When it comes to costume design, Ruth E. Carter is a rock star. She has been Spike Lee’s go-to costume designer since 1988, having worked on 14 of his films. She’s also worked with several of today’s most acclaimed directors. In 2019 she became the first Black woman to receive an Academy Award for Best Costume Design – for her work on the movie, “Black Panther.”
Her artistry is the focus of a new exhibition, Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design, now on view at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film. Also featured in the exhibition is artwork from SCAD Alumnus and Atlanta-based artist Brandon Sadler, who worked on the Black Panther scenic art.
“City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke with Cater and Sadler about their work in the exhibition.
How Carter creates her Afrofuturistic designs to be authentic but breathable for the actors:
“Superhero films have a formula. They start with euro jersey [material], and it’s a four-way stretch material that allows you to create a skin-tight suit that will also move and breathe. There’s a lot of techniques involved that include technology, and I just push the needle. I brought fashion into the Marvel Universe in a different way with ‘Black Panther.’ I love fashion, and I love incorporating true style into the costumes. I’m always looking for ways to move us forward and bring in technology that’s innovative from the fashion industry.”
Sadler’s connection to Black Panther:
“I was hired to do some murals for the set. There’s a character, Shuri, who’s T’Challa’s sister, and in her laboratory, she’s a scientist. She has this tower, and I decorated the facade of the tower and some peripheral pieces surrounding the laboratory.”
Sadler was awarded SCAD’s “Distinguished Alumnus Award” in 2019. For the SCAD FASH exhibition, he created artwork on the walls behind Carter’s costumes that are on display.
The collaborative process behind creating costumes:
“I always say that I don’t want to be on my own island when I’m designing a costume. It’s highly collaborative work, but sometimes I walk in a room, and I have ‘Black Panther’ pasted on my forehead or I have ‘Oscar winner,’ and people go, ‘What do you think, Ruth?!’ And I go, ‘Let’s collectively talk about it, let’s do this together.’ Because my costume goes on a set, it’s lit by a DP [Director of Photography]. There are a lot of factors to making this a successful costume,” said Carter.
The exhibition will be on view through Sept. 12, 2021.