Friday, April 26, 2019

Loki: the God of Style (2011-2019)

Ten years ago when a virtually unknown theater actor named Tom Hiddleston was cast to play Loki in the first Thor film nobody - not Kevin Feige, nor Tom himself - could have predicted the global phenomenon that was about to be sparked. The God of Mischief. Abandoned as a baby. Raised a Prince of Asgard. Loki's character arc has taken him from a jealous son, to a vengeful super villain, to a brother making the ultimate sacrifice. 

Thanks to the clever work of artists and costume designers, every detail of Loki's costumes has been carefully selected to tell a story - the true story. Loki has always been a man of style who is more concerned with looking the part, rather than acting the part. His clothes are a part of his Mischief, changing to match every environment. As Hiddleston says, "if you're gonna be bad, you might as well be bad with style." This is especially obvious at times when Loki travels to Midgard/Earth. There are no tracksuits and jeans in this god's wardrobe, only designer suits - black of course. (There have to be some perks when your mortal counterpart has a Gucci endorsement deal!)

Thor: Shakespearean 

"Loki is a really damaged soul. On the one hand, there is his emotional volatility. He's neither Asgardian nor Frost Giant - and he is entirely alone, and that makes for a very sad spirit. On the other hand, he's someone who overtly delights in the chaos he creates. He's an agent of mischief. There are two roads that I have to go down in my journey to play him: one is to excavate the depths of his spiritual pain, and the other is to try and find a place within myself that enjoys wreaking havoc" - Tom Hiddleston

In Thor, Loki grows up as the typical overshadowed and envious younger brother. Eventually he learns the secret of his true parentage that sends him on a villainous path. Fans immediately picked up on the fact that Loki wasn't your typical two-dimensional villain. Both Tom's portrayal and the costumes were infused with Shakespearean themes to highlight the duality of his character's outward actions and inner feelings. Former Marvel Head of Visual Development Charlie Wen and Costume Designer Alexandra Byrne were tasked with the job of creating a look as complex as the character. This was the first Marvel film for both of them. Charlie took inspiration from the classic comic book illustrations of Loki as well as Norse symbols. Tom Hiddleston's "adaptable body" made it easier for Alexandra to make "Loki adaptable to different situations."

There are two main looks for Loki in Thor: casual and armored. Wen designed Loki's armor to be "more overtly ceremonial than practical". This demonstrated Loki's real motivation to simply get to the throne without heeding the responsibilities that come with it. Unfortunately for Tom, ceremonial didn't mean lighter. He lost nearly 30lbs over the course of making the first film. The weight loss further exposed the difference between Loki and Thor. "If Thor is like a rock, I wanted Loki to be like the wind" said Hiddleston. "You just can't pin him down." 

Design Elements: 

"I decided to imbue Loki with elements that reveal a bit more of his personality than what was in his armored attire. I kept the pleated green cloth as a visible inner layer, keeping consistent with his armored self. I kept the hard metals to a minimum and interweaved the soft greens with leather and synthetics as a way to allude to an Asgardian culture that embraced both a hierarchy of kingship (the one golden symbol on his chest is Odin, the silver square maille represents his inner court, etc.), and the sense that all Asgardians are connected. I took inspiration from Faux Calla Lillies as the shape design for his collar. These Lillies are often used for resurrection motif. This represents an internal sacrifice (and now we see that an external sacrifice as well from Infinity War) that he endures because he was taken from his Jötun (Frost giants) family and being brought up by the king "who suppressed his people". I never saw Loki as a typical villain. He is like the prodigal son's brother." - Charlie Wen

These themes of sacrifice and resurrection recur throughout the series.

Avengers: SuperheroVillain 

"I think he went to the worst place imaginable. He went to all of the darkest recesses of the universe. I'm sure he had several brushes with death. He ran into the shadiest characters you can find in the nine realms. I think he had to rely on his wits to protect himself. It was really, really, really unpleasant... Whatever it was - it was important when Loki came back for The Avengers that whatever compassion he had left was absolutely shriveled to a minimum because of the experience that he had..." - Tom Hiddleston

At the end Thor Loki seemingly falls to his death. The Loki who reemerges in The Avengers is a much darker character. For the first time he had to learn how to fight and survive on his own. Somewhere in that void Loki also encountered Thanos. Since Thor has been promised the throne of Asgard, Loki decides to conquer and rule over Midgard/Earth. You were made to be ruled. 

