authentic to the specific location."
Carter admits the learning curve on "Black Panther" was both steep and
when it came to conceptualizing her starting point for the fictitious country
But on the flip side of that coin was the appeal of the project.
"Wakanda is this vast unknown world and, ultimately, the challenge of the
what appealed to me on so many levels," comments Carter. "Beyond what has been
established in the comic realm, I knew very little about it but as I began my
realized we could create from a place of fantasy, a place of African culture and
a place of
imagination. Everybody had their own take on what Black Panther's world was but
had never really been translated to film, which was very exciting."
Carter is an artist but she is keenly aware of the fine line between the
practical needs of her costume designs. Her designs needed to satisfy her own
benchmark while withstanding the wear and tear of the MCU's hallmark action
For "Black Panther," the filmmakers knew they needed to up the ante of their
Hero with a new and improved suit. While Boseman initially wears the original
from "Civil War," he soon gets an upgrade in the movie courtesy of Shuri's
wizardry and Marvel Studios' head of visual development Ryan Meinerding's design
The new Black Panther suit is supposedly interwoven with vibranium, so Carter
streamline the new suit and use a lighter material. The vibranium layer, which
a silver missile suit, is visible underneath an overlay of a very thin fabric
imprinted with a
repeat tribal triangle pattern known as Okavango. The suit also has a subtle
emblazoned over the chest plate and a new panther-tooth necklace that bolsters
tribal feel, as does the revamped helmet.
"The new suit is a little bit more streamlined and Black Panther can do a
whole lot more
with less," says Carter of the design.
Adds Coogler, "One thing that a lot of people might not know is that Black
is not a Super Hero suit. It's a military uniform that he wears and something
that has a
history. When he shows up, and when you see everybody else, it folds into the
what a five-star general's uniform would look like."
Visualizing the costumes for T'Challa's security force, the Dora Milaje,
proved to be
another welcomed design challenge for Meinerding and his visual development
who wanted there to be meaning and historical basis behind how the fierce women
warriors presented themselves. They are an integral and recognizable part of the
Panther comic realm, so Carter outfitted them in a molded base tunic, again
touchstone of tribal influences that would integrate tribal lines and add
texture all over
A leather harness adorned with vibranium and elaborate beaded talismans in
is worn over the base costume. A simple buckle in the front was transformed into
custom-designed metal panther head. Like Japanese armor, the harness is deemed
a prized heirloom passed from mother to daughter to survive and use over
Carter brought in a jewelry designer to craft numerous one-of-a-kind specialty
including the Dora metal shoulder armor, as well as their signature necklaces
anklets and Okoye's metal chest plate.
Carter was able to reflect both ends of the style spectrum with the royal
starting with Princess Shuri's fashion
sense. Shuri sports an edgy, young
Afro-Punk vibe replete with an
eccentric mix of bright tribal colors,
adorned with funky jewelry and
neckpieces, and the latest pair of Nikes.
Letitia Wright says of her look, "I love what Ruth Carter has brought to
this. Shuri is
stylish and everything she wears was created by Ruth and also with Ryan. I love
because it's so different from me. I'm super simple and easygoing fashion-wise.
Shuri wears a lot of bright colors, odd shapes, cuts and designs. It's a mixture
and also youthfulness. Tribal meaning traditional things that you find in South
around the continent of Africa. She creates her own path when it comes to
style. She wears what she loves. It could be an odd shape, bright colors, or
She's just a cool kid."
The regal Ramonda, as Queen Mother, has a more refined traditionalist take on
Simple yet elegant silhouettes and fabrics, all adorned by equally sophisticated
pieces. Carter's attention to detail was evident when she commissioned a
Zulu-inspired headpiece and a mantle to complete her unique looks.
Describing her costumes, Bassett says, "I have the long ball gown with the
and writing and symbols on it in gold. And these magnificent headdresses that
of Zulu-inspired, and with a mantle across the back and this gorgeous filigree
which Ruth Carter made with the new 3-D printing technology. The costume was
beautiful, and it really helps Ramonda to stand there in the midst of this
crowd of colorful, magnificently-attired individuals and stand out."
In fictional Wakanda, each tribe has a color palette, which Coogler designed
discussed with Carter. The desire was to keep the color theory strict and only
to the specific Wakandan tribe.
For example, the color blue signified danger or trouble, so blue was reserved
Border tribe, who act as a policing force, and Killmonger's character also wore
one else is in any kind of a blue palette.
