Photo Credit: Getty Images
From day one of Season One, Ann Foley’s been on board. The mastermind behind the unique styles of every character on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Foley is equal parts fashionista and visual storyteller. Paste caught up with the costume designer and got an inside look at her role in developing some of our favorite heroes and villains.
Paste Magazine: When we first arranged this chat, you and I both turned to Twitter to get some questions from fans of the show. Were you surprised by how much feedback we got? I thought it was awesome!
Ann Foley: We’ve got really amazing fans, so I knew we would. I’m really always very happy to interact with them on Twitter and they know that, so I was not surprised by the level of questions.
Paste: How did you come to be the costume designer for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Foley: I was brought on the pilot as the assistant costume designer to Betsy Heimann. When the show got picked up and went to series, Betsy was not available. She was on her way to go do a feature in New York, so she recommended me to the producers to take over the show. Thankfully, they were willing to take a chance on a relatively new designer because I had only designed a couple of things prior to S.H.I.E.L.D. It was great.
Paste: Were you prepared for the unique aspects of working with Marvel characters?
Foley: Well, I had a very incredible career as an assistant costume designer. I was very fortunate to work on some very high profile projects ranging from Star Trek Into Darkness, to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and even ten- plus years ago on the first Fantastic Four. I am pretty well versed in that custom-made costume world. Fortunately, working on these projects and with these amazing costume designers, gave me an incredible base to be able to take over a show like S.H.I.E.L.D.
Paste: Because the Marvel fanbase is so passionate about learning about the past, present and future of the product, is there a certain level of pressure in this environment to keep your work confidential?
Foley: Every job I’ve ever had has had super secrecy surrounding it. Star Trek was probably one of the most intense, so I am used to not being able to talk about what I am doing. It’s kind of second nature to me. With the advent of social media, it does get a little harder to keep everything a secret. Hey, I work for S.H.I.E.L.D., so I’m always waiting for those guys to come around the corner (laughs).
Paste: You guys certainly got ahead of the snoopers and created your own buzz last month by revealing the new look for Daisy Johnson—the character formerly known as Skye. Did that move generate the excitement that you expected?
Foley: Everyone is excited, including me. I am very excited about this costume. It’s something I started thinking about towards the end of Season Two when we found out who she was. I was hoping that they would go there and fortunately they did—the writers. It is so much fun to get to do this kind of stuff. I’ve always said that I go straight to the comics for my initial inspiration and my research. I work with my two illustrators, Phillip Boutay and Josh Shaw, to create a really cool illustration using some of the original ideas from “Quake” in the comic book universe. I felt that it was important to get the “Quake” symbol onto her costume. We put it on the gauntlet and then we put it into the back of her jacket which is one of the coolest things I’ve done so far, I think. I tried to also give a nod to her Season Two tactical, so I incorporated some of the style lines from that into the top of the jacket, around the shoulder area. I am really happy with how it turned out.
I wanted Chloe Bennet to love it too, and I think she does. She feels very empowered in it and strong, and she looks amazing. It’s been a really fun costume.
Paste: You talked about working with others to create these looks. Are many people involved in deciding on costumes and styles, especially when dealing with characters that have already existed in the comics?
Foley: It’s always a collaboration, whether we are building a superhero costume or we are building a look for a character out of street clothes. It is always a collaboration. I work really closely with Maurissa Tancharoen, who is one of the co-creators on the show. We work so closely in developing the look of all of these characters, and we have since Season One. Our goal in Season One was to create what was originally six, and now I think we are at ten, super strong, identifiable characters by their clothes. You can look at them immediately and identify who they are as a person, as a character. I feel like we have accomplished that. Each season has had its own very specific look and it’s changed somewhat dramatically, but you can still recognize the character, even though their look is changing—it’s shifted and gotten a little bit darker. You can still tell who they are, and that’s been really fun. When we do preexisting characters from the MCU, once they start illustrating, then I start working specifically with Joe Quesada on the approval process for the illustration. It’s always been great and a wonderful collaboration with those guys. We’ve done some really cool stuff, and I am very happy.
Paste: Here’s a question from Twitter: How many multiples of a particular outfit do you have on hand when shooting a given scene?
