How did Charlotte designers land on the hands and ears of this ‘Black Panther’ A-lister?

Angela Bassett arrives at the Monday night premiere in L.A. of “Black Panther,” wearing a Charlotte designer’s work.
Angela Bassett arrives at the Monday night premiere in L.A. of “Black Panther,” wearing a Charlotte designer’s work. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Charlotte jewelry designer Darrell Roach was visiting Raleigh last Tuesday when his phone rang and actress Angela Bassett’s stylist started talking:

“We’ve got this movie premiere coming up on Monday, and the only designer who can do what you can do is you,” he recalls Los Angeles-based stylist Jennifer Austin saying.

The premiere was for Marvel’s “Black Panther,” in which Bassett plays the title character’s mother, Ramonda, queen of Wakanda. The invitation to Monday’s event listed the dress code as “royal attire,” according to the Los Angeles Times, and Bassett’s ensemble – a fully fringed, sunshine-yellow Naeem Khan jumpsuit – was such a show-stopper that it needed bold jewelry to match.

nu angela
Actress Angela Bassett wore this outfit to the premiere of “Black Panther” and credited a Charlotte designer. Bassett’s Instagram

After trading some images and ideas with Austin, Roach got right to work, sketching on a Holiday Inn notepad and dreaming up designs in his head.

Jewelry designer Darrell Roach. Observer file photo

“I told (Austin), I can make a miracle happen in 24 hours,” Roach says. “I’m known to give the bold.”

Roach, 39, called fellow jewelry designer Samantha Phillips, with whom he shares studio space and a website, and the two started collaborating on what would turn into about 20 jewelry pieces to send to Bassett – some new pieces designed especially for Bassett and the event, and others pulled from inventory that Austin had admired online.

“I knew she was going for queen-of-all-queens, super-goddess look, and I was like, ‘This has to be something that will make a serious statement.’ 

Roach returned to Charlotte Wednesday night, was in his workshop at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning, and shipped out his and Phillips’ pieces later that day at 4:30 p.m. sharp.

On Monday, he watched and waited for photos of Bassett to turn up on Instagram, and sure enough, they did, with Bassett herself tagging Roach in an image showing his work: patterned brass earrings from a design he started making about a year ago (they used to be called the “Vanessa” earrings, but this week he changed the name to the “Angela” earrings), and a bold ring in a half-moon shape made from hammered brass.

Bassett wore one of Phillips’ rings to a press conference before the premiere – a statement ring made from flattened pieces of brass that spiral out in curvy rays.

Phillips, whose career in jewelry design is just starting (she still works a day job as an account representative for a lawn and garden company), says the shock of seeing her work on an A-list celebrity is still sinking in.

samantha phillips ring for angela bassett
Actress Angela Bassett wore this ring created by Charlotte designer Samantha Phillips – now renamed the “Ramonda Goddess Ring” – to a press conference before the “Black Panther” premiere on Monday. Courtesy of Samantha Phillips

“I can’t even believe that an icon like Angela Bassett is actually wearing my work,” Phillips said Wednesday. “I can’t even fathom it.”

Samantha Phillips
Charlotte jewelry designer Samantha Phillips models a pair of earrings she sent actress Angela Bassett for the premiere of “Black Panther.” Courtesy of Samantha Phillips

Designing for celebrities is nothing new for Roach, he says: His work has been worn by the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, Prince and Missy Elliott.

But the key to getting repeat celebrity work, he says, is making sure the style fits the celebrity’s personality, is just the right weight, and won’t cause any style snarls.

“Angela is a very expressive person, and I didn’t want a ring flopping around as she was talking to people,” Roach says. “If you make a piece and it looks gorgeous but it’s too heavy, they may not call you again.”

Another worry? “It can’t be jagged. They might be wearing a $30,000 outfit. If you snag a $30,000 gown, that could be a career ender.”

Roach and Phillips are hoping to see more of their work on Bassett in the weeks and months to come. They figure they sent her about 10 looks last week, between all the combinations of earrings, cuff bracelets and rings.

As of Wednesday morning, Roach had already received 10 online orders as a result of the exposure, he says, including one from Australia.

“For the global awareness from a client on that level?” Roach says. “You’ll gladly pack a box for her.”