The River tribe, which is Nakia's tribe, wears green. Lupita Nyong'o, who
wears many different shades of green in her various costumes. Says Carter,
together well because it's like nature. But I also tried to bring in some things
support the greens like yellows and chartreuse to support the green and make it
Nyong'o, whose character is a Wakandan spy imbedded in different countries,
had a range of costumes, from a leather jacket and boots to dresses and gowns
warrior attire. "I love Nakia's look," comments Nyong'o. "She is this world
her style is definitely influenced by the experiences she's had. It's grounded
pragmatic, but it also has a funk to it. I love that about her. Also she wears
the color of
the River Tribe, which is green."
Michael B. Jordan's look as Killmonger was contemporary with most of his
coming from Los Angeles. But, he also had a special panther suit, which was also
designed by Meinerding. As Carter explains, "Killmonger's suit is incredibly
special. His is
in a gold-spotted suit. In the process of making it, we put a real gold suit
skin suit, which is the black spotted suit. We gave him a heavy gold necklace.
He's a little
bit more ostentatious than Black Panther; a little more street, I would say."
The seamless collaborations among Coogler's behind-the-scenes brain trust
extended to Joel Harlow and Camille Friend. The pair worked closely to conceive
final and integral components of fully realized character looks for the
principal cast and
dozens of supporting cast.
Like his colleagues, research was intrinsic to Harlow's makeup design
approach. It all
stemmed from African traditions, whether from the pages of National Geographic,
African ritual books, body painting, historical references or the "Black
catalogue of comics. They all played a part in conceptualizing his makeup
Says Harlow of the sentiment behind
his thought processes, "Our inspiration
visually was coming mostly from the
African tradition. The goal was to be
visually interesting while maintaining
the integrity of the meaning behind
everything, whether it be tribal markings or the script and design of a tattoo."
As with the production and costume design, vibranium would be incorporated in
most unexpected ways in Harlow's realm. The sky was the limit and Harlow made
to explore that edict at every turn.
Not only did Harlow's team craft special effect make-up and facial
were also tasked with creating several one-of-a-kind neckpieces for Shuri that
integrated into her wardrobe. After body molds were cast of the young actress,
Harlow's team of sculptors handcrafted one-of-a-kind pieces. The end result was
glued to her jaw line, allowing Wright a full range of motion whether speaking
fighting in full-speed action scenes.
Michael B. Jordan, who plays Erik Killmonger, spent about two and a half
hours in the
special effects makeup chair every day, while makeup designer Joel Harlow and
other makeup artists applied close to 90 individually sculpted silicone molds to
body. This "scarification" application process entails transferring each mold
blending and painting them to match Jordan's skin tone. Each of Killmonger's
represents a "notch" of his kills over the years.
Explains Jordan, "The scarification is a reminder for him of what he's going
what is keeping him on mission, and that he's doing the killings for a reason.
senseless. He kills for a reason and he believes what he's doing is right. The
marks on his body are a constant self-reminder to be focused and to continue the
mission straight through."
Friend, too, also pushed the boundaries to evoke a full spectrum of looks for
hairstyles. From traditional African braids, to elaborate clay-molded hair
custom-designed, hand-woven wigs, Friend and her team experimented with texture,
color, natural fibers, flowers, berries and even the ubiquitous vibranium
twine) to fully realize Coogler's vision of a multi-layered Wakandan society
embraced their past, present and future.
For Friend, one of her more labor intensive projects produced the most
character reveal-the waist-long, silver-haired dreadlocks of Queen Ramonda. The
was made up of 120 pieces of hair that were literally rolled and handmade into
dreadlocks for the actress.
Friend also added dreadlock extensions to enhance Michael B. Jordan's look as
deadly Killmonger. It was a new look for the actor and one that the veteran
proud of. She says, "The Killmonger look is very cool. We basically had Michael
hair as long as he could and then added in dreadlock extensions. It was really a
solution to give him a whole different look. There is an added edge and
so he really stands out as a villain."
Although Letitia Wright's African braids were paired with a partially shaved
with a tribal design, without exception, preparing Gurira, Kasumba and all the
who play the Dora Milaje to shave their heads completely bald for the iconic
harkened back to Black Panther's comic book origins) was a tough one.
"That was a hard day," recalls Friend, "and we took it very seriously. For
their hair is their pride and joy, so it's a big deal to shave your head and
maintain it for
months. We were very patient, and if someone needed to take a moment, we gave it
them. When it was all said and done, they looked amazing, especially when we saw
them in full Dora Milaje mode holding their weapons."
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