Jewelry Designer Douriean Fletcher On "Marrying Metal To Fabric" For 'Black Panther'
Douriean Fletcher probably didn’t think she’d be designing jewelry for one of the biggest movies in history. You know, the type of film that’s so culturally relevant and necessary that it spawned a slew of fundraising efforts for young kids to be able to see an image of themselves onscreen. The type of project that Hollywood normally wouldn’t give us a seat at the table read to create, or for that matter even star in (insert #OscarsSoWhite). In Marvel’s Black Panther, Ryan Coogler accomplishes this beautifully, partly through Fletcher's Afro-centric-inspired jewelry showcased on the movie’s stellar cast.
“I am honored. It was a very exciting, unique experience,” she says over the phone from Los Angeles. “I’m so pleased I was able to be a part of it, and open a lot of doors for people in regards to jewelry makers, creators, and artists.”
Having this door open is a major feat, but her work truly deserves this type of visibility as it's beautifully showcased on Angela Bassett’s character, Queen Ramonda. The breathtaking piece is comprised of an 18 karat-gold plate piece atop Bassett’s costume adorned with an amethyst stone.
"My most memorable moment will always be connected to that Ramonda piece on the poster," she continues. "When I finished it and we put it on Angela Bassett and presented it to Ryan, he was talking to someone, and he turned around, and he liked stumbled back because he loved it. He was so surprised with the whole look, and how amazing and regal she looked in it."
Fletcher’s professional jewelry design career started as a means for survival, then she made a few steps forward into Hollywood designing for the reboot of Roots, then, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
VIBE: How did you get your start in making jewelry?
Douriean Fletcher: I got into jewelry design exactly eight years ago on MLK day, when I started looking into my creative side. And honestly, it was a means to an end at the time. I had just finished working in the non-profit sector, and I needed some money. I saw someone make copper jewelry for hundreds of dollars. I looked at it and said, “I can do that,” I was looking for something else to do and needed quick money at the time.
I started doing that; started creating rings out of copper wire, and I really loved it. From that moment I just started creating, getting inspired by different things, and I just wanted to push myself as far as with what I could do. I was self-taught, so there were no boundaries and I just started pushing myself with what I could create. How could I make what I am creating better?
Then I moved to New Orleans in mid-2010 and started teaching at a charter school. Then I got into the New Orleans art scene and did a lot of festivals and art shows for art markets and things like that, so that’s how I started.
How did you get hired by costume designer Ruth Carter for Black Panther?
I met Ruth at a jewelry party that a mutual friend/actress C.C.H Pounder hosted for me, and she invited Ruth while she was working on Roots in New Orleans. Ruth saw my work, she liked it and she contacted me to create some other pieces for her. From that relationship, she used some of my work in Roots. She was able to see my work ethic, my timeliness, being able to meet her quick deadlines. We built that relationship based on my work with her from Roots.
Then after that, I was having all these dreams and visions of really exaggerated and embellished dresses made out of feathers, shells, crystals, metals, headpieces and things of that nature. One day in 2016 I shared with her that I was having these visions of these pieces, and she told me to sketch them out and show them to her so I did. She was just being considered for a movie, and if she got it that I’d be able to make the jewelry for it. It just so happens that movie was Black Panther.
I read that your travels to South Africa and Tanzania influenced your jewelry design. How much of that influence did you incorporate in Black Panther?
What I took away from my travels wasn’t necessarily the aesthetic. The aesthetic came from my own signature on things within my art. But what I took away from my travels particularly in South Africa was the functionality of jewelry. That jewelry tells a story, that it means something traditionally. The colors, the beadwork means something. The metal rings that the women wear around their neck—they all tell stories.
Ruth is a costume designer she had more control of the designs. Though, because she did like my aesthetic, she gave me some wiggle room and creative say on how to interpret things particularly with Angela Bassett’s piece on that poster. You’ll see in that piece there are certain design details that are actually a reflection of my work, so it wasn’t necessarily the design aesthetic that I was able to translate into the work—but more so the understanding of what these things meant, and how they would be interpreted in Wakanda culture. I was able to translate the amethyst and the crystals that I put on that piece to understand that would translate to Ramonda—Bassett’s character—who she is and where she comes from.
Which character was the easiest to make jewelry for and which character was the hardest?
The easiest to make was for Dora Milaje because it’s a Marvel design, so I just needed to figure out how to make it and figure out the functionality of the piece, in all those pieces that you see when they are not fighting. I handcrafted all of them, and they are made out of metal. So physically they were the most difficult, but design wise they were the easiest because it was just a very repetitive thing.
The most challenging I would say, there were two: I can’t give that much on that because it hasn’t been released to the public yet, but I will say the most difficult was the Ramonda piece because I had to collaborate with the tailor who actually created the dress, so design wise it was the most challenging just because it was a collaboration. It was a marriage of metal and fabric, so to use something that is so malleable as fabric and something that is not so malleable as metal, it was a challenge but it was really fun—coming up with something so elaborate was a challenge too.
How does the jewelry make a statement onscreen?
Going back to what I learned when I was in South Africa in terms of all the functionality and this non-communicative tool being able to let someone know who you are, what you stand for, and your values and family.
I think it’s a huge part because Black Panther is set in a fictional African country, that’s the biggest part of a lot of different African cultures as far as jewelry being able to communicate something very particular and specific. In regards to characters and predominately the female characters—I think it’s pretty dominant. Like Dora Milaje and the metal work on their armor tells a story, it shows their strength. It shows their resilience in who they are, and it shows these little details like Aquos tassels on their costumes.
The fact that she’s wearing all gold, and those wearing silver I think that shows a very powerful story. It’s especially related to African culture and what that says about someone else’s identity.
Were you a Black Panther fan beforehand?
I was not a Black Panther fan prior to. I didn’t even know that Storm and Black Panther were a couple, which I found really interesting. When I first found out that I’d be working on this project I read the first Fantastic Four comic, where Black Panther was introduced. That gave me a concept and an idea of who Black Panther was and then I started doing my own research on seeing what Wakanda was, what to explore and get more information from the rest of team and figure out what that meant, and envision what that culture was.
What was it like working with the cast?
The only interaction I had with the cast was with fittings to make sure everything fit correctly. There is a specialty set Lupita is wearing, which is a really cool armor piece. That was different from the rest and so there was a lot of back and forth just to make sure it fit her perfectly and was comfortable for her, but other than that, not really. I’m making a few pieces for Lupita from my own line.