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Ruth E. Carter Tapped as Brand Ambassador for Vintage Site Thrilling (Exclusive)


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Like any costume designer, Ruth E. Carter has been there: “I’ve been in every storefront, every shop that had boxes and boxes and I was just digging through them,” she says. “You can never see everything, you can never find everything, so this is just really a nice way of doing that same search for those unique pieces.”

The 2019 Oscar winner for Black Panther and the first African American to win in the costuming category is talking about why she’s the new brand ambassador for Thrilling, the Black-owned online marketplace, as it launches its Vintage Studio Services program.

Bringing together scores of small clothing boutiques in more than 200 U.S. cities, it’s conceived as a creative go-to for film and television costumers that boasts searchable convenience as well as a means of encouraging an eco-friendly and sustainable stance in the entertainment industry, which, according to Thrilling, spends nearly a billion dollars a year on new clothing.

“When I heard that Shilla Kim-Parker had started this company which sold the vintage pieces online and I took a look at it, I thought it was a gold mine. I was excited that this was a Black woman starting her own business and supporting other small businesses around the country,” Carter says in an exclusive Zoom sit-down from Atlanta with The Hollywood Reporter. “And it’s actually taking all the dust out of the equation for so many of us who love to put all the details together that come from vintage for our movies.”

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Ruth E. Carter wearing looks found via Thrilling.

Courtesy Jack Manning/Thrilling

That Carter — who also scored Oscar nominations for 1992’s Malcolm X and 1997’s Amistad —  knows a thing or two about the power of leaning into the past comes through in the series of photographs breaking today that find her in knockout vintage-fueled Thrilling looks. She goes from animal-print-clad boss lady to begowned red carpet diva to a trompe l’oeil trio where she’s clad in three different swingin’ sixties mod ensembles.

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Ruth Carter for Thrilling

Jack Manning/Thrilling

Carter who describes herself as “a theater girl at heart” — she worked at the Los Angeles Theater Center at the start of her career — says she’s built on her own stylish past. “I was the anti-fashion for the longest time. I came up during the Madonna craze with her mismatched earrings, vintage T-shirts, Girbaud jeans and scrunched-down white leather boots. That was my jam!”

Beyond the fun of fronting the promotional campaign, Carter points to the importance of vintage pieces as seen in a run of recent big-screen releases. “You think of a film like Licorice Pizza or Dolomite or even like Nightmare Alley, and you see there’s a need for this, to examine what was and really understand it,” she says. “This is also a research source and a place to learn about vintage and the plethora of ideas that live within one particular era. And I see the characters on the site, too. I can look at a piece, ‘Oh, I know what type of person would wear that.’”

Thrilling’s Kim-Parker says every interaction with Carter is a “master class,” adding, “we are just taking notes of every word that she said when our team was working with Ruth on the shoot. She was really directing the shots.” As a movie fan herself, the founder says, “I know how important storytelling through costume design is. It truly gets to the essence of telling the most powerful stories. And this program is built to make it easier for costume designers and stylists to do what they already love to do, which is to incorporate vintage and secondhand into their projects because often they’re one-of-a-kind gems.” Thrilling has previously sourced clothing for projects for Netflix, Amazon, NBC and FX.

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Ruth Carter

Jack Manning/Thrilling

With Hollywood spending on costumes at record levels to meet expanded production, cutting down on new apparel purchasing also encourages sustainability, notes Kim-Parker. “Producers and distributors of new apparel make it very easy, and there are very tight timelines that creators are working with to make their projects come together,” she says.

Given that every new T-shirt or pair of jeans takes 1,000 gallons of fresh water to produce, that’s a significant drain on natural resources as well as source of carbon emissions for each piece of new apparel. Not to mention, Carter adds, that often everything in mass retail stores tends to look the same. “If they forecast the color is fuchsia for spring, then everybody has something fuchsia in the store and it’s really hard to shop.”

Not that incorporating vintage apparel hasn’t previously had its challenges. “It’s a very fragmented industry in a way because it’s all these wonderful small local shops, but for folks who are very busy, sometimes they just don’t have the time to go and drive place to place and use their elbow grease and sift through racks,” Kim-Parker says. “And here, we’re trying to make that a lot easier for costume designers and stylists, so that they can have one place to go, they can search by size, they can tell us what they need, and we can deliver to them within a few days,” she adds. “And we can be sourcing from nearly a thousand shops across the country at the same time.”

Behind the ease of finding things from hundreds of vintage and secondhand stores at once and at an affordable price, Kim-Parker says the aim is to make costume sourcing as easy as working with department stores or mass retailers while also supporting a local mom-and-pop shop in the process. On top of that, 95 percent of the stores Thrilling works with are women- and/or POC-owned. And the lingering COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the need to support those small businesses, Carter says. “It really did bring home that, you know, we’re only as good as we are collectively. We do need to support each other, and this is one way in which we can do that.”

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Ruth Carter

Jack Manning/Thrilling

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