When thinking about 1970s movie costumes that are also fashionable, there are always a few that come to mind. Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels in Klute, Faye Dunaway as Laura Mars, and Diane Keaton as Annie Hall. They have all been “go-tos” for Halloween costumes, fashion lines, and even streetwear. However, there is something missing. There is little to no mention of nonwhite persons. Despite this, there are a plethora of films that have nonwhite characters that are incredibly fashionable. An American favorite is Blacula (1972), which has become one of the most well-known examples of Blaxploitation film, an early 1970s genre of action movies that featured Black characters. These films coincided with a rise of awareness of the Black experience in the United States and used its presence in the popular culture as an urge for more representation within the film industry. One particularly stylish character from this iconic film is Luva.
Blacula revamped the classic tale of Dracula with an African prince, Prince Mamuwalde, who was turned into a vampire and awoke in 1970s Los Angeles. Luva (played by Vonetta McGee) is the wife of Prince Mamuwalde who served as a princess. She ends up dying early in the film, but not before she debuts a fabulous royal costume.
The Look of Luva
There isn’t much information on the thought or make the costumes of this film. What is known are the costume designers Ermon Sessions and Sandra Stewart. Sessions has worked as a costume designer for films like Scream Blacula Scream (1973) and The Learning Tree (1969), while Stewart has worked on Paper Moon (1973) and Coffy (1973).
In a scene in the film, Luva is adorned in a combination of African-inspired material culture. Her neck is covered in red and white necklaces, earrings, and bracelets that mimic the cultural costume of the Maasai. Her eyes are lined à la Cleopatra that mimicked Elizabeth Taylor more than the original queen. She is clothed in a long black dress with a thick braided belt cinching the waist and a combination of gold trim and strips of kente cloth lining the gown. Luva’s look is topped off with a septum nose ring and an Afro, which was a hairstyle that became popular with the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
The costuming of Luva is a visual melody of African-inspired material culture from across the continent. It wouldn’t be out of place in an editorial, on the runway, or even replicated through streetwear. Directly referencing from a culture like the Maasai without proper acknowledgement is problematic. However, there are ways of incorporating such inspiration in an ethical manner.
As the fashion industry is embracing more diverse faces and trains of thought, the concept of who and what is stylish via pop culture may expand. This is a chance to look back during this time and view these characters through a modern lense. Although Diane Keaton as Annie Hall will always be iconic, there are other characters like Luva who can set some fabulous trends too.