Interview: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Costume Designer Ann Foley

We chat with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. costume designer Ann Foley about reading comics for inspiration and getting feedback from fans on social media.

With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s fourth season, the show's status quo has been shaken up with the much-anticipated arrival of Ghost Rider. Not only does the addition of Robbie Reyes bring an element of the supernatural to the show for the first time, it also brings a new style element. Marvel Television's Jeph Loeb has explained how adding Ghost Rider allowed them to bring some of the action to East L.A. for the first time, and added that it also gave them the chance to add some "badass coolery" to the show.

Much of that badass coolery is directly attributable to Ghost Rider's costume, which manages to to be recognizable to fans of the comic books while at the same time still working within the aesthetic of the show. The job of making that happen falls to Ann Foley, the costume designer for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Foley has been with the show since the beginning and has shouldered the responsibility of making the S.H.I.E.L.D. team look stylish.

Screen Rant spoke with Foley about her work on the show, her process for researching and designing its costumes, and what it's like to interact with a fan base who has a deep appreciation for those costumes.

Screen Rant: If I'm not mistaken, you've been with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since the beginning?

Anne Foley: Yeah, I was the assistant costume designer on the pilot and then I took it over when it went to series.

SR: How did that come about?

AF: I had worked with the costume designer who did the pilot, Betsy Heimann, on several projects before. When she got the pilot for S.H.I.E.L.D. she asked me if I would be willing to come on as the assistant costume designer, and I of course jumped at the chance because I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon and all things Marvel. So I assisted her on the pilot and then she couldn’t do the series because she was already committed to another project, so she recommended me to the producers and they were willing to take a chance on a relatively new designer, thank heavens.

SR: You’ve been assistant costume designer for some pretty big movies in the past. How does working on a movie like Star Trek Into Darkness compare to working on an ongoing TV series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

AF: Interestingly enough, my time on Star Trek Into Darkness working with the brilliant Michael Kaplan, who was the costume designer, really gave me a good base of knowledge to be able to take over a show like this. Honestly, the biggest difference is probably in scheduling. We had several months to do [Star Trek Into Darkness] to prep it before we started shooting, where in television you’re prepping and shooting at the same time. Where on Star Trek we might have had a couple months to come up with a specialty costume, on a show like S.H.I.E.L.D. we’re doing that in a month instead of several months.

Elizabeth Henstridge as Simmons in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4

SR: What kind of preparation goes into that? Do you get the scripts beforehand or do they just give you more of a general idea of what they’re looking for with specific costumes?

AF: Whenever we have a specialty costume coming onto the show they generally will give me a heads up and then I talk to them about the character, the back story, what the character is going to be doing on the show. And then my challenge as a designer is how do we make this character from the comics fit into our universe and our world that we’ve established on the show?

SR: With that being the case, do you ever go back and read the comics to get an idea of where to go with a certain character?

AF: Absolutely, in fact we have an episode that is coming up and I asked for all the comics so that I could delve into the character of Robbie Reyes and his past and who he was and who he is because I really do like to pay homage to the comics. I think it’s important to the fans and it’s important to me.

SR: With a character like Robbie Reyes as Ghost Rider having somewhat of a more established, iconic look than some of the other characters, does that make it easier or more of a challenge?

AF: I think it was a lot of fun, actually. I love what Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore did with this Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider. He’s a really fun character to do. I am very fortunate that I get to work with Josh Shaw, who’s creative director at Marvel Television, and he did a fabulous concept illustration of the jacket for me based on Felipe’s work, so then I just had to have it made and then design the rest of his costume based off of the character that we were bringing onto the show and trying to make him fit into our world with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I think we did that really well.

hloe Bennet as Daisy Johnson Quake in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4

SR: Would you say there’s an over-arching theme for season 4 that you worked into the costumes?

AF: I think you are definitely seeing a shift with Daisy. She’s broken off from the team and she was very affected by the events at the end of season 3 with the loss of Lincoln and even the death of Hive. So my job as a costume designer has always been to help tell the story through the clothes and to help show their emotional journey and I think you definitely see that with Daisy. She’s in a much darker place. As far as where she’s going, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

SR: Do you have a favorite character to design for on the show or a favorite costume you’ve designed?

AF: That’s like asking me who my favorite child is. I love them all equally. It’s so much fun getting to design the show and one of the things I’m proudest of doesn’t even have to do with the superhero aspect of the show. It’s more about the arc that we’ve shown over the 4 seasons of these characters and they each had their very own identifiable look in season 1. As each season has progressed and had its own feeling, so have the characters and you’ve seen that change and you’ve seen that emotional arc through their own clothes. Especially through Fitz and Simmons, and that’s definitely one of the things that I’m most proud of. That said, doing some of the superhero costumes like Mockingbird and Quake and Ghost Rider have been a blast, and I think you guys will really like what we have in store for Aida as well.

SR: If there were one character from the Marvel universe who hasn’t been on the show that you could design a costume for, who would it be?

AF: Spider-Gwen. Squirrel Girl!

1 more day & we're back w/ this guy @iamgabrielluna #GhostRider #BTS #agentsofshield

A photo posted by Ann Foley (@ann.foley) on

SR: You’ve got an Instagram account where you get to show off some of the on-set stuff. Do you feel like social media has opened up your ability to interact with fans as someone who’s more behind the cameras?

AF: Definitely. We have such an amazing fan base on the show. That has made social media really a fun place to spend some of my time. This season in particular, Elizabeth [Henstridge] and I have decided that we’re going to be putting up her costumes from every episode and breaking down the designers and where they came from. And we did it last week, and it was so much fun. The fans seem to really love that. We have so many fabulous cosplayers as well that I’ve gotten to meet. It’s great to see them cosplaying these characters and it means a lot to them when I interact with them and let them know Simmons’ blouse came from Rag & Bone and so if they want to cosplay Simmons it’s easy for them to go to my Instagram or my Twitter account and see what she’s doing.

SR: With the amount of cosplaying that you’ve seen, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give to cosplayers?

AF: I think it’s about being true to who you are. I love the cosplayers. I love seeing their imagination and what they’re doing with some of their favorite characters. Don’t be afraid. Do what you want to do, do what you can do. It’s their love of these characters that’s coming through in the costumes, whether it’s a perfect version or an imperfect version. It doesn’t matter. It’s really about the passion that they have for the character.

SR: What’s your feeling for how the rest of this season is going to play out? What do fans have to look forward to?

AF: Honestly, I have no idea where we’re going. They manage to surprise me at every turn and as I get the scripts and I’m reading them, I can’t wait to read the next one. It’s a great season. It really is. The scripts this season are so strong and I think the fans will not be disappointed at all.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘Meet the New Boss’ Tuesday, September 27 at 10:00 pm on ABC.

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