'Coming 2 America' Costumes: Which brands, How Stunning?
"Coming 2 America" costumes are stunning. Photo: Refinery29

Coming 2 America, the highly anticipated follow-up to the Eddie Murphy-Arsenio Hall classic opens just like the original. As viewers, we're immediately transported to the grandiose and opulent Zamunda, a feat achieved thanks largely to the costumes, thoughtfully reimagined by Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter.

The cult-favorite film, which broke box office records when it premiered in 1988, is a study in visual splendor when it comes to the wardrobe, from Prince Akeem's draped furs to Lisa's pink royal wedding dress, not to mention hilarious as hell — who could forget Murphy's goofy, Scottish-inspired McDowell's uniform, complete with a red tartan vest and matching tam-o'-shanter hat?

From Wakanda to Zamunda

When Ruth E. Carter was working on costumes for Black Panther’s Wakandan superheroes back in 2017, she ended up taking a brief detour via another fictional African nation after cast members Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Daniel Kaluuya asked her to help them out for their Coming to America-themed fancy dress party.

Photo: Fashionista
Photo: Fashionista

Taking on that legacy was “nerve-wracking,” she says, but Carter needn’t have worried. Her colorful and radical Afro-futuristic aesthetic means she is one of the most exciting customers working in Hollywood right now, and the obvious choice to kit out the film’s fashion-forward royalty. The new films flip the trajectory of the original, with Akeem’s long-lost illegitimate son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) swapping Queens for Zamunda, where he must get to grips with his princely heritage.

She imagined the fictional country as an African style capital, in contrast to technological hub Wakanda, taking “a lot of cues” from the original movie’s “elevated” royal aesthetic while also asking “where could [this] have gone 30 years later?” and what a “sophisticated audience… would expect out of a modern Zamunda?” As Murphy’s on-screen father King Jaffe Joffer, James Earl Jones famously wore a lion-skin shawl (complete with lion’s head) in the first film, while his son wears an ocelot skin. This time, though, Carter was clear that “this world is more cruelty-free - they’re protecting their animals, they’re protecting their landscape,” so using real fur was not an option. “And so we 3D printed the lion’s head on Prince Akeem’s shoulder in this beautiful, Byzantine kind of way.”

Ruth E. Carter Brought Zamunda’s Royal Fashion To Life In Coming 2 America

Taking place 30 years after the original, Coming 2 America follows King Akeem (Eddie Murphy) as he discovers that he has an adult son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), in New York, and brings him to Zamunda as his heir. Like Black Panther's Wakanda, Zamunda's combines a mix of African cultures and aesthetic traditions, which are reflected in Carter’s costumes in a vibrant display of traditional prints, fabrics, and silhouettes, said Refinery 29.

Carter’s talent for combining contemporary silhouettes and traditional designs is best embodied by the fashion of Akeem’s three daughters who are modern-day princesses with distinct looks. While the youngest Tinashe (Akiley Love) wears cutesy styles, the middle daughter Omma (Murphy’s real-life daughter Bella) opts for loose dresses in statement prints. The oldest, Meeka (Kiki Layne), the obvious Zamunda heir to everyone but Akeem, displays the most fearless style of the trio, preferring daring cutouts, tighter fits, and dramatic silhouettes. Her fight-training outfit, a bright yellow-and-green set with a fringe skirt, is especially powerful.

Photo: Variety
Photo: Variety

For the many intricate crowns and headpieces featured in the film, Carter turned to Laurel DeWitt, a go-to designer for Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Lady Gaga. “In her showroom, there were crowns waiting for queens to wear them. And I scooped them all up and brought them with me to Atlanta,” she says. “So anytime one of our princesses or our queen was getting ready in the makeup and hair trailer, there were four or five crowns to choose from to match their outfits.” This opulence extended to the rest of the jewelry, too, which Carter worked with several designers to create, including L.A.’s Melody Ehsani, whose designs feature Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, to create.

While the costume designer employed a whole spectrum of jewel-toned colors throughout the project, red was the prominent go-to, appearing on Akeem and the royal palace attendees. In one of the earlier scenes, the Rose Bearer Priestess (Garcelle Beauvais) enters the ballroom in a giant off-the-shoulder ballgown in red-and-gold, which Carter chose after being inspired by the East Indian influences in the first film. “We had permission to mix cultures and borrow, because Zamunda's not hidden by a hologram, it's an immersive place,” she says, referring to Wakanda’s strategic isolation from global influences. After buying the dress off the rack from an Indian designer, Carter wasn’t sure where the gown would fit in. “It took up half of my office,” says Carter. “Everyone was like, ‘What is wrong with Ruth?’” Once she learned of Beauvais’ scene, Carter says she knew the gown was meant for it: “It was such a good opening dress.”

The Costumes Are Stunning

Photo: Fashionista
Photo: Fashionista

Ruth E. Carter, the masterful Oscar-winning costume designer behind some of the greatest Black movie looks in history (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, What's Love Got to Do With It, B*A*P*S, and Black Panther, to name just a few) again pulls out all the stops here. Building upon Deborah Nadoolman Landis's now-legendary designs for the original film, Carter – along with collaborators like Laduma Ngxokolo and Palesa Mokumbung, both from South Africa – has imagined resplendent patterns and accessories that jump off the screen and contextualize the characters even when the narrative storytelling falls flat. The colors are often vibrant and decadent (see, for instance, a gorgeous bright blue and gold-accented dress and headdress donned by Gladys Knight in a small cameo); the attention to detail is sharp (in a more environmentally-friendly nod to one of Akeem's most imitated looks from the original movie, he wears a ceramic, gold-plated lion's head on his suit, connecting to a cape evoking a mane).

One could get easily get lost in a slideshow of all the tableaus of beautiful Black people looking regal. And a slideshow would be more interesting than Coming 2 America itself, noted NPR.

POPSUGAR: How does the style in this film differ from the first?

Ruth E. Carter: The first [film] had such grandeur — it was shot like a big Hollywood movie. When we came into the palace, we saw the opulent dresses, the tuxedos, the way the men stood with their envelope caps and sashes . . . that is signature Coming to America; I wanted to maintain that. At the time, we didn't see much of that from Africa; we weren't even sure how authentic it was, but we loved it. The lion on the shoulder, Akeem in the Mets jacket — those were iconic images. I went through and picked out the things that I needed to move into the new movie. I even found some dresses from that ballroom scene in a rental house. And we created our own new-style Zamunda looks, too, because I wanted to replicate the headdresses and big, full dresses, but in a way that was uniquely ours. We made some of the same silhouettes with more modern fabrics and treatments.

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