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“Ruth E. Carter: The Impact of a Designer’s Journey” by Eulanda Sanders

Academy Award winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter took Iowa State University students, staff, and faculty on a costume and textile design journey during her lecture entitled “A Hollywood Career in Costume Design” on October 9, 2018. Carter’s visit to campus was one of three lectures as part of the 2018-19 Helen LeBaron Hilton Endowed Chair Lecture Series, hosted by the Department of Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management. Her talk was also the keynote lecture for the 2018 Iowa State University Human Sciences Week. Following the lecture and opportunity to meet Ruth E. Carter, students and faculty were asked to reflect on their experience.

Ruth E. Carter Lecture at Iowa State University October 2018. Photo: Ryan Riley.


What did it mean to you as a designer to hear Ruth E. Carter’s presentation?

It was a rare and valuable opportunity to hear from a very well-known individual, one that you wouldn’t expect to get in a small town like Ames, IA.Dr. Ellen McKinney, Associate Professor in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design

Wow! Surprise! As a student, when I heard Ruth E. Carter was going to give a presentation and I was going to have the opportunity to have dinner with her, I was honored. I had the chance to meet a famous designer in person that I would typically not be able to talk with in person. That was amazing because I always imagined her on TV not on campus. After her presentation, I realized that there is another world. Maybe I can do costume design as well in the future. Be bold! –Bingyue Wei, doctoral student in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design 

Ruth E. Carter with advertisement for talk on Iowa State University Campus. Photo: Eulanda Sanders.

Ruth E. Carter Signing Posters Following Lecture at Iowa State University. Photo: Ryan Riley.

How did meeting Ruth E. Carter or hearing her presentation inspire you?

One of the memorable bits of knowledge she delivered to the audience was a successful application of 3D printing technology for envisioning the structural hat design of one of the characters in the movie. It gave me a strong inspiration for using 3D printing. She made an innovative approach in the costume industry.  –Sunyhung Cho, doctoral student in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design

My take from Ruth E. Carter’s visit was empowering, enlightening, and motivating. I think strong women of color like her have set the stage as inspirations that nothing is impossible to achieve through hard work and diligence. One other factor I recollect is staying grounded no matter the great heights one achieves and be willing to support and motivate the next generation. –Archana Edmond, doctoral student in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design

My experience meeting Ruth E. Carter, interacting with her, and hearing her presentation inspired me in a number of ways. Most importantly, I felt inspired to commit myself to my desires wholeheartedly, despite any fear of failure. This can be related to many aspects in life including personal, academic, or career goals. Ruth E. Carter is the embodiment of committing oneself to a desire and not being afraid, as she did so and is now the first ever Black woman to have received an Oscar for costume design. That is what you call inspiration! –Dyese Matthews, masters student and Agatha Huepenbecker Burnet Endowed Graduate Assistant for the Textiles and Clothing Museum here at Iowa State University

I am inspired in my teaching by the depth of her research.  It supports my view that research is an important component of design. Dr. Ellen McKinney, Associate Professor in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design

Ruth E. Carter with graduate student Ashney Williams. Photo: Eulanda Sanders.

What were some important lessons learned from Ruth E. Carter’s presentation?

Be prepared! It is another lesson I learned from her presentation. It is not easy to be a designer of color in Hollywood. Be patient, be prepared, wait and earn the opportunity!  Bingyue Wei, doctoral student in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design 

It was quite interesting to learn the depth of research that goes into the costume design for a movie.  It was also really interesting to hear about the many different ways of sourcing the costumes, fitting the costumes, and the dynamics of working with the other individuals that produce a movie.  I learned many things about the role and tasks of a costume designer that I did not previously know.  It was also amazing to hear the sheer number of costumes (and duplicates of costumes) required to produce a movie.  Dr. Ellen McKinney, Associate Professor in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design

Ruth E. Carter with Dean Laura Jolly of the College of Human Sciences. Photo: Eulanda Sanders.


In addition to winning the 2019 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Costume Design for her work on Marvel’s Black Panther, Carter was previously been nominated for Best Costume Design for Amistad in 1998 and Malcolm X in 1993. Carter’s visit to Iowa State University was co-sponsored by the Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, the Helen LeBaron Hilton Chair Endowment, the College of Human Sciences, Human Sciences Week, and Committee on Lectures (funded by Iowa State Student Government).

Ruth E. Carter with Dr. Eulanda Sanders and newphew Jaylin Caleb Business Student at Iowa State University. Photo: Eulanda Sanders.

2 Comments

  • Gladys Gary Vaughn, Ph.D. says

    June 12, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Enjoyed reading delightful feature on first African American to win an Academy Award for singular achievement in costume design. Loved photo of Ruth Carter and Laura Jolly!

  • Jeanne Coulter O'Melia says

    June 14, 2019 at 10:50 am

    It was a great movie. Now I'll have to watch it again to look more closely at the costumes.

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