Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Costume Designer Ann Foley Gives Superheroes Style
Throughout four action-packed seasons of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., costume designer Ann Foley has created the look for an ever-expanding cast of characters in the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU). The show brought on two new characters this season that fans have welcomed feverishly. The antihero Ghost Rider, who has a penchant for flaring up, and android Aida, built in secret by Radcliffe, are the two newest reasons to tune in.
Yet, long before their entrance, Foley was busy setting the tone for the series. As the show has evolved, so have the characters’ wardrobes. Despite the far-reaching and complex mark that Marvel has made in TV and film, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been able to advance the collective plot without convoluting it.
We spoke with Ann Foley about the show’s connection to the Marvel movies, her realistic approach to dressing superheroes, designing the costumes for Ghost Rider and Aida and more.
What was your own background with the comics? Did you know much about these characters coming into it?
I have always been a big fan of the MCU. I love the Marvel movies. But as far as specifically knowing about the characters, I was not a big comic book reader growing up. I think that Iron Man was one of the most fun films I had seen, which is what kick started the MCU. I absolutely adored The Avengers. That’s where I really became a hard-core Marvel fan. I knew who Coulson was. He was a familiar face in all of the films and that was really fun. As with everyone else when Loki killed him in The Avengers it was shocking. I remember thinking, “What! No way. There’s no way Coulson can be gone.”
ABC’s ‘Marvels’ Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’ stars Chloe Bennet as Daisy Johnson, Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May, Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, Henry Simmons as Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz and Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons. (ABC/Matthias Clamer)
How did you get involved with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
When I heard about the pilot and that they were bringing [Coulson] back, I was really excited. I couldn’t wait to see the show. A friend of mine, Betsy Heimann, another costume designer who I worked with in the past as an assistant called me and said, “I just got this really great pilot for Marvel. Joss Whedon is directing it and I’m looking for an assistant designer. Do you know anyone who would be interested?” I said, “Yes! Me! Absolutely.” So I did the pilot with her and when she wasn’t available to take it to series, she recommended me to the producers to take it over. Fortunately, they were willing to take a risk on me.
The amazing part of Marvel is how seamlessly they tie the characters together.
As [executive producer] Jeph Loeb says, it’s all connected. I think that’s one of the beautiful things that they do in the films and we try to do on the show is tell that story and keep those connections alive.
There are so many characters on this show that you have to dress. How long does it take to create a costume for each actor?
It depends. If we’re doing their civilian look, as I like to call it, it’s just a matter of prepping the episode. We’re prepping and we’re shooting at the same time, so after 3 now going into 4 seasons, they all now have their closets. I try to pull from their closets each time that we’re dressing them so they each have a familiar piece. Especially when it comes to their outer wear. Last season, Daisy had the same leather jacket that she wore throughout season 3, because that’s what people do in real life. That’s what I try to do on the show. It’s really about creating character and staying true to their character and not turning it into a show about fashion.
MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – "Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire" – As Ghost Rider's quest for vengeance brings him into an explosive confrontation with S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson and Mack must rely on an unlikely ally in their time of desperate need. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
Does each character have a signature look or item of clothing that acts as a theme?
You could say that. I think that one of the things that I’m the most proud of on the show is that we created at the beginning, six very identifiable characters. They each had their own very specific look. Over the seasons you’ve seen them change and you’ve seen them grow emotionally and we’ve tried to do that even with their clothes. We’re trying to tell that story, that emotional growth through their costumes. You see Leo Fitz in season 1 with his plaids and his cardigan and his ties change to the person he’s become now. That has to do with a lot of the things that he’s gone through in the last couple of seasons. Now he’s in sport coats and slacks and his shirts don’t have the plaids in them anymore. They’re a little more plain and subdued. That’s because he’s grown up, he’s become a man. The same with Simmons. You’ve seen that shift and that arc in her as well. I love that. I think that’s one of the things that makes the show so fun. As far as the superhero costumes go, it depends. Sometimes I’ve gotten six weeks, sometimes I’ve gotten two. It really depends on the character, who it is, and at what point I find out about it.
Gabriel Luna joins the cast this season as Ghost Rider. Courtesy ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
Your costumes have evolved throughout the first three seasons. What has been the process of advancing the look of each character?
The show took a turn in season 1 with the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. When we were tying into Winter Soldier and what was happening over there, it became darker and more serious. You want their clothes to reflect that. You want to show their headspace. It’s really important to me and it’s important to the cast as well. I have a really great relationship with each one of them. We have these conversations. What would Simmons do? When she is going to a nightclub in Europe that is full of inhumans, what is Simmons’ idea of dressing up and being sexy? So Elizabeth [Henstridge] and I had that conversation. We came up with a really fun look for her, which was the leather pants and the great jacket that had the pop of color and the jewel necked blouse and it felt right for her. Just putting her in a little sexy dress didn’t feel right for Simmons. That isn’t her character. We’re trying to stay true to that. I think it shows.
