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Legion may be based on a character from Marvel’s X-Men universe, but don’t be fooled: Noah Hawley’s buzzy new FX series, which stars Dan Stevens as a diagnosed schizophrenic with telepathic talents, is no ordinary superhero show.
It’s a visually dazzling exploration of the human (and, yes, superhuman) psyche, more about separating the real from the imaginary than saving the world. And the show’s overarching sense of surreality starts with its stunning production design and costumes, both of which borrow heavily from the ‘60s and ‘70s but somehow still feel futuristic. It’s intentionally impossible to pinpoint where and when the story takes place.
We first meet David Haller (Stevens) at a mental hospital seemingly designed by Wes Anderson; patients wear Adidas-esque tracksuits in shades of burnt orange and navy paired with matching Toms-style slippers. “We initially tried a bunch of space-age-y looks that didn’t feel right [for the patients],” says Legion costume designer Carol Case (who also worked with Hawley on Fargo). She eventually settled on the sporty matching separates, adding exaggerated collars for a more futuristic feel.
It’s worth noting here, of course, that tracksuits are currently having a fashion world comeback; Chloé and Vetements both recently included pricey versions in their collections, while the aforementioned Adidas teamed up with Alexander Wang on an updated version of the athletic classic just last season. But Case swears she wasn’t aware of the fad when designing Legion’s looks. “I guess I was just ahead of the curve!” she laughs.
And unlike your usual Juicy Couture velour, Legion’s tracksuits serve an additional purpose by classifying the different patients within Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital. “You’ll notice that the color of the stripes on the characters’ jackets and pants varies,” Case says. “Those serve as indicators of how serious each patient’s case is. Sydney Barrett [Rachel Keller, who plays Haller’s literally untouchable love interest] has white stripes, which puts her in the ‘least crazy’ category. David’s are yellow, which means he’s a moderate case, and Lenny [Aubrey Plaza] has red... which basically means she’s never getting out of there.”
Even after Syd and David leave Clockworks, that same mid-century color palette dominates nearly every frame of the show. “We took a lot of the color choices from ‘60s rock bands — the golds and yellows and oranges and greens,” Case explains. “Back when we first started working on the show, Noah said he wanted it to look like David was rescued by The Kinks, so that’s where we got our color palette.” Legion’s musical cues reflect that same era; David and Syd’s budding romance is soundtracked by The Rolling Stones’s “She’s Like a Rainbow,” and The Who’s “Happy Jack” plays in the pilot’s opening montage. The character of Syd Barrett is even named after Pink Floyd’s lead singer; Hawley named the band’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon as a major inspiration for the show.
Case adds that early on, she assigned each primary character a signature color from within that palette. “Jean Smart [who plays Dr. Melanie Bird, an enigmatic therapist who rescues David in episode 2] is always in soft, beige-y, neutral colors, while Syd is always in black and orange. From there, it was about figuring out how to mesh those characters and their palettes.” Closely linked characters get coordinating looks; in the pilot, for instance, David wears an orange tracksuit jacket and navy pants, while Syd wears navy on top and orange on bottom.
To source clothing for the rest of the cast, Case frequented vintage stores including Woo Vintage, I Found Gallery, and Mintage — all located in Vancouver, where the series shoots. Specialty finds from Toronto’s Gadabout Vintage, including Yves Saint Laurent-style Mondrian dresses and mid-century Jean Muir pieces, rounded out the mix. And while you’ll spot some of Case’s exact vintage finds in the show, many were used purely for inspiration. “We didn’t want anyone to be too locked into that ‘60s feel, because we were ultimately going for a ‘no period’ look,” she says. “It was fun taking a retro silhouette and rebuilding it in a more modern fabric, or taking vintage pieces and styling them with modern ones.”
Certain characters, like Katie Aselton’s Amy Haller (David’s sister), are more deeply rooted in the Swinging Sixties aesthetic than others. In the first episode, Amy visits David at Clockworks wearing a kelly green suit covered in navy flowers — one of the show’s sartorial standouts so far. “That was directly inspired by Mary Quant,” Case explains, adding that all of Aselton’s wardrobe had to be custom-made, apart from the odd pair of Chloé shoes or modern accessory.
Sydney Barrett, too, wears mostly items designed by Case — like her signature mod orange coat — mixed with select modern finds, like a Carven skirt (also orange, of course) that will appear in a later episode. Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird, who has a more current, corporate look, gets even more contemporary pieces, including Jason Wu designs from Boss and sweaters and separates from Aritzia’s Wilfred collection.
As for those pink knit beanies worn by the attendants at the facility where David is interrogated, which feel like a nod to Steve Zissou in the age of Glossier? “My sister and her friends knitted those for me!” Case laughs. “We needed about a dozen of them — and they love to knit, so they were happy to help.”
Just don’t hold your breath for any classic Marvel capes or masks in Legion; Case says she and the rest of the crew deliberately avoided any overt references to classic superhero garb. “We really wanted to take this story out of where people think it sits [within the X-Men world],” she says. “Our story is more about what’s going on in David’s head, our perceptions of mental illness and memory.”
“It’s easy to get locked into that superhero storyline — a guy realizes he has powers, puts on a mask, and saves somebody,” she adds. “We definitely didn’t want to do that, which is why we moved away from that traditional superhero look.”
Legion airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on FX.