Fashion Alumna Creates the Looks for Hollywood Stars

Costume designer Charlese Antoinette’s credits include ‘Judas and the Black Messiah,’ ‘Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and the upcoming ‘Air.’
Charlese Antoinette
Class of 2005 fashion merchandising and management graduate Charlese Antoinette is now a TV and movie costume designer for A-listers. (Photo/Parris Whittingham)

For Charlese Antoinette, a career of dressing Hollywood stars like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci and Daniel Kaluuya began in East Falls.

The 2005 fashion merchandising and management graduate—now a TV and movie costume designer for A-listers—spent hours putting on fashion shows with the Black Student Union, absorbing skills from fashion, textile and business professors, and importantly, quizzing Gutman librarians and scouring the University archives.

“It’s part of why I’m so good at research now,” Antoinette says. “It’s a huge part of my career.”

She also attributes Jefferson’s Marianne Able Career Services Center to helping her land a Black Retail Action Group internship at Macy’s in New York City after her junior year. “From there, I expanded the ideas of who I was and who I could be,” Antoinette says.

Charlese on set of Judas with director Shaka king
Charlese Antoinette worked side-by-side with “Judas and the Black Messiah” Director Shaka King. (Photo/Glen Wilson)

After graduating, Antoinette worked for Armani and Bloomingdale’s and dressed models for Betsy Johnson and Calvin Klein at New York Fashion Week for 10 seasons. The connections made through the famed fashion event, plus many late nights, led to jobs as a costume production assistant.

Antoinette worked on “Newlyweeds” and “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” both of which went to Sundance in 2013. After this early career success, she moved to Los Angeles—an unexpectedly difficult transition that left her homeless and couch-surfing with friends.

“A lot of promises people made for work didn’t happen, and I ended up in an emotionally and financially abusive relationship,” she shares. “I had to rebuild my life.”

Antoinette continued to hustle for years, traveling the world and working on projects that inspired her. Then, her big break came.

The “Newlyweeds” director, Shaka King, and Antoinette kept in touch over the years, and he contacted her to be the costume designer for his next big picture, “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The 2021 biographical crime drama about the betrayal of Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton earned six Oscar nominations and won two.

Shaka King and Antoinette at the Oscars
“Judas and the Black Messiah” earned two Oscars in 2021. Here, Charlese Antoinette celebrates with Daniel Kaluuya, who won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. (Photo/Das Leune)

“It was truly life-changing in how I looked at myself as an artist and the world around me,” she says. “I’m really grateful this is the project that propelled me.”

Since then, Hollywood keeps calling for her skills. As a costume designer, Antoinette creates characters for a film or TV show through clothing, setting the looks from the extras to lead stars. She collaborates with directors, writers, showrunners, production designers, prop masters and more.

To prep for the 2022 biographical musical drama, “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and recreate some of the superstar’s iconic looks, she spent hours watching documentaries, reading books and combing through old photos. A companion book details Antoinette’s work behind the scenes.

Her next big project, “Air,” hits theaters in April. The Matt Damon and Ben Affleck film centers on Nike’s game-changing partnership with Michael Jordan to create the Air Jordan brand. She also has a Damon/Casey Affleck heist movie in the works.

Looks from I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Charlese Antoinette served as costume designer for the biographical drama, “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” (Photos/Emily Aragones; Copyright: © 2021 CTMG Inc. All Rights Reserved)

With Antoinette’s star on the rise, she looks to help other designers as much as possible. She created the Black Designer Database to support Black designers by amplifying their work and connecting them to new consumers and media opportunities.

“It’s about community building,” says Antoinette, who notes the importance of finding support from others. “Work with your peers to build and create your own stories and projects to showcase your collective work. That’s how I got here. The director for ‘Judas’ also did my first film.”

For students looking to follow her lead in Hollywood, she urges patience and persistence too.

“It’s not an instant gratification kind of industry,” Antoinette says. “The focus should be on being the best artist you can be and creating amazing work that you’re happy with.”

See more of Charlese Antoinette’s looks from “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” below. 

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