'X-Men's' Superhero Style
How costume designer Sammy Sheldon created '60s comic-book looks that pack a punch.
Swinging London collides with Marvel comic-book superheroes in 20th Century Fox's summer blockbuster X-Men: First Class. Unlike the franchise's earlier X-Men films, the prequel is set in the early 1960s before Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) became archenemies -- they're just two dapper young men, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, who are learning to use their superpowers. "We looked at Sean Connery in the early James Bond films and Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair," says costume designer Sammy Sheldon, who also worked with director Matthew Vaughn on 2010's Kick-Ass and 2007's Stardust. "Our goal was to create a mysterious, über-fashionable and supersexy world for the mutants."
There's definitely no shortage of sexiness thanks to January Jones' lingerie-clad Emma Frost. "She doesn't wear a lot of clothing," says Sheldon, who stuck to an all-white palette for Jones' beaded bra and miniskirt, pearlized leather catsuit (a nod to Diana Rigg's Emma Peel in The Avengers) and thigh-high boots. "We just went for it and made Emma's outfits as close to the comic book as possible without her falling out of them."
The biggest challenge Sheldon and her design team faced was how to create superhero X suits that felt cool and futuristic yet believable based on the era in which the story takes place. "We looked at NASA and several of the pressure suits developed during the Space Age. We couldn't use lights like Tron or other new technologies," notes Sheldon, who attempted to use DuPont Kevlar (developed in the 1960s), only to find that it changed color from straw yellow to dingy brown when it was cut and stitched because of oxygen in the air. She succeeded in finding an alternate material with the same tough properties. "It took about 20 prototypes, but the end result looks awesome."
Emma Frost's White-hot Wardrobe
"The material used for her bra and skirt had teeny-tiny glass beads that the seamstresses had to take off before making the garments -- they restitched each one back on by hand afterward," Sheldon says of Jones' labor-intensive shimmery getup. Jones also dons a one-piece leather suit ("it's not PVC") and a capelet with a chic fur hat ("she travels to Russia") in the film.
Magneto's James Bond-inspired Attitude
"He's the high-thrill, Bond-esque character who's a very snappy dresser," Sheldon says of Magneto, played by Fassbender. "We used a lot of rolled necks and clean cuts." His X suit was made with ballistic nylon, dark-blue leather and a yellow Kevlar-like material. "His is the simplest suit because he needs the least protection. No one dares to go near Magneto."
Prof. x and Sebastian Shaw's Sharp '60s suits
"Charles Xavier is academic and the least concerned with fashion. He's stylish but laid-back," Sheldon says of McAvoy's character. By contrast, X-Men foe Shaw (Kevin Bacon) "has a slim-fit, usually double-breasted suit for every occasion. We switched his character from the comics but kept his signature colors."
Mystique's Sexy Transformation
"Mystique [Jennifer Lawrence] has a different journey from the other mutants because she doesn't like herself and initially wants to cover up," says Sheldon, who used turtlenecks and scarves to conceal Lawrence's character. "As the film progresses, she becomes more comfortable with her blue self." Sheldon introduced touches of blue into her wardrobe, including a blue-gray leather jacket and a deep-blue dress. "By the end, she's totally blue and wears no clothing at all," she says.