An article of clothing by a Philadelphia fashion designer has a cameo appearance in the biggest blockbuster movie in the world right now.
“Black Panther” includes pieces by Wale Oyejide, whose design company shares with the film an underlying message of African pride.
As a superhero action film with all the impossibly high-flying stunts you would expect from the Marvel comic book movie, “Black Panther” also features a mythical African world emerging from self-imposed isolation, with something to teach the world about power, leadership, and style.
“Watching ‘Black Panther’ for me, as a Nigerian, was seeing my culture on the screen that is not only authentic but an homage — that excellence can be from Africa,” said Oyejide, an attorney turned fashion designer based in West Philadelphia.
He started his design company, Ikiré Jones, five years ago after wearing business suits every day to work in a law office. He wanted to make suits that look good, are cut well, but offer a stronger cultural message than the beige or navy blue fabrics common in the workplace.
His suits are made with boldly patterned textiles often associated with dapper African batik style. Oyejide likes to use fabrics printed with classical European art juxtaposed with African imagery, cut as a jacket or a scarf.
He was asked to submit a handful of outfits to be considered by the costume designers of “Black Panther” costume designers. In the end, they used a scarf of his in a pivotal scene. (To describe the scene would spoil the plot.)
“It’s a little surreal to sit in a theater and see your work the size of a wall, and have nobody in the room realize you made that,” said Oyejide.
The “Black Panther” phenomenon goes beyond action thrills, presenting the African continent in a highly commercial and fantastically popular global movie. Although much more humble, the company Ikiré Jones does the same thing: shows off African style as very modern and chic.
“I was raised in a world where it was not great or cool to say you were from Africa,” said Oyejide. “Now we’re arriving at a place where sophistication and elegance can come from Lagos, Nairobi, Kenya.”
The film “Black Panther” presents African culture as a gift to the rest of the world. Oyejide’s clothes, likewise, are born in a very specific cultural tradition, but they’re made to look good on anyone.