Foley: It depends on the needs of the scene, and on what’s happening on the episode. For example, when we did the silver sequin wrap dress for Agent May last season, we built five of those dresses. We needed one for May that she could dance in, the hero dress that was really pretty. We needed one that she could fight in that had stretch panels. She had two stunt doubles, and then Agent 33 had to wear the dress as well. If somebody is doing a fight, sometimes we just get away with doubles. Most of the time, everyone just got singles in their closets.
Paste: Here’s another tweet we got: “What’s with Ward wearing the one specific shirt and jacket all of the time now?”
Foley: (laughs) Well, he’s not wearing the same shirts, that’s just the trick of the light. His shirts generally change. It’s a silhouette. It’s a very similar silhouette. I like to keep certain pieces in their closets that are part of their character, because to me it’s not a fashion show, it’s more about reality. In reality, a guy like Ward isn’t going to have twenty jackets in his closet. He is going to have one that he uses all of the time. I loved getting him out of black and moving him into brown tones and that kind of separates him from everybody else.
Paste: Who came up with the half tuck look for Ward?
Foley: That was me. We call it the messy tuck. (laughs)
Paste: Do the actors on the show have input into their looks?
Foley:Oh, yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s collaboration. As I’ve said, Maurissa and I work really closely together and I work closely with all of the actors. These are their characters, so I am not one to ever force something on anybody. It’s always a conversation. You want them to be happy in whatever they are wearing, and it needs to make sense. One of the things that they know about me is that I am always coming from a character point of view. I really try to pay attention to detail, whether it’s a story point or whether it’s what could possibly be going on in their head at that time.
Paste: What was the inspiration for Jiaying’s wardrobe last season?
Foley: I wanted her to have an other-worldly kind of feeling and then also, at the time, Dichen [Lachman] was pregnant, so we needed to come up with a silhouette that could hide the pregnancy, and kind of grow with her which is why we landed on that tunic. The great thing about it is that it had this really cool Asian feeling to it with the high neck and the buttons down the front. I knew I wanted to be able to make her tunics, and also what we were tried to do with the fabrics we were picking, similar to what I did to Rayna last season. Whatever is going on in the storyline and inside of her head. I tried to use that when I was picking the fabrics for her tunics. It became an issue of practicality as well.
Paste: Raina was certainly one of the show’s more uniquely-styled characters, mainly due to her very identifiable habit of wearing flower dresses all of the time. Was that a creative decision?
Foley: Oh, yeah, that was completely from our writers. When they told me about her, I think it was Season One, they told me we are going to have this character. She is going to be known as the girl in the flower dress. Whenever you see her, you want to be able to recognize her by the pattern on her dress. I was like,” This is really cool,” so I printed the fabric. Every time you saw her, depending on what was happening on her head and what the story was, we started playing with color psychology and picking the color of the dress based off of what was happening in her head in that particular episode. Also, we were using that to figure out what the silhouette of the dress would be. I had a lot of fun with her. Her arc was so interesting as we went through, and towards the end of Season Two. Once she transforms, she went into that hooded jacket and pant and I built that for her. It was a beautiful floral lace with a red silk background. It was very subtle, but the flowers were still there. To me, she was always going to be the girl in the flower dress, so I wanted to pay tribute to that as well. That was one of my favorite costumes all season.
Paste: Is there a set number of times that any particular outfit might be used?
Foley: I don’t have a good answer for that one except that they each have their closets. I am a big firm believer in having pieces in the closet that the characters will consistently wear and the audience will recognize. Our team goes undercover a lot, too. When you see those undercover looks, they general disappear and you don’t see them again. I doubt we will be seeing the silver sequin wrap dress again, or even Agent May’s leather catsuit—and I would love for that to make an appearance again somewhere down the road.
As far as basics, I like to keep basic things the same throughout the season. Again, it’s not a show about fashion, per se, it’s more about character, and staying true to a character and staying believable. So you’re not going to see a different leather jacket on them every week—you’re going to see pretty much the same leather jacket on them all season.
Paste: If you could pick one character from the Marvel Universe to show up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., just so that you’d have the ability to create their look, who would it be?
Foley: That’s a great question. I am a big fan of Lady Thor and I also love Spider Gwen—I think she’s great. So either one of them would be really fun.
Season Three of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres tonight, September 29 at 9 pm EST on ABC.