“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” Costume Designer Michael Crow on the New Captain America
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier capped off (pun intended) its 6-episode season last Friday night in style. That style was set by a brand new look for Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) who, after an arduous journey since Captain America (Chris Evans) handed him the shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame, finally accepted both the iconic shield and the role itself. The newly minted Captain America, in wings supplied by those technological wizards in Wakanda, flew into the frame in a super-suit that dazzled with bursts of white. The effect was potent, the white popped against an overall muted palette, and the effect of seeing the hybrid Falcon/Captain America suit on Sam Wilson was both rousing and cathartic.
The man behind much of the series’ look was costume designer Michael Crow. An MCU veteran—he worked on Captain America: Civil War and on Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame—Crow made the most of Sam’s big moment. Up until the last episode, Sam, alongside his former enemy/current begrudging best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), found himself fighting on multiple fronts. Because he’d refused to take on the role of Captain America, America looked elsewhere—towards the blonde-haired, blue-eyed war hero John Walker. But John Walker was no Steve Rogers, and soon Sam and Bucky found themselves not only dealing with the worldwide threat of a cabal of masked anarchists known as the Flag Smashers but from the new Captain America himself.
In a series with muted colors, a fascist Captain America, and mysterious super-soldiers intent on bringing the planet back to its brief, borderless haze after Thanos snapped half of the global population out of existence, Crow’s clothes helped build to that final, glorious moment when Falcon became Captain America. We spoke to him about that journey, and quite a bit more. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
This is the first time we’ve gotten to see Sam at home in Louisiana. How did you approach a casual Falcon, as it were?
So for Sam, I sort of extrapolated from some of his previous streetwear looks from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, and talked to Anthony about it. I wanted to add a little more color—in a muted way because the whole palette of the show is a little muted—but I wanted to add a little more color and texture than maybe he’s had before. So much of the show is muted and dark and moody, so I wanted that world of Louisiana to be the bright spot and a happy place in his life.
Bucky’s look has always been, for lack of a better word, cool. How would you describe his style?
For Bucky, I wanted to play with this idea of classic Americana style. It was the same for Steve Rogers but in a darker, moodier way. Both of them are characters who, for the most part, their lives were lived in the 1940s, and they’re sort of stuck in this modern world. So if you were that person, what would you wear? Bucky’s obviously a very different person than Steve in his life experience, but I wanted them to have the same flavor.
In the final episode, Sam finally becomes Captain America, and it’s a look we’ve never seen in all the years of seeing Sam in the MCU. That awesome Falcon/Captain America hybrid—do you have any wiggle room there in the design process?
The concept department at Marvel has a whole team of people that works on these super suits. They develop illustrations, with input from our department about practicality, and I sometimes make suggestions. For that particular costume, there were a lot of different variations. There were discussions about how much white we wanted in the costume versus if we wanted it to feel darker. What do we want to say with this costume? At the end of the day, we felt like it was a much bolder statement to have as much white as we ended up with because it’s so different from everything we’ve seen before. It was very important in the development of the super-suit that it didn’t feel like a conglomeration of Captain America costumes that have come before added to the Falcon costume. First, it was created in Wakanda and there are elements of that in there, too, which we incorporated into how we made the costume in fabrication. We still wanted it to feel like Sam, but we also wanted it to feel like a fresh Captain America costume as well.
How would you compare this series to previous Marvel projects you’ve worked on?
It was definitely challenging with the amount of work and the time we had, but I feel like after Avengers: Infinity War, everything is possible [laughs.]
Let’s discuss John Walker’s look. Designing for a fascist Captain America must have been fun, what kind of elements are including to let us know this is a very different Cap?
The way we constructed this costume is more structured, more armored, and darker. In reality, it’s made of mostly fabric and foam, so it’s flexible. All of the white came out of the costume, and we also amplified his shoulders to make him feel more massive than Steve Rogers had looked. We wanted him to feel intimidating and dark.
What was the thinking behind the Flag Smashers look?
We definitely wanted each of them to feel individual, but they also had to feel like a collective so they weren’t so all over the place that it was distracting. Once we got casting—because there’s not a lot about the characters necessarily in the scripts, other than Karli (Erin Kellyman) and Dovich (Desmond Chiam)—the characters came to life. We got to talk to each of the actors about where I wanted to go with them, how tough I wanted to make them, but also we wanted them to feel like they were grounded and interesting. We were playing with each character to make them feel unique, but we definitely wanted it to feel like they were coming from these refugee camps. They didn’t have a lot, they were just using what they had, even with their masks.
Tell me about those masks.
We wanted the masks to feel like you could go to the store and buy one, put the Flag Smasher logo on it, and you’d have a Flag Smasher mask. We made the masks ourselves. We looked at all sorts of different masks, hockey masks, etcetera, and we did designs that were both super high-tech and even lower-tech. At the end of the day, one of the members of my team vacuum-formed this mask. Then we put a texture on it so it was unique, then the logo was developed by the concept team at Marvel, which is the globe logo that’s on the Flag Smasher character in the comic books. Then we played with different colors on the masks, there were a lot of variations until we landed on what we thought was right and practical.
Another great character with a great look is Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo—especially that fur-lined coat.
When we started discussions, the initial idea was that his coat was an old Sokovian military uniform. So I got a lot of inspiration from Slavic traditional clothing, and also I looked at Polish and Russian World War II overcoats to get that military feel in the costume. At the same time, we wanted him to feel wealthy, like a baron, and obviously, the fur is part of the character from the comic books and that adds a lot to that look.
Bringing it back full circle to Sam, explain to me why the white in that suit works on an instinctual level? Why is it so arresting?
Thankfully we had a great cinematographer [P.J. Dillion], but I think it works so well because so much of the show is so dark and we didn’t use a lot of bright colors. So when Sam does arrive, that white color adds a level of hope and light to the end of the series. And that was the message of the series, after all.
Featured image: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in Marvel Studios’ THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.