Superhero costumes have long since bypassed the capes and spandex requirements, and with each new Marvel project, the sartorial boundaries are pushed further. Moon Knight adds several new entries to the stylish list, with Oscar Isaac serving double duty (at least) as Marc Spector and Steven Grant. But he is not alone, as the season 1 finale gives Marc’s wife, Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy), the chance to literally spread her wings when she transforms into Scarlet Scarab.
“I have a fabulous costume in mind,” the ancient Egyptian goddess Taweret (Antonia Salib) enthusiastically tells Layla in the final episode after the archaeologist has temporarily agreed to become her avatar. This landmark moment requires the costume to match as Calamawy is the first Egyptian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). “It’s so exciting, and the response from everyone has been phenomenal. Everyone is loving the costumes, which is such a great feeling,” Moon Knight costume designer Meghan Kasperlik tells ELLE.com over Zoom.
Kasperlik is no stranger to the world of superheroes, having designed for HBO’s critically acclaimed Watchmen series. More recently, she received an Emmy nomination for her work on the Kate Winslet-starring Mare of Easttown and is equally at home serving gritty realism in suburban Pennsylvania as working on the latest Marvel hit.
“I realized quite early on this is a space where my voice was going to be heard and that’s the best feeling,” Calamawy told ELLE.com last month, and Kasperlik spoke about the collaboration with the actress in the fitting room. It was also necessary to consider stunt work throughout the first season, particularly in the finale.
Keeping with the theme of top-secret projects, the designer talks to us from the middle of the woods, where she is currently working on the mysterious forthcoming Alex Garland film, Civil War starring Kirsten Dunst. Here, Kasperlik talks to us about Layla’s transformation into Scarlet Scarab, how Egyptian culture inspired Layla’s contemporary clothing, and Easter Eggs that fans can go back to find.
First of all, I’d like to discuss how you developed Layla’s look before the big superhero costume reveal. Did you collaborate with May Calamawy?
I definitely collaborated with May. It was also important with our Egyptian director Mohamed Diab that it wasn’t this very stereotypical female action figure that was always wearing skin-tight clothing. Because in Egyptian culture, it is not always a positive thing to have skin-tight clothing on. I worked closely with May, and we needed to make her a badass but sporty. Predominantly, pieces were custom made because I wanted to make it a special thing. The jacket we first see her in in Episode 2 is a take on a lot of patterns and colors you see in Egyptian culture. A lot of the references we discussed about Egyptian women [were that] they all had color on, so it was important to the director. But also, she grew up in London, so I wanted it to be able to fit in both places; she has traveled the world and has gone many places.
As she’s moving forward, there was a lot about functionality and being able to do action and stunts but still looking cool. When she’s in episode four, and she has that vest on that’s actually made from military fabric. That gave her a tactical action thing, but also had a looser pant so she could do all the squatting, fighting, and moving around and doing what they need to do in the cave. By the time that we get to her as Scarlet Scarab, there’s been more of a transformation.
Before we get to the transformation, I wanted to talk about that ornate piece worn around May’s jacket neck that is actually a weapon. Can you talk to me about that element that appears in episode 4?
It was originally supposed to be a different necklace, and the whole point is that it broke apart and was a weapon. Then it didn’t work out, so that was made in about three days. We came up with the design, knowing it had to be turned into knives. So the whole point of it was, how can it be used as a knife in a knife fight but also put a design into it that could be a necklace? The biggest challenge is it had to be large enough scale but not completely overpower her neck. It got a little tricky on set keeping it on and maneuvering, and we had a couple of versions of it. When it was on the neck correctly before we did the action so many times, it was a beautiful piece. I think it was the biggest challenge with all of her costumes.
You’d think the superhero costume would be the most challenging, but it’s something ornate and smaller. You’ve also mentioned the tactical gear, and I love that there’s so much texture in Layla’s costume as well. Was it purposeful to have all these kinds of textures before she transforms?
Yeah, I like to do a lot of texture in my costumes with anything that I design. [Mr. Knight’s] three-piece suit even has texture. I think it brings so much. When we first see her in Egypt, she has a flat cotton broadcloth on, but then her hair has the texture, and her jewelry has the texture, so it was balancing it out. When she has what I’m calling the technical vest on, she had the texture at the top, but the bottoms were a cotton canvas, so that had a flat element to it. It’s about balancing and seeing what we can get away with. By the time we got to the transformation, that was really like, How crazy can we go with it still looking harmonious?
Taweret says she’s got a fabulous costume for Layla, and she does have a fabulous costume. Or rather, you have a fabulous costume for her. Where do you begin with something like this?
I did a tremendous amount of research about Egypt prior to starting to design any of the costumes, but with the Scarlet Scarab costume, there had to be a tie-in with the Taweret. It’s hard to decipher at first, but there is the scarlet scarab beetle on the Taweret costume. It’s that big frontal piece that also ties into the flying scarab that Harrow (Ethan Hawke) is holding. We incorporated the scarab into the costume on the neckpiece.
There were a number of iterations of this costume, and we definitely started making something else, and it didn’t have the magic that I was loving. So we took a few elements that we liked and then started over. With the exception of the boots, we made everything in Budapest where we were filming, so I saw the transformation happening daily. And May was so excited about the costume, and she totally rocked it. I was so excited to see it [Wednesday] night.
Marc doesn’t even mention the costume, but Steven immediately asks, “What are you wearing?” This is said in the most enthusiastic way, which is how I felt when I first saw it. I was wondering how much of it was practical—were the wings CGI?
The wings are fully CG except for about a five-inch panel that we had so they could jump off. Sean Faden and his VFX team did an amazing job with the wings; I could not be more pleased with that. The rest of the costume was practical. The chest portion and the collar were made out of leather, the skirt was a gauzy material, and the pants were stretch leggings that we hand-printed [with] the 3D print, and then the entire costume was hand-painted. I had an amazing painter named Wilberth Gonzalez; he worked with the team and made that costume sing.
I read an interview with May, and she mentioned how much she loved the pants and how the top half made her feel royal. Was that an intention, to add this royal element to it?
Any Marvel costume has to be extraordinary, and I definitely wanted to make sure it was something that could stand up in the MCU. May did a lot of her own fighting and a lot of her own stunts—and she had two amazing stunt people—but she did a lot. For her and Oscar, I wanted to make sure they could absolutely do all the action they needed. So that’s why [it had] the slim leg but making it a spandex legging was really important because she has amazing flexibility. Also, if you don’t have the right structure in the corset, it can collapse on itself in the fighting, so the corset had to be a thicker leather to help with that. But it made her stand strong. I don’t know about you, but in my natural posture, I slouch.