Chances are, if you have seen Black Panther when it hit cinemas last year, you would have marveled at Ruth E. Carter’s work, even if the name is something you have not heard before. The costume designer, who has influenced countless multicultural designers, is getting her due beyond her awards—she is also being recognized by the fashion industry. New York celebrated the designer’s legacy through an installation that kickstarted the New York Fashion Week. Through the exhibition, some relived the designer’s more memorable ensembles, and others were introduced to iconic pieces from her 30-year-long career.
Officially titled Next of Kin, the honoring of an industry legend was made possible through the combined efforts of Ivan Bart from IMG, Brandice Daniel from Harlem Fashion Row and British stylist Ibrahim Kamara. In New York’s Spring Studios, the ensembles that total at a little over 30 were divided into six vignettes. Kamara was responsible for putting together the pieces on models and mannequins as inspired by Carter’s costumes in films, beginning from the very first to feature her work, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, which was a parody of blaxploitation films from the 70s and was directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, all the way to last year’s Black Panther. Although some were sourced from movie studios, others were lent by no other than Carter herself. Some were also the very same articles featured on “Heroes and Sheroes,” a traveling exhibition that also honors the designer and has largely inspired the NYFW presentation.
The installation highlights how fashion often intersects with culture and politics, even when it comes to film. Carter has worked with socially relevant movies in the past, and have helped deliver its intended messages through thoughtful styling of characters. The costume designer especially picked the wardrobe for empowering characters, both men and women, on previous films she has worked for for the occasion. With Instyle, Carter said that fashion could be a platform to express political opinions but also “can be a way of looking at the future. It can be a way of honoring the past without being weighed down by it. It can be a celebration. We combined it in ways to make that statement.”
Carter’s career spans 30 years, during which she collaborated with highly esteemed directors such as Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg as well as John Singleton. The costume designer has also gained nods from the Academy, as she has earned nominations for her work on Malcolm X, Amistad, and most recently, Black Panther. Her choice to use traditional African designs and fuse them with something more futuristic really stood out from the latest flick. The distinction may have been long overdue for Carter, but the designer still highly anticipates the awards night which is a week from now.
Image credits: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Photofest, Getty Images, Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for IMG, Mike Coppola/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows. lev radin / Shutterstock