May 27, 2016
With X-Men: Apocalypse, Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach took a beloved franchise and reimagined it through the prism of ancient Egypt and the elegance of Art Deco. Mingenbach enthuses, “It was a super fun movie, but it was also incredibly hard. We had very little prep time, which is the way of the studios now.” There was a scant four months available to prep a film that featured a huge quantity of intricate costumes. This translated to just a couple of weeks for the actual design of many elements before needing approvals to move into the build. While Mingenbach personally prefers to ruminate over design choices, if she hadn’t moved quickly into the fabrication process, she would never have made her deadline. “It takes a village,” she explains, “it takes inspiration from many creative people. It was the kind of movie where everyone had to have ten good ideas an hour. Illustrators Keith Christensen and Phillip Boutté were on fire and it was just flying off their pens. It was fantastic.”
The story starts in Egypt, and at one plot point the most powerful mutant, Apocalypse, gives the other characters their costumes. This gave Mingenbach an impetus to dive deeply into an Egyptian aesthetic. She also drew from the 1930s and was inspired by early superheroes. She grounded the look in reality, mixing masks (created by Jose Fernandez of Ironhead Studio), which duplicated tomb sculptures, with modern elements. One of her favorite garments was a cloak built for Apocalypse. “I don’t know what I’ll do if it doesn’t make it in the movie,” says Mingenbach. “The fabric painter did something I didn’t even think was possible in three-dimensional paint and it was just for a little opening shot. It was a piece of art.”
“The things I had the most fun with,” she confides, “I guess you would call it the salt and pepper—not the main meal—are the bit parts, because there was more freedom.” The main characters’ costumes are a technical tour de force, necessitated by the long list of the demands placed on them. “There are so many requirements I had to consider, so I was constricted in the design,” Mingenbach explains. “It can’t fall down, you have to pad it, it can’t cost four million dollars, it needs to be made in a month, we need dozens of duplicates, we don’t want wrinkles, will they sweat, how will they use the bathroom, are but a few of issues we were dealing with.” She laughs, “We were making a film about superheroes and I am a mere mortal Costume Designer.”
X-Men: Apocalypse is in theatres today.