Alexandra Byrne and Charlie Wen again teamed up to create a more "superhero vibe" for Loki - while still maintaining many of the original designs. If you're going to go up against all of Earth's mightiest heroes, you have to look the part! During NYCC all of the Avengers joked that Tom's costume was the heaviest and hardest to get into. It weighed thirty pounds! But Hiddleston thought it was "fantastic", "gave him a size and stature", and made him feel "godly". 

Design Elements: 

"Joss [Whedon] wanted Loki to seem like he traveled to places we don't know of - he's changed since we last saw him in Thor. The metals on his costume are more worn and scratched, and he's darker. Because of that, we were able to treat his metal more like actual armor and make it feel like it's been used. This was the first time we were able to do this with Loki, so it makes him look more authentic since he looks worn and not so brand new. There's more culture to it." - Charlie Wen 

The Dark World: Solitude


"He's broken, entirely. There is a scene in the middle of the first film where a young man is informed that the narrative of his entire life is a lie. That to me is a cornerstone of the entire characterization. It's the scene between Odin and Loki where he finds out he doesn't belong in that family. It's very emotional and it's the beginning of his isolation. From that moment all the way through to this moment he is a solitary figure existing entirely on his own metal, for pride and anger, vengefulness... To me it was just so important to break him in a way, to take him all the way down. Because otherwise he would continue on the same trajectory." - Tom Hiddleston

Things aren't looking too great for Loki in Thor: The Dark World. He is imprisoned in Asgard and completely cut off from everyone - even his beloved mother, Frigga. This is the lowest we ever see Loki. It's not long before a new threat emerges and Thor needs his help. Of course! The brothers team up to avenge their mother's death at the hands of the Dark Ugly Elves. In the final battle scene, Loki sacrifices himself for Thor and again supposedly dies. Funnily enough, Loki was truly meant to die in this film but test audiences refused to believe that Loki was really gone (I wonder why) so a new ending was added with Loki on the throne instead. 

Charlie Wen was joined by a new costume designer, Wendy Partridge, for this film. Together they created a more humble and human Loki. Before long, he is back in his battle armor from The Avengers.

Design Elements: 

"While Loki is in captivity he wears something very similar to his 'walkabout'/ casual look from the first Thor film. The original direction from Alan Taylor was that his prison look could be what he was wearing underneath his Avengers costume. Unfortunately, as I began exploring that we found it to be overly complex and cumbersome. So I used that idea as a starting point and simplified it, creating sleek and elegant lines that mirrored the idea that everything had been stripped away from Loki. He is barefoot and completely powerless. I also kept some of the design motifs we used in the previous films, including the interlocking wraps of leather and cloth that can be seen on his arms and legs. When Loki teams up with Thor, his power is restored and he is seen in the iconic outfit worn in The Avengers. This look, the one from Avengers, was actually the first step in taking the design of Asgard and humanizing it a bit. Creating intricate reliefs and textures on armor pieces like the shoulder and arm gauntlets allowed the audience to understand the materials on a much more personal level." - Charlie Wen

Ragnarok & Infinity War: Savior

"[Loki's] a mercurial spirit, and the minute you try to define him, he changes shape. Events in Ragnarok do try and inspire him to change forever... the Goddess of Death shows up, and the stakes are high for everybody, so Loki, perhaps more than ever, is challenged to define himself in the face of that threat." - Tom Hiddleston

The events of Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War bring Loki's character arc full circle. In Ragnarok Loki finally gets what he always wanted - to sit on the throne of Asgard. Albeit while disguised as Odin. Loki as a King? Actually not too bad. He's far from the tyrannical ruler promised in The Avengers. He invests in the Arts, throws communal gatherings, etc., but is a little lax when it comes to securing the realm. Their secret, even eviler sister uses that opportunity to take over Asgard. And of course Loki, being Loki. decides that his first task after being forcibly deported is to get some new clothes. New Planet, New Me! Loki finds himself on Sakaar, where he quickly buddies up with The Grandmaster. Everything is loo for Loki until Thor arrives as a captive and is forced to fight in the arena against another old friend - The Hulk. They all eventually team up to defeat Hela. Your savior is here! 

The series received a complete revamp with Ragnarok. Anthony Francisco, who had previously worked on other Marvel films, took over as lead Visual Developer. Mayes C. Rubeo, who went on to win the Sylvie Nissen Costume Design Award, also came on board as costume designer.