Does that become a really detailed process?
We try to keep it real, even with their jewelry. Daisy is still wearing the same three silver rings that she stacks from season 1. They’re still on her now because that’s what we do, or at least I do. We wear the same jewelry all the time and rarely change it up. Those are the kinds of things that I try to add to these characters and they really like that, especially Simmons. She had that same little rose necklace in season 1, but she lost it on Maveth when she was stranded on the planet after going to the Monolith. She came back and didn’t have it anymore. It was an interesting character point. We are finally reintroducing a necklace back into her look. I think you’ll see it Tuesday night. I spent a lot of time looking around to try to find that perfect necklace. Going into Simmons head, what would she do? What would she be attracted to? You won’t see an array of jewelry unless she goes under cover. You’ll see this necklace as part of her look for season 4.
Mallory Jansen appears as Aida this season in a custom dress suit designed by Ann Foley. (ABC/Jennifer Clasen)
You mentioned connecting with Winter Soldier. Is it a challenge to connect with the whole Marvel Universe outside of the show?
I don’t know if I would necessarily say it’s a challenge, but it’s fun. As I said, I’m a huge fan of the movies and I always like to see what they’re doing so that it feels like we’re part of that world. Especially when I’m designing the superhero costumes. In my mind, I think of this as, “Would Quake fit in with the Avengers?” So I have that in mind. Whenever I’m designing a superhero costume on the show I think, “Would they fit in in the MCU and what they have established?” I try to keep that common thread going.
There is so much action on this show with combat and stunts. How do you design with that in mind?
We have flat versions of the boots for the girls when they’re having to do high kicks or crazy wire work or any stunt that needs them to be in a lower heel for safety. Their superhero costumes are made out of this fantastic 4 way stretch called Eurojersey so they can move pretty freely in them. I will generally print the color or pattern on top of the Eurojersey. I just work the stretch aspects in no matter what they’re in. I think it was season 2 when Agent May had to wear the silver sequin wrap dress to the Miami mansion when she and Coulson went undercover. She had to dance the tango in it and then fight herself in the dress. We made several versions of the dress. The dress that she could dance in, then when it came to the fight dresses, we built these stretch panels into the dress so that she would have freedom of movement. That’s the most important thing, to make sure that they can move freely and that they aren’t restricted by their clothes.
One of the characters gaining the most buzz this season is Ghost Rider. What did you have in mind when creating his look?
I love this version of Robbie Reyes. We’ve had a lot of fun with this character. I work really closely with Marvel television’s creative director Josh Shaw. He did a wonderful concept illustration of the jacket for me. Then all I had to do was have it made. Then as far as the rest of the costume, I again turned to the comics. I want to see who this guy is. I want to see his back-story, where he is from and pay tribute to that, which is what we did with the Levi’s and the Vans. It was really fun to bring him onto the show and I’ve had a blast with him. Gabriel Luna has done a fantastic job bringing him to life.
We are also introduced to Aida this season.
With Aida, she’s so much fun. I really wanted to do something special for her so we built her costume in house. It’s this really beautiful skirt suit that has interesting style lines. I wanted it to feel like it was hers and have a little bit of mystery about it. Mallory [Jansen] wears it so beautifully. I’m so excited for everyone to see it Tuesday night.
What has been your favorite part of working on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D?
I just love being part of this universe. It’s been such an amazing experience working on this show and our cast is just fantastic. It’s like a family. I just feel like a very lucky girl that I’ve been able to be part of it. I think that one of my favorite things has been that arc that we’ve created over the four seasons. You still recognize the characters from who they were at the very beginning. I did a board at the beginning of the season where I put up all of the photos of the cast members from season 1 to season 3. It was so much fun to see where we started and where we are now. You still recognize them. You still can say, “Wow, I can see that emotional shift from Skye who is now Daisy.” I’m immensely proud of that. Probably more proud of that than I am of the superhero costumes.
What can fans expect to see throughout the rest of season 4?
There are so many fun things coming up that I can’t tease them. I don’t know what’s happening that far in advance. When I get these scripts, even I’m surprised. The scripts are so much fun this season. They’ve just taken it to a new level. I am so excited each time one lands on my desk. I would say, just get ready for a wild ride. It just gets more and more fun.
Featured image: ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." stars Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Elizabeth Henstridge as Agent Jemma Simmons, Iain De Caestecker as Agent Leo Fitz, Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, Chloe Bennet as Agent Daisy Johnson, Clark Gregg as Director Phil Coulson, Nick Blood as Agent Lance Hunter, Adrianne Palicki as Agent Bobbi Morse, Henry Simmons as Agent Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie and Luke Mitchell as Lincoln Campbell. (ABC/Kurt Iswarienkio )