Ruth E. Carter might not be a massive household name, but you’ve likely come across her work anyway.

She’s a prolific costume designer who has worked on everything from historical movies to Afrofuturist designs. She also became the first African-American to win the Oscar for best costume design – for her work on Black Panther.

Here’s what you need to know about the groundbreaking artist and her up-coming fashion collaboration for Black History Month... 

Carter with her Oscar in 2019 (Alberto Rodriguez/PA)
Carter with her Oscar in 2019 (Alberto Rodriguez/PA)

What’s her background?
Carter was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, and studied costume design at Hampton University. She then moved to Los Angeles, where she met director Spike Lee.

Carter worked on his 1988 film, School Days, and she’s consistently collaborated with him in the years since, including on Oldboy, Malcolm X and Do The Right Thing. She told Glamour: "He pretty much gave me my start, raised me up, gave me the freedom to be an artist, and taught me bravery."

Costume design itself is a very different discipline to that of the fashion designers you might be familiar with. Carter told Vogue: "People think I got into this business because of fashion, but it was the storytelling aspect that drew me in."

What has she worked on?
Carter has worked in the industry for more than three decades, creating costumes for more than 40 films, ranging from period pieces – like Ava DuVernay’s film Selma – to futurist designs, like in superhero movie Black Panther.

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She was nominated for two Academy Awards for best costume design for Malcolm X and Amistad, before winning her Oscar for Black Panther. Carter created more than 700 costumes for the Marvel movie, leaning into the Afrofuturist vibe and using forward-thinking methods like 3D printing, but also going down the DIY route.

She told Hollywood Reporter she created an elaborate headpiece inspired by the Maasai warriors out of a placemat she bought at a homewares shop.

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Most recently, she did the costumes for Dolemite Is My Name, an Eddie Murphy Netflix movie set in the 1970s, going for what she describes as "Pimp Style".

What’s she up to at the moment?
Carter has just announced a collaboration with H&M in the US, in honour of Black History Month. In a video inspired by Spike Lee movie Do The Right Thing, she says: "With this collaboration I wanted to tell the story about my beginnings. How in the late Eighties early Nineties the resurgence of Afrocentrism was on the rise," adding: "The collection is about unity."

The aesthetic of the collection is right out of a 1980s Spike Lee movie – there’s an emphasis on retro streetwear with hoodies, t-shirts and bucket hats. Carter’s work is often socially conscious, and this collection is no different. She was inspired by the Black Liberation Flag and uses slogans like "trust your voice" and "truth".

She told Vogue: "I learned some big lessons in this industry about trusting myself, being on projects where the negativity from the higher-ups or the racism at just the thought of me being at the helm created a hurdle for me to jump in terms of my self-worth."

Carter is also working on upcoming film Coming 2 America, a sequel to 1988 film Coming To America, which starred Eddie Murphy.