Welcome to Wakanda Fashion Week.
On Monday night, Black Panther's colors, spirit and inspirations made their way to New York Fashion Week at Black Panther: Welcome To Wakanda, a charity presentation featuring 10 designers who contributed pieces inspired by the forthcoming Marvel film (out Feb. 16).
Labels including Chromat, Cushnie et Ochs, LaQuan Smith, Ikiré Jones, Sophie Theallet and TOME participated with custom-made apparel, jewelry and footwear for the event, all of which will be auctioned off following the show to support Save the Children.
The Welcome to Wakanda event also introduced capsule collections from Brother Vellies, Douriean Fletcher and Josh Bennett, which will launch commercially following the event.
Opening Friday to rave reviews, Black Panther is shaping up to be a historic triumph for Marvel, already setting records for its advanced ticket sales and earning praise from critics for its impressive on-screen representation of powerful women and diverse heroes.
With such a broad theme, the Welcome to Wakanda designers channeled Black Panther by drawing on symbolism from the movie, with some looks incorporating African fabrics or motifs.
At an afternoon preview before the evening's event, Walé Oyéjidé, the creative director of Ikiré Jones whose designs are also featured in the movie, told USA TODAY about the refined menswear look he contributed to the show.
“It's very much about fusion and the marriage of cultures, respectfully showing that all of us no matter where we're are inspired by the culture around us,” Jones said, describing the outfit's design as “rooted in an African aesthetic, that has European silhouettes, a silk scarf made in Italy, that represents both African and European culture. And it's just kind of showing that we are better together."
“(Black Panther) is using its medium of film as a way to uplift people of color, who haven’t been represented on the screen,” he said. “I think, as somebody of African descent, it was very clear they did the homework, and so everything from the accents to the fashion to the hairstyles (showed) the nuanced representations of people that have not generally been seen."
"When most of us think of Africa we think of very specific things, they tend to go negative. So this is just showing that there is a lot more to hear and see, and a lot more stories to tell.”
Chromat, a label known for its inclusive sizing and diverse runway shows , contributed a size-14 caged dress made using Ankara fabric from Nigeria, the only plus-size look to be showcased at the afternoon’s preview.
To conceptualize the look, Chromat founder Becca McCharen tapped one of the brand's designers Tolu Aremu, whose Nigerian descent specifically informed the dress' international references. "As a white person designing for Black Panther, it was more beneficial and more impactful to have Tolu, one of the amazing designers on our team, take this project and run with it," she said.
"When I got involved with this project...I really thought about my mother. We’re 100% Nigerian, and growing up my household she'd always have her cultural garb, her Ankaras, taking up all the closets in a bunch of rooms, including mine. And so adding this ankara fabric seemed very like perfect for this," Aremu said. "Just highlighting Africa now, in this current state of America, was really just so strong and impactful and beautiful."
About the decision to make the dress plus-sized, McCharen explained that they were just staying true to Chromat's mission. "Everything that we can do to highlight the work of people not traditionally represented traditionally in fashion, it’s so important," she said. "And we had a feeling that if we didn’t (design this) specifically, it would be all straight size models. So its about intention and making that a choice, we wanted to highlight plus-size black dark-skinned models, which there are not enough of, so this was a really great opportunity.”
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In another call-out to the movie's themes, Cushnie et Ochs, the project of designers Michelle Ochs and Carly Cushnie, contributed a golden gown with an embellishment of the heart-shaped herb that gives Black Panther his powers in the film.
"The women at the forefront of (Black Panther’s) main characters was really empowering, and we already want to come in with this female strength in femininity, but then it was reinforced after seeing the film and wanting to create this female warrior look,” Ochs said. “So that’s really where we started from, and then having the heart-shaped herb that’s part of the film to be the beautiful embellishment in a very feminine way on the dress is where we took the design."
And, in a superhero movie universe that is so often dominated by men, Ochs found inspiration in Wakanda's many powerful women.
"Just seeing that the entire army of the king was women, it was really empowering," she said."