“It’s surreal. I still don’t think I’ve fully processed or fully understand what impact this movie is going to have on people’s lives. So I’m excited.”
Jewelry designer and metalsmith Douriean Fletcher—who designs and retails simply as Douriean—is having the kind of breakthrough moment most artists can’t even begin to dream of. Handpicked by friend and legendary costume designer Ruth E. Carter to join the costume team of Black Panther (the two previously worked together on 2016’s Roots), Douriean’s handcrafted jewelry and metalwork adorn the citizens and royalty of Wakanda—perhaps most dazzlingly as the armor and neckpieces of the incredible warrior women of the Dora Milaje.
Watching her own work in action was a thrilling experience, as Douriean told The Glow Up:
Seeing the movie, it was an absolute joy to see this glistening armor just pop off the screen. ... These Dora characters are the first defense of Wakanda; they’re the ones that defend the honor and the safety of the country. So I think I didn’t really fully process what that meant—that I was creating those pieces—until I saw the movie the other day.
The actual craftsmanship of those pieces was a very interesting yet challenging experience ... these pieces have a meaning. They have a specific meaning of who these women are, and what they do for their country. They’re there to be resilient and strong, and to protect Wakanda.
Douriean’s handmade, often hand-hammered aesthetic was a perfect match for this newest cinematic corner of the Marvel Universe, which introduces us to the technologically advanced, culturally rich fictional African nation of Wakanda. Douriean, who considers her work not only Afrofuturistic but “Ancient Futuristic” or “Primal Chic,” welcomed the challenge to translate her artistic aesthetic to the big screen.
I feel like I have a lot of responsibility, first off, to communicate a certain message through my work. I feel like it’s a lot of responsibility, but I think it’s a great position to be in. ... But I think as far as the Marvel Universe, it’s a perfect match because I was able to bring something different to this culture of Wakanda, this fictional country that they had yet to really tap into.
Costume designer Carter agreed, telling The Glow Up that she’d specifically chosen Douriean because she felt strongly that the metal pieces used in Black Panther had to have a “hand-tooled African, hand-hammered” aesthetic. That, coupled with director Ryan Coogler’s desire for even the armor to look like beautiful African jewelry, made Douriean the ideal choice. The jewelry designer confessed to us that initially, she held back in deference to the Marvel aesthetic.
“[Ruth E. Carter] said, ‘This isn’t Douriean enough. You have to put more of yourself in it.’ That was exciting. Like, oh, wait, you’re giving me some space to do my thing,” Douriean said.
A Pasadena, Calif., native, Douriean has been creating jewelry since 2010. She is mostly self-taught, save for a three-month metalsmithing class in New Orleans. Having traveled throughout Tanzania and South Africa and now based in Los Angeles, she makes work that “explores cultural identity, femininity, spirituality and divine power.” When asked where she gleans her inspiration, she told The Glow Up:
Sometimes it’s my story; if I experience something that’s quite challenging, I’ll take inspiration from that—and, sometimes, motivation from those experiences—and put that into a piece. Sometimes I literally just have dreams, and I wake up in the middle of night and sketch them out. And sometimes other people’s stories, or just their essence ... women, we’re very multifaceted creatures.
So I’m inspired and intrigued by how we choose to represent ourselves as resilient and beautiful and functional, regardless of what we’ve experienced in life. ... The physique of a woman is very beautiful, and I want—whenever I create something—to be able to adorn someone to where they feel regal and beautiful and powerful.
As a female metalsmith, Douriean admitted that her eight-year journey has been a challenge, as there aren’t many women in the field, let alone black women. But she credits the obstacles with her growth as an artist and innovator:
I feel like I’ve been underestimated at times; people are just surprised that I can create what I do, or doubt that I can create what I make. And because it’s so different from what people think when they think of jewelry-making, it’s been a challenge to find my niche and my clientele. Like this whole entire process, like this is the first time—these past two years—where I feel like I’ve finally found my tribe and my clientele of people who can understand and accept my work.
With that growth and increasing exposure have come major shifts for Douriean, especially as the officially licensed jewelry designer for both Black Panther and the upcoming Avengers film, which promises to be an even larger production. While creating for mass market raises her exposure and reach, it definitely presented challenges to her typically one-of-a-kind approach to design. According to Douriean:
As an artist, I like to create one-offs—I like to create one thing, it has a story to it, it means something and it’s for one particular person. To be able to have to expand that, and create a narrative for a group of people, it’s a different way of approaching my work.
So, for instance, the Black Panther line ... I created that, number one, for the comic book fan; the young men and women or the young boys and girls who grew up on the comics, who are super excited, who have been waiting for this moment for years.
For those of us coveting a piece of Black Panther to take home, the sterling silver Black Panther collection is currently available on Douriean’s website. A collection inspired by Panther villain Killmonger is next, and lastly, a collection inspired by the Dora Milaje, which Douriean will handcraft herself.
The Glow Up caught a preview of both Lupita Nyong’o and the designer herself at the Marvel Studios Black Panther Welcome to Wakanda New York Fashion Week presentation on Monday. Frankly, we can’t wait to see if 24-karat-gold neck rings and epaulets are in our futures. The designer was coy:
“I wanted the Dora pieces to be very special, so I’m handcrafting all of those. So it’s coming. It’s coming,” she told us.
But right now, Douriean is just savoring the moment and trying to process how it feels to become part of cinematic history:
I feel blessed and thankful and appreciative, but I’m also still wrapping my mind around what this really means to me and the rest of my life, everybody involved and those who are viewing it. So I’m still trying to figure out how to feel. It’s really exciting, though.