The Goal Is To Feel Strong, Says 'Black Panther' Jewelry Designer

Jun 30, 2019

Douriean Fletcher is Marvel Comics' first licensed jewelry maker. She's behind the powerful adornments worn by the women of Wakanda in Black Panther, which helped pull audiences into an imagined world where power and societal roles are based on expertise and ability. On Sunday, she's giving a talk at the National Museum of Women in the Arts about the aesthetics of gender equity in Wakandan society.

Fletcher designed strength head-to-toe in the signature pieces she created for Black Panther — necklaces, earrings, cuffs, buckles, armor for shoulders and adornments for feet. "I was representing what African-inspired jewelry looks like ..." Fletcher says. "I just wanted to make sure that the pieces that I created were bold and that they were feminine — yet they definitely told a story of royalty and had connections to the spiritual aspect of African belief systems."

Fletcher says she's recently felt a shift in the messaging of the jewelry she designs. "As a new mother, I just need something to make me feel good sometimes, and make me feel powerful, and make me feel capable with all of the new things that I'm learning," she explains. "I want to make sure that I can give that to somebody else. Not just because it looks pretty or for aesthetic purposes."

The goal, she says, is for "people to feel really strong within themselves."


Interview Highlights

On one of her favorite pieces from Black Panther

It is the piece at the scene at the very end of the film, Black Panther, and then it also makes another appearance at the very end of Avengers which was exciting for me because I didn't know that it was going to be filmed. When I saw it in the theater, I screamed because I was so excited.

Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter "really wanted something that was very, very strong," Fletcher says of the necklace she designed for Angela Bassett's character, Ramonda.
Marvel Studios 2018

That piece: it was a gold-plated metal piece that was put on a beautiful black dress, and what the vision was — because she is the queen mother, she is the feminine, and strong, and powerful voice and the voice of guidance and comfort for T'Challa, Black Panther — Ruth really wanted something that was very, very strong.

The metal piece is gold. And behind the gold there's this plate that looks like a tuning fork. And initially, when I made it, I had just finished making all of the armor pieces. The designs were quite streamlined and pretty simple. And when Ruth saw it she said, "You need to make this more Wakandan, you need to add more of your flavor." So then what I did was I added amethyst pieces to it, and my own aesthetic and my own wire work to give it more of what I would consider a spiritual narrative. ... It was definitely a piece of power for Angela Bassett's character.

Hannah Beachler wore a face chain designed by Fletcher to the Academy Awards on Feb. 24, 2019, in Hollywood, Calif.
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

On the shifting role of jewelry for women

My grandmother had given me a piece of jewelry and the story behind it was that her husband had given it to her for their anniversary. I'm very interested in asking people about their jewelry. I love to hear the stories. ...

I feel like people are being inspired by indigenous cultures, and using it to share who they are. ... I know the set designer for Black Panther, Hannah Beachler, who won the Oscar — she wore a face piece that I had created for her and she really wanted to send this message that she's highly feminine but very strong and bold at the same time. So, I definitely think that right now there's a shift and I think people are taking chances as well, breaking away from the traditional heart necklace or a dainty pair of hoops.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Marvel Comics has a jewelry designer. Douriean Fletcher is the company's first licensed jewelry maker. She's the mind behind the deeply powerful accessories on the women of Wakanda from Marvel's "Black Panther" film. Her accessories helped pull audiences into an imagined world where power and societal roles are based on expertise and ability. Later today she's giving a talk at the National Museum of Women in the Arts about the aesthetics of gender equity in Wakandan society. And she joins us now to give us a preview.

Hi.

DOURIEAN FLETCHER: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You were part of Ruth Carter's team. And of course, she won the Oscar for best costume design. And you were brought on specifically for the jewelry work. Let's remind people what the jewelry and metalwork elements of those costumes were.

FLETCHER: A lot of the work that I focused on was the armor for the Dora Milaje. So...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that was for the all-female bodyguards group.

FLETCHER: Yes, so the armor on their shoulders and the pieces on their feet, their necklaces - and then some other fine adornments that you'll see if you take a closer look. Like, their buckles were panthers. And they were plated in gold and silver. And I think we did a little of this black plating - and then some other - some other pieces, so bigger necklaces, bigger earrings, big cuffs, things of that nature.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what was important to you as you made these designs within the world of Wakanda? Because it's a society that was, you know, envisioned as utopian in its - in the way that it treats gender and race.

FLETCHER: So what was important to me initially, before I had even read the script or had been on set, was to make sure that I got the pieces right. I had understood that I'm part of a legacy that's being experienced right now. I mean, it was still making sure that Ruth had what she needed. But then it also had expanded to making sure that I was representing what African-inspired jewelry looks like and what - what purpose it serves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Talk to us a little bit about the piece you made for Queen Ramonda, the Angela Bassett character.

FLETCHER: Well, this is my favorite piece that I had created for her. And what the vision was, was because she is the queen mother, she is the feminine and strong and powerful voice and the voice of guidance and comfort for T'Challa, Black Panther. The metal piece, it's gold. And behind the gold, there's this plate that looks like a tuning fork. And initially, when I made it, the designs were pretty simple.

And when Ruth saw it, she said, you need to make this more Wakandan; you need to add more of your flavor. So then what I did was added amethyst pieces to it and my own aesthetic and my own wirework to give it more of a - like, a spiritual narrative. So it was definitely a piece of power.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you want people to feel when they're wearing your jewelry?

FLETCHER: Now, being a new mother, I feel like what - my messaging is shifting a little bit because at first, being a noncommunicative tool to tell others who one is. And now things are shifting. And I really just want people to feel really strong within themselves. Like, it's more of a internal desire to feel good because I know, like, as a new mother, I just need something to make me feel good sometimes and make me feel powerful and make me feel capable with all of the new things that I'm learning.

And so I want to make sure that I can give that to somebody else - not just because it looks pretty or for aesthetic purposes, but I really want people to have that self-confidence and understanding of how special they are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Douriean Fletcher, Marvel's first licensed jewelry designer.

Thank you so much.

FLETCHER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.