Couture Fashion

How the 3D Designs of Julia Koerner Enhanced The Black Panther Movie

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

What would a fictional, futuristic African Queen wear?

This is the question that plagued the minds of Black Panther’s costume designer Ruth E. Carter and 3D designer Julia Koerner for some time. They mulled over the notion that her clothing should reflect a bit of several different African cultures: Maasai headdresses, kufis, stacked Nubian necklaces and Zulu hats, for example.

The resulting headgear worn by T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett), was based on a traditional Zulu married woman’s hat, complete with the ochre that gives it a red hue. It had a beautiful cylindrical shape, that closely resembles archival images.

The hat was the model for Ms. Bassett’s crown, which was 3D-printed, with help from the designer Julia Körner, who specializes in wearable plastics. A rounded shoulder mantle, with a bit of African lace, was also 3D printed. It took six months to get the design just right.

Indeed, all the costumes in Black Panther were so intricately made and uniquely designed, they won Ms Carter the Academy Award for Best Costume Design this year. She brought on Julia Koerner – a designer we have featured here previously in Eluxe – to develop the remarkable 3D-Printed costumes of some of the characters, which were made using a technique known as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).

This zero-waste technique uses a bed of powder fused microscopically by a laser beam, layer by layer, to fabricate the intricate 3D designs developed by Koerner on her computer.

Carter was so impressed by this method of making clothing and accessories, she joined the Oscars Vanity Fair party wearing another 3D-printed statement piece designed by Koerner. It was inspired by the African imagery of photographer Seydou Kaïta, and adorned with Swarovski crystals.

Here, in this Exclusive Interview, Julia Koerner reveals her path as a 3D-printing couturier

Photo by Tom Oldham

How did you first get into 3D printing?

I have a background in Architecture and work with the technology for more than fifteen years. While I was doing my Masters degree at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, I was experimenting with 3D printing for the first time, and was fascinated by the immediate tangibility of my digital creations. I decided to continue my studies at the Architectural Association in London in Emergent Technologies and Design.

What fascinates you most about this technique?

While working with Designer Ross Lovegrove in London, I was expanding my expertise with the design of 3D printed products and became fascinated by the various potential materials and technologies available in Additive Manufacturing. So in 2015, I founded my company JK Design in Austria, which is specialised in design for 3D printing in fashion.

Do you think 3D printed garments have any commercial applications in the common clothing market, or are they best reserved for theatrical looks right now?

Because of my background and expertise, I have had the opportunity to collaborate on many very well known 3D printed designs in Haute Couture. Progressive designers such as Iris Van Herpen or Marina Hoermanseder, and one of Paris’ most well known Couture Houses all reached out to me to provide my expertise on the development of Haute Couture Looks, most of which were exhibited all over the globe in well known Museums such as the MET in New York at the Manus x Machina exhibit.

Due to high costs, the 3D printing on this scale found its first application in Haute Couture. My personal interest with my label JK Design is to take 3D printed fashion to another level and make it more wearable. In my most recent Iceland collection, I explored the design of accessories and skirts and jackets where I combined digital craftsmanship with the traditional. I see a huge potential in the commercial application especially because of personalisation and customisation.

Photo by Ger Ger

How did you and Ruth E. Carter first get in touch?

Ruth saw my designs at Paris Haute Couture and was fascinated by the aesthetics and possibilities you can achieve with 3D printing. She and the film director Ryan Coogler really wanted to have this technology be part of the costumes of the movie. Through her illustrator Phillip Boutte, who was working with her on all the costumes of Black Panther, they reached out to me. 

What was the working process like on the set of Black Panther?

I worked pre-set on the designs more than two years ago. The process of design and printing took about four months. Everything had to be finished when they started filming. Since you cannot really change a 3D design after it’s printed, everything had to be perfect, and measurements had to be customised for the actress Angela Bassett, who was playing the lead role of Queen Ramonda in the film.

© Matt Kenneda – Marvel Studios 2018

What was your favourite piece used in the film?

Of course the designs I was involved in, the crowns and shoulder mantle of the Queen Mother. I also liked the tall floor lamps in Shuri’s Technology Lab, I happened to design them in 2011 with Ross Lovegrove for Artemide Milan based light design company. I only learned about their appearance once I watched the film premier.

What was it like to have Ruth E. Carter wear one of your creations to the Oscars after party?

It was the first ever 3D printed piece worn on the red carpet, and it felt fantastic that she commissioned me to design a custom piece for her special moment. That wasn’t the only first that night – Ruth E. Carter is the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar in the Costume Design Category. She made history that night!

How do you see 3D design techniques changing or improving in the future?

I think it’s not the techniques which have to change; it’s the materials, and the technology which have to advance. I like to research biodegradable materials and how to 3D print with recycled plastics. Printing with microfibres and exploring micro knitted 3D designs would be fascinating to get into more.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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