The Marvel blockbuster is a modish trip back to 1962, where the mutant supergroup looks more like the Mad X-Men than contemporary crusaders. GQ spoke to costume designer Sammy Sheldon about getting the movie's sleek, sexy look
BY MIKE RYAN
Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto (Michael Fassbender)
"This character is a joy to dress because he's James Bond, in one sense. He has the perfect outfit for every situation. Money is no object; whatever he needs, he gets. If he weren't in a suit, he'd be in a polar neck or that kind of Jack Kerouac kind of easy clothing. When you look at the early Bond films, you've got those short-sleeve, fine knitted '60s tops and a pair of trousers, but they just look fantastic. We did a lot of research into images of things in Dr. No and bits and pieces of Thunderball and Goldfinger. Those early ones. And we looked at how Bond uses clothing in each situation and it's always absolutely perfect for the day or the evening or whatever. The other film we referenced for Magneto and Charles Xavier, was The Thomas Crown Affair. [Director] Matthew Vaughn was very keen on the way that Steve McQueen dresses in that because he has very particular tailoring in that—which actually is not right for the period in this film."
Charles Xavier (James McAvoy)
"He's very studious. Of all of the characters, he's the most realistic in one sense because he's the grounded, studious professor. I suppose he's the least caricatured of all of them—he's the voice of reason. So his clothing kind of needed to reflect his human side, in a way. In one sense, I wanted him to not look like he cared too much about fashion and, yet, keep it within the realms of the fashionable part of '60s that we were trying to portray. With the professor, we had a wardrobe that we interchanged throughout. So he had one favorite jacket, which is the grey jacket that you see in a lot of the publicity stills—it's a single-breasted fall jacket—that he obviously really liked to wear and it looked great on him.
We kind of tried to do this three-piece thing because he's often scene in a three-piece suit. You might notice that he's not always in a three-piece suit, but there's always a waistcoat underneath or it's always three pieces. One of them, a double-breasted one, is very similar to his double-breasted suit in X-Men 2. We tried to be as faithful as we could, where we could pull those ideas so you could see the characters had gone on a journey, if that makes sense. Color-wise with him we kept it very monochrome—a lot of gray and pale blue whites and blues. We kept him in that range, nothing black. We wanted to keep it away from the very, very black and white, which we used for other characters."
Emma Frost (January Jones)
"Of all of the characters, she's the most comic book. If you look at all of the references in the comic books, she's always, always dressed in white—and usually very little clothing. We actually did, surprisingly, cover her up more than what is in the comic books but there's only so far that you can go. Some of the stuff that I really wanted to try and get as close to the looks that were there, but obviously once you turn those into three dimensions on the body they don't work—we had to make it more practical.
She's usually wearing something very sparkly. In the very first scene you see her in, [she's wearing] crystal underwear. On the boat it's a white laced dress that is more mid-1960s, to be quite frank. She's also a character that you can have artistic license with and push it into the future slightly. Matthew wanted fantastic tailoring, but, with the women, he didn't like the 1962 look. So one of the things we decided very early on is that we weren't going to be absolutely period correct and make the film look like it's a documentary styled film about 1962. With the women, we did move the look a little bit toward '65. Hers were very Emma Peel from The Avengers. You know, that mid-'60s sexy type of skirt. But it's such a caricatured character; you can kind of push the boundaries there a bit more. It's nice to look at."
Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon)
"Sebastian Shaw was a really interesting one because there isn't a great deal of comic book references for him, but, what is there, he always is depicted in an 18th century coat, a pony tail and a big ascot. Matthew and I both went, 'No.' We cannot have the whole film in the stylish 1960s world and then have this guy running around in an 18th century coat. So we used the elements that we could, like the ascot. So we gave him a small ascot that looks more like what people wore in the 1960s. He has a smoking jacket for the scenes in the Hellfire Club. He has a suit when it's necessary. He has a big coat for Russia. He, again, is one of those characters where money is not a problem in terms of what he needs for each situation. You might notice that there's always a little bit of dark red in his costume, that was just to reference back to the dark red of the waistcoat that was always depicted in the comic books."
Raven Darkholme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence)
"The thing with Jennifer, her character, the first time you see her she's a child and she's trying to hide herself pretending to be Charles' mother. He protects her, but she hates herself. She can't always control her transformation. She feels terribly insecure and self-conscious about turning blue and naked all of the time. So, one of the things we tried to do with her was cover her up as much as possible. When you discuss these things with Matthew and you develop these characters, we want to make sure that we can see some leg. Because everything else about her is covered up. We started off as very covered up and as she goes through the film she starts not covering her arms up, wearing things that are slightly more blue.
It's quite a tricky journey to go on because you have to bear in mind that the story dictates certain clothing, so it's a juggle between the practicalities of the situation she's in versus trying to tell the story of how she slowly comes to terms with her mutantcy. Hopefully it's quite subliminal."
Hank McCoy / Beast (Nicholas Hoult)
"He's very similar in his nature to Raven, in that he's very embarrassed about his looks. When you read about Hank McCoy, not only did he have the feet, but he was hairy underneath his clothing. So, when you see him in the film, his collar is always done up tight or he wears a T-shirt to cover everything that you can see from his neck down. And he always has a long sleeve shirt or a cardigan. That's a very subliminal thing, but we wanted him to look slightly geeky and studious; he throws himself into his lab work as a way of escaping from having to deal with people. That was a tricky character to make a strong fashion statement with, so we kept it to the checkered shirt and the slightly mismatched tie. And his glasses are a really big thing in the comic book—even when he's Beast, he always wears glasses. That was a big thing that we had to make sure that we got right."
Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz)
"Her character is a go-go girl, so we made the go-go outfits for her and the boots with the laces up the side. And due to the fact that she has wings—and that she reveals them quite often—we had to make all her clothes halter-neck. Everything we made for her was halter-neck so that you could see the tattoo all of the time. So that was quite a tricky one, actually. Because we had to make the clothing fit around the tattoo so it could reveal as much if it as possible. Though, technically, although he clothes look very simple, all the dresses she wore were really tricky."
Sean Cassidy / Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones)
"We started looking at very early Mick Jagger, but I think that was a little too extreme. So we pulled it back a bit. So we still managed to get the tight trousers, but it was decided that he would have to wear a little bit more casual clothing. So he ended up with the '60s button up T-shirts and bomber jackets and windbreaker type things. And we gave him some Cuban-heeled boots to give him a bit of height—not that he needed height, but just to elongate his legs a bit more."
Alex Summers / Havoc (Lucas Till)
"Basically we looked slightly earlier for him, so we gave him that kind of denim jeans and T-shirt look. The slightly rocker leather jacket—you know, he's been in prison and is a little bit more streetwise. So of all of them, his clothes are slightly a throwback to the '50s. His character is quite easy to do. He's very easy to dress anyway—he's got a great figure."
Armando Muñoz/ Darwin (Edi Gathegi)
"We actually looked at some really early pictures of Muhammad Ali and tried to keep that look for him. There were some really great early pictures of Ali—he's got those really cool tight trousers and great leather shoes. And the knitted cardigan he was really in to—or the knitted short sleeved Polo shirts. So we just went with that look for him because it worked really well."
Azazel (Jason Flemyng)
"His character, being basically the devil… I found this reference in a Bond movie – it was either Dr. No or Goldfinger, but Bond wears a Nero jacket. And Matthew really wanted me to get a Nero jacket in somewhere. So I did some research into where in the world we could place that in the '60s look. You do find a lot of Nero jackets being worn in the slightly later '60s, particularly in the Mod era. So we mixed all of that together and then designed this jacket that was basically his suit for the whole thing—he never changed. And we had to elongate it to make it into the long Nero jacket instead of the short '60s look. He has a tail, so we had to also think, as the character, how would he deal with having a tail coming out of his trousers. So you elongate the jacket—you would make that choice if you had a tail, I think."
Janos Quested / Riptide (Alex Gonzalez)
He was a really tricky character because there are very, very little comic book references for him. There were about five pictures and he's always depicted in a kind of purple suit with a bit of silver. So that's where his two silver and purple suits came from because we couldn't suddenly have someone within the realms of all of this sharp tailoring and early '60's etiquette in something really alien. So we decided to just go with the suit look and reference the comic book colors within that.
Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne)
"Rose is the only non-mutant. Her history in the comic books, she's always there in the background for quite a long time—she's always in lab coats or high boots. She's portrayed quite odd in the comic books. What we did was decide that she's a woman in a man's world in the '60s, which is quite unusual at that time to have a woman in that position. We wanted to portray her as not too sexy and not the kind of dolly bird woman in the workplace. We tried to make her look like she was serious and means business. So her suits, even though they're short, we tailored them so that they were fairly conservative. And when she's relaxing, she's in the '60s little short Capri pants—just quite simple clothing. In a similar way that Charles is more about the job than it's about the fashion."
"Basically, the brief I was given for the X-Suits—which is obviously a huge thing with the whole world of X-Men—is that we needed to go somewhere else other than where they were going with them. That's the future, where did they come from? So it's a big challenge to go back in time to try and create something that you know has got to go on a journey somewhere to get to where you already got. Matthew was very specific with me: he did not want them to be fitted or leather jump suits that were skintight muscle suits. We wanted to go away from that entirely.
He wanted functionality, which is something I'm very keen on. I never like to design things that have no purpose whatsoever. We referenced as much as we could about NASA space suits and pressure suits from the military and put elements of the technology that we could within the realms of believability—but it still looked cool. And Matthew was very keen that we keep it very faithful to the very first X-Men comic book that was released—the very first one that has five characters on the front with yellow fronts and yellow pants. The underpants part had to go, because it just didn't look cool. One of the things that is quite clear is that the yellow is actually meant to be Kevlar… and 1962 is when Kevlar was developed at DuPont. So that was a key element to keeping that within the suits because Kevlar is bulletproof. We ended up finding this fabric which is what the majority of the suit is made out off that is basically a ballistic nylon, which kind of looks similar to Kevlar.
In the end, they were really successful that we made something that really looks utilitarian as much as it looks X-Men. And I hope that comes across that it doesn't just look like some jump suit that is designed for no reason. I don't even think you can see a tenth of the detail that's in them—it takes one person two weeks to put one together. And each one of the characters has a slightly different suit depending on their power. For instance, Havoc has these rings that hones his energy. Banshee has an expandable chest and wings. Charles Xavier's has more Kevlar because he has no powers that can protect him as much. And then Jennifer's… we tried to make it look as sexy as possible, hopefully."
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