Design Elements: 

"One question with Loki was if he should keep the same Loki look, or be more like one of the characters of Sakaar. As the idea was trying to get close to the Grandmaster, we ended up exploring a more Sakaarian design for his costume using a lot of Jack Kirby's shapes and colors... Loki lost both his adopted father and mother, in some countries the color purple would symbolize death, so I used the color purple within his under armor to symbolize his mourning and inner turmoil. I did this for both the Sakaar costume and his green costume. This is another reason I used asymmetry and diagonal lines in my design to reflect what he is feeling inside. This shoulder armor and that metal piece on his tunic were my centerpieces that would echo some Asgardian motifs, would be like a family crest." - Anthony Francisco

Sadly, Loki's walk in the sunshine was short lived. After Thanos attacks their ship in the opening minutes of Infinity War, Loki has to choose between saving his brother or saving the Tesseract/Space Stone from Thanos' grasp. Because even Thanos knows that the biggest lie Loki ever told is that he doesn't love his brother. He tries one last moment of trickery before being killed - for real this time (maybe). 

Feeling Horny

"The horns are amazing. It was the last thing I got to try on when I did the costume fittings and for me it was the most important thing... Loki isn't Loki without those horns on. And initially we were fitted and it was kind of a conversation as to how much does it cover his face? How much does he use them as like a weapon or is it just a statement of intent? It's like kind of a representation of his soul in some way like back off because I'm dangerous... We've had to work with it because they are very heavy. And because my ears are closed off, I can't hear very well. And it becomes quite claustrophobic... I read a story about Christian Bale complaining about the Batsuit and saying like 'I'm trying not to complain because I get to be Batman'. So I'm trying not to complain about the horns because I get to be Loki." - Tom Hiddleston 

Just like his clothing, Loki's horns also go through a transformation throughout the film series. For Tom Hiddleston, the horns were the most "powerful" piece of the costume. The talented sculptors at Ironhead Studio were called upon to create all three versions. 

Charlie Wen created the helmet designs for Thor and The Avengers: 

"(The iconic silhouette) A lot of that comes from the gesture of his horns, the curve that comes outwards towards you but curves back towards him. That gesture us pretty aggressive at the beginning, then curves down towards his spine. It does more of a whiplash thing towards the audience or whoever he's looking at. It's already a type of in-your-face thing. For me, that was the biggest part of his initial read, to make sure that gesture came across. I do like his helmet better this time around too. It's more aggressive. The horns in the first helmet went straight up and curled around to the back. This time around, I wanted to treat it more like something that came forward towards you first, then tilted back. They're a bit longer and thinner, which is something to make him look more mischievous and more of who his character is. I felt like I got to play more into what his character is to be shown on his costume." - Charlie Wen 

For Anthony Francisco, creating Loki's helmet for Ragnarok was a realization of his  childhood dream: 

"What's cool with the new Loki helmet design is that we made it with an open top with his hair showing, which has always been the way I had seen Loki when I was younger and going through the X-Men 'Asgardian Wars' comics. It was a childhood image that has always been in my head that I wanted to implement, and luckily the design I did was chosen. Having that new helmet helps him look really different from the way he was before."

We're in the Endgame Now 

I know that many people still haven't seen Avengers: Endgame yet so I won't post any details about Loki's role in the film. But regardless of what happens to Tom Hiddleston's character in the film series, we still have much more ahead of us with the Loki series on Disney+. Hopefully Loki will finally find a conclusion to the decade-long journey that Charlie Wen described as "trying to be someone he wasn't, until he finds out who he really is." 

Thank you to Anthony Francisco and Charlie Wen for speaking with me and sharing your stories. Additional information obtained from the Marvel Art of books for Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Thor: Ragnarok


  1. Thanks for this excellent and detailed retrospective of Loki's costumes. Seeing the level of detail and meaning behind each outfit makes not just the costumes but also the character feel even deeper and richer.

  2. Right! I enjoyed this too. There is so much cool stuff here. I don't agree with "purple is a color of mourning" For most of the planet, Purple is a color of Royalty. (Still Loki) and his Yellow cape versus his purple cape I thought for sure was a direct visual of his running away from Hella (Yellow bellied). At the end, he had accepted his place as Prince, I though the purple was the color of acceptance. And I cried with Joy when he announced he was "Loki Odinson" (Actual real tears) The Gold Circlet on his costume, I thought was reminiscent of a "Torc" which is an ancient element of Power and the Gods. But still. I thought Ragnarok Loki kicked serious butt as far as that one being more true to the Archetype. (Especially, the conversation between him and Thor in Prison before the fight) Sorry there is so much here. I love costumes and I love Loki, Myth and Marvel.