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THE AFROCENTRIC ARTISTRY OF ‘BLACK IS KING’

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A FASHION REVIEW 

Beyoncé’s Black is King is a visually stunning masterpiece that venerates various African cultures in all their distinct majesties. This glorious celebration of black innovation and triumph was an impeccable synthesis of Beyoncé’s legendary vocal prowess and lavish costume designs, the latter eliciting discussions about the garments’ intricacies and cultural accuracies. Even before the film’s premiere, viewers were captivated by the fashions flaunted in the trailers. Black is King debuted to overwhelming critical acclaim, and now it has grown into a cultural phenomenon that merits admiration for its exquisite details.

The key orchestrator behind Black is King’s breathtaking looks was Alon Livné, a designer who had previously crafted a dress for Beyoncé for her 2015 Mrs. Carter tour. Having gained good will from such an endeavor, Livné was later contacted by Beyoncé’s stylist Zerina Akers to undertake a then-upcoming project that would become Black is King. Livné confesses to never having worked with other stylists to create a completely new design, which makes his final product all the more impressive. With the images of nature, art, and black cultural aesthetics that Akers provided him serving as his foundation, Livné conceived three extraordinary designs. The first design was modeled after the renowned Hellenistic sculpture “The Wings of Samothrace,” recreating the wings using metal, silicone, and ivory silk. Next, he repurposed a piece of his most recent runway collection to hand-sew a crimson coat from strips of tulle that collectively resembles fur. His third design encompasses a particularly striking scene in the aforementioned trailer, which consisted of Beyoncé wearing a headdress made entirely of pearls as she and the people surrounding her wore all-white attire. Beyoncé appeared even more elegant in a hand-crocheted dress with a corseted bodice and sleeves that draped off her shoulders.

Livné was far from the only black talent bringing such an artistic vision to life, as numerous black designers were recruited from all over the world to contribute to Black is King

Brands like Lafalaise Dion, Adama Paris, and 5:31 Jérôme are steeped in African culture, which is conveyed in the film proper. Hailing from Côte d’Ivoire, Loza Maléombho encapsulated Beyoncé’s regal essence with her striped, gold-buttoned jacket with gold hardware. Swedish-Eritrean costume designer Selam Fessahaye outfitted Beyoncé in a ruffled yellow dress from her first ready-to-wear collection. Although she was born in London, Melissa Simon-Hartman drew upon her Trinidadian and Ghanian heritage to invent Beyoncé’s black queen chess for the song “Mood 4 Eva.”

Black American designers added their own flair to the costume design as well. L’Enchanteur and Levenity are both brands whose founders’ applied the New Yorker and Afro-Caribbean influence that pervades their products to Black is King. D.Bleu.Dazzled, famous for their crystal-decorated hosiery, provided Beyoncé with a diamond-studded bodysuit. Specializing in bondage-inspired clothing, Déviant La Vie had woven Beyoncé’s ruby-red rope dress, while the singer and her dancers’ floral bodysuits were courtesy of S. Garvey. Continuing the theme of opulence and regality, Duckie Confetti clothed Beyoncé with money-printed pajamas, an item that subsequently became so popular that it sold out on the company’s website.

Black is King has impressed fashion historian Darnell-Jamal Lisby, whose analysis of the film is a testament to its meticulous details. Lisby noted that Black is King is full of references to Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of fertility and rivers. He also highlighted three major signifiers of the film’s dedication to authentically portray African cultures: Beyoncé’s braided hairstyle, Nguni cowhide, and headwraps. Beyoncé styled her hair after Lipombo, a head elongation ritual practiced by the Mangbetu people of the Congo. The Burberry cowhide was a modern spin on the prominence and multiple uses of Nguni cowhide among the Xhosa and Zulu peoples. Headwraps are even more prevalent across the entire continent, and Beyoncé’s embellished headwear were worn in reverence to their significance. 

Lisby concludes that Black is King is a marvel that truly honors the transcendent people of the African continent and diaspora.