The Woman Who Dressed Wakanda: 'Black Panther' Costumer Designer Calls Daniel Kaluuya's Outfit 'Bane of My Existence'
Costume designer Ruth E. Carter tells TooFab why Daniel Kaluuya’s look was a major headache.
For a movie packed with gold-trimmed catsuits, Vibranium-laced armor and gorgeous gowns, the hardest "Black Panther" wardrobe piece to pull off was something that sounds simple by comparison: a damn blanket.
From conception to the final product, the costume that went through the most changes throughout the production of Marvel’s latest was that belonging to Daniel Kaluuya’s character, W’Kabi. Specifically, the Basotho Heritage Blanket he wears over his clothes.
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"He wore the blankets. Those blankets were the bane of my existence," Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter lamented to TooFab, before launching into a long and frustrated story about one of probably hundreds of looks she worked on for the film.
Carter took inspiration from the "glorious" blankets of the Lesotho people, who actually appropriated the wraps from European colonizers. "The King of the Lesotho people … he loved them so much, he brought them into their culture and they designed these blankets honoring the queen. Some of them have clowns on them, honoring the harvest, some of them have corn husks. They all have this special meaning."
Carter says she ordered "about 200" of them. "Knowing what I know, my first day if I go back in time, I would make those blankets myself," she explained.
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"What we had to go through with that blanket, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy," she added.
First, director Ryan Coogler wanted Vibranium — the made up metal of the Wakandan people — details and tribe symbols added. But those elements, which were silk-screened on, just didn’t look right.
"[Coogler] was like, ‘No, this is Vibranium, it can’t have cracks in it," said Carter. "So we redid it, redid it, figured out a way to get the silver on it. Then we screen tested them, the note came back to me — and we were really close to shooting — that they were too thick, that they didn’t drape nicely and they were too heavy."
Carter and some of her team decided there would be "no Christmas for us" when everyone else went on break and tried to find a solution. "I called every blanket manufacturer from here to Timbuktu and everybody needed six months to redesign the blankets for me, so that was out of question," she said.
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The crazy idea that actually saved the day: burning them!
"We took them outside and we torched them," Carter explained, adding that the trick basically cut their width in half. "The color was there, everything remained. And it was this pliable, beautiful blanket that smelled like charcoal. But it worked."
"We just wanted to cry in each other’s arms," she said. "I mean it was that emotional."
"Black Panther" hits theaters Friday.
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