Forget Movie Merch: These Black Panther Pieces Are Truly Inspired

When we think about clothing that’s tied to the release of a major motion picture, our brains typically go to something along the lines of merch—the sometimes gimmicky designs that perhaps only speak to a film’s commercial appeal. But that’s not the case with the pieces created in anticipation for Marvel’s Black Panther. And ahead of its release this Thursday—one that’s already earned it record-breaking pre-sale numbers—the New York fashion community showed up to celebrate the anticipated, groundbreaking piece of work in the best way they know how: with designs that speak to the film's cultural significance.

Teaming with designers, including those behind Tome, Chromat, LaQuan Smith, Cushnie et Ochs, and more, Black Panther selected fashion insiders who share a passion for “empowerment and individualism,” as the press release states, to create designs that celebrate the film. 

Photo: Marvel; Design by Tome
Photo: Marvel; Design by Chromat

Some participating creatives, like Smith of his eponymous line and Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin of Tome, lead with a powerful superhero theme, creating sleek pant looks with tons of megawatt shine and tough leather details, respectively. Other designers, such as Tolu Aremu of Chromat, created pieces that honored Black Panther’s strong ties to African culture, as well as her own. “The printed fabric is called Ankara," Aremu told us of the dress she made, along with Chromat’s founder Becca McCharen-Tran. “I got it straight from Lagos, Nigeria, from my second cousin. I called on WhatsApp, and she sent me a whole bunch for us to choose from.”

Also in the lineup was a prints-rich look from Ikiré Jones designer Walé Oyéjidé—“It’s very much in line with what I already do, which is using fashion as a vehicle to uplift people who generally haven’t had a voice”—a gold lamé Cushnie et Ochs gown, and exclusive looks from Fear of God and Sophie Theallet. And while the powerful movie serves as inspiration for each design interpretation, those participating also found extra encouragement in how their pieces would be ultimately sold—as of today they're on auctioned on CharityBuzz, with proceeds going to Save the Children. And the fashion partnership doesn't end there.

Photo: Marvel; Design by LaQuan Smith
Photo: Marvel; Design by Cushnie et Ochs

“I am so proud of this movie,” Aurora James of Brother Vellies also told us when we spoke with her at this week's preview. “It is amazing to see a black superhero movie because, even growing up, there were very few opportunities to see myself reflected and represented on stage and on screen.” Unlike with the auctioned designer pieces, James—as well as Douriean and Josh Bennett—have created a small collection of Black Panther–inspired pieces available to purchase on their respective sites. 

“There are four different narratives and four different insecurities that I wanted to examine,” James explained of her It girl– and editor-loved line's Black Panther pieces. Instead of looking to the movie's superhero or futuristic themes, James said she used her own internalized present-day questions around identity. She told us her designs address her own insecurities including, “Am I black enough?” “Does my hair look better now?” “Do I have enough faith?” And “Am I asking for it?”

Photo: Marvel, Design by Ikiré Jones
Photo: Marvel; Design by Sophie Theallet

“They are questions that a lot of women have, and they trickle into the work just by nature of being who I am,” James says. “Insecurities are not something that we have been great in addressing in this social media age, and so I thought it would be good to focus on those and put them out there so that people would know that they are not alone in asking these questions about themselves.”

Below, take a look at the designs that not only celebrate the soon-to-be box-office hit but also amplify its influence across film and fashion. 

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