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Black Panther Welcome to Wakanda NYFW

Black Panther Welcome to Wakanda NYFW

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.”

Marvel Studios sponsored a small Black Panther-inspired presentation, “Welcome to Wakanda,” on Monday featuring designs by LaQuan Smith, Chromat, Wale Oyejide of the brand Ikire Jones, Fear of God and others, including the jewelry of Douriean Fletcher in a capsule collection.

To say there’s buzz about the Ryan Coogler-directed film based on the character from the comic series is an understatement. Mania is more like it. Excited fans have said they plan to show up at theaters in African garb.
Smith has seen the movie and created a trench coat with a matching jumpsuit — both pieces covered entirely by black sequins — for the inspired-by collection.

“I wanted it to resonate with the idea of female empowerment, women that are strong,” he said. “I wanted to do something that was sexy and powerful and aggressive because there’s a lot of technology in the film.” Oyejide did a men’s suit with a coat and scarf. One of his scarves made it into the movie, which he said shows off the nuances of people of color.

Aurora James, founder of the footwear brand Brother Vellies, poses with several shoe designs inspired by Africa and the superhero film, “Black Panther,” Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in New York. The company uses artisans in several African countries to create her boots, shoes and sandals. | AP Photo/Leanne Italie

“The film is very much about the joy of seeing cultures represented in roles that they are generally not seen in,” he said. There’s villainy and heroes, tech genius and romance. People of color are generally presented as a monolithic image. I’m hoping it smashes the door open to show that people can occupy all these spaces.”

Cushnie et Ochs, Sophie Theallet and TOME were the other brands invited to participate. Like Fletcher, footwear designer Aurora James was asked to produce a small capsule collection.

And like Oyejide, James — founder of Brother Vellies — wanted her pieces to honor the film but also beg broader questions about race and inclusion.

She routinely sources materials in Africa and uses artisans there. One of her “Black Panther” pieces is a pair of boots adorned with sisal from Haiti, with the sisal curled on one boot and brushed flat on the other. “The narrative question here is, ‘Do you like my hair now?’ I know for women of color there’s so much around that,” James said.

 Chromat (Photo: CHROMAT

Chromat (Photo: CHROMAT

Chromat designer Tolu Aremu has seen the movie once already but plans to go again in a Nigerian dress to celebrate her history.

She worked on the orange pattern design with Chromat founder Becca McCharen-Tran. Their dress is made of ankara fabric from Lagos, courtesy of Aremu’s second cousin there. They added a neoprene top to the dress to honor the technological achievements of the film.

“I thought of my mother,” Aremu said. “Growing up she’s always worn African garb and I wanted to make this an ode to my mom, being the superhero in my life. Afrocentric fashion is definitely having a fashion moment right now.”

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.”

She worked on the orange pattern design with Chromat founder Becca McCharen-Tran. Their dress is made of ankara fabric from Lagos, courtesy of Aremu's second cousin there. They added a neoprene top to the dress to honor the technological achievements of the film.

"I thought of my mother," Aremu said. "Growing up she's always worn African garb and I wanted to make this an ode to my mom, being the superhero in my life. Afrocentric fashion is definitely having a fashion moment right now."

Interview with LaQuan Smith  

 L’aquan Smith 

L’aquan Smith 

Where did you get your inspiration for this piece?
I was inspired by the clothing but most importantly the women. And the idea of female empowerment I liked the fact the women were so beautiful strong smart and they just embodied something that resonated with me as far as my design and level of aesthetic so I was inspired of a strong powerful woman who is confident and fight for what she believes in. She’s in tune and empowered by her femininity.

What was your process?
When I got the phone call I started sketching right away. I started sketching Afrocentric and then futuristic. I still wanted the looks to represent the people.

What would you like the audience I know about your experience?
Just that I had fun with designing it. I was happy to be apart of the project.

Who could you see wearing this dress?
Any woman who’s confident and just beautiful and sexy. I don't want to label any woman. I like the fact that you can wear the trench coat with jeans and the jumpsuit is actually backless! 

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