Designer Julia Koerner harnessed technology to bring Angela Bassett's character to life on the big screen. Along the way, she brought a new level of awareness to this unique design medium.
Angela Bassett in Marvel's Black Panther
Credit: Matt Kenneda: Marvel Studios 2018

Austrian-born designer Julia Koerner isn't a stranger to accolades: She's earned recognition from the American Institute of Architects, has been named a finalist for a World Technology award, and has won a prestigious Wikarus Award after founding her own design firm just last year. Her high-profile work in 3D-printed design has been featured by Iris Van Herpen during Paris Fashion Week and by Swarovski on a new showpiece that highlights the early developments of 3D-printed glass.

But it's her work with Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer who recently won the Oscar for her work on Marvel's Black Panther, that has propelled 3D-printed designs into the limelight. Countless Blank Panther fans have already been mesmerized by Koerner's work: Angela Bassett, who plays Queen Ramonda in the film, dons a 3D-printed headdress that Koerner designed, and the unique piece pays homage to traditional Zulu culture.

Koerner, who has a diverse background in architecture and fashion design, exclusively told Martha Stewart Living that she first began working on 3D-printed designs in the wearables space before showing her work with Iris Van Herpen in 2013. She designed her own line of 3D-printed wearables, called "Sporophyte," in 2015 under her design firm JK Design GmbH. "I have been always interested in the design for the body, and in my architecture projects have always focussed on super human enticement," Koerner says. "I was introduced to Haute Couture fashion design when Iris Van Herpen contacted me to collaborate on 3D printed dresses for her collections. Materialise [a Belgian 3D printer] recommended me to her as an expert in the field."

It was Koerner's work with Iris Van Herpen that first caught Carter's eye-Koerner says that she was approached by Carter and Black Panther's director, Ryan Coogler, to bring 3D printing to the Marvel film. "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 [on the film]," Koerner says.

Credit: Matt Kenneda: Marvel Studios 2018

Koerner's designs ended up being among the most emblematic of the film's vision, representing what CNN calls "an Afrofuturist fantasy." Many of the film's promotional materials featured Bassett wearing versions of a half-moon shoulder mantle and a high crown-both of which Koerner designed to be 3D-printed for the film. "The designs are based on sketches by costume designer Ruth Carter and illustrations by Phillip Boutte, and were inspired by traditional African Zulu hats and patterns," she says.

Designing the costumes for Carter took more than four months, Koerner says, as part of a commission project. Using traditional African patterns, Koerner's design firm produced mock-ups before the role of Queen Ramonda was cast; once Bassett was involved, they were custom-fitted for her, and the design schemes were sent from Austria to Belgium to be 3D-printed through Materialise.

Koerner's work is an example of how design mediums can coexist, she says; Black Panther provided her an opportunity to show how her work is influenced by architecture while grounded in fashion as well. "I have a background in architecture, but see myself as a designer working across disciplines, between fashion, product, and installation scales," Koerner told Martha Stewart Living. "For me, fashion is architecture in its smallest scale. The techniques and methods I use to design are the same no matter what scale. The body is my site."

While Black Panther has illustrated the promise of 3D design on a global scale, Koerner's work has been widely exhibited before the film, including exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, Atlanta's High Museum of Art, Brussels' Palais des Beau Arts, and the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.

Currently, Koerner is based in Los Angeles as a faculty member in the department of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of California, Los Angeles. She frequently travels to Salzburg, where she's currently in the process of debuting a new wearable collection this year as well as showing new exhibitions. "My goal is to show to the fashion industry that 3D printed designs can be affordable as well as avant-garde," she says. "They're enjoyable by a bigger community than just designers and fashion experts."


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