Alexandra Byrne: Costume Design From Shakespeare to Superheroes

Ten years ago today — on May 4, 2012 — the Marvel Cinematic Universe released The Avengers. Therefore, today is also the day that Alexandra Byrne, previously best-known for her excellent work on costume design for period pieces, assumed responsibility for crafting much of what we see the MCU team of superheroes wearing in the subsequent films of this enormously influential franchise.

Alexandra began her career designing costumes for The Buddha of Suburbia — directed by Roger Mitchell — in 1993. For the next two decades, Alexandra mostly worked on films set in past centuries, from Hamlet, to Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (both of which are about Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I, set in the 16th Century and starring Cate Blanchet), to other classics like The Phantom of the Opera (set in 19th Century Paris) in 2004.

Then, seven years later, Alexandra worked on Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman. She won The Saturn Award for Best Costumes, and was nominated for The Costume Designer Guild Award for Excellence in Fantasy Film. This opened doors for the talented creator, who went on to The Avengers the following year, then Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Doctor Strange.

Amid all these Marvel films, Alexandra also worked on Emma. yet another adaptation of the last novel Jane Austen published during her lifetime. (Note that the title of this period piece includes an ironic period — Emma. — in its officially stylized title.) For her impeccable costume design on Emma., Alexandra received her sixth Academy Award nomination, however, note that she’s only won one Oscar for Best Costume Design so far, the one for Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007.

FF2’s Nicole Ackman chronicled Alexandra’s career in designing period pieces. In one passage, she focuses on Emma., writing:

Byrne’s gorgeous costumes contribute to the splendor and decadence of the film as a whole with sweeping scenery and lush production design. De Wilde [director] has a background in fashion photography, so it’s not surprising that even in her directorial debut she is conscious of how costumes add to a story.

“The fashion of the film is beautiful for the women, especially the titular character’s elaborate hats and the use of patterns, but what’s more impressive is the variety and color in the men’s clothing. There’s even a scene in which the romantic hero Mr. Knightley is getting dressed, which shows what a man’s undergarments looked like at the time and the work that went into their outfits. We often see scenes like this of women in period dramas, so it’s refreshing to see one featuring a man. It also serves to remind the audience of the servants that work to make the lives of characters like Emma and Mr. Knightley possible.”

Nicole also emphasized the work that Alexandra puts into her research, writing:

“She is an expert at studying a historical time period and immersing herself in the clothing, photographs, and paintings of the time and designing in a way to combine those aesthetics with character development through costume.”

To celebrate Alexandra Byrne’s elaborate and thoughtful career, you can watch The Avengers on Disney+. If Emma. is more your style, stream it on Amazon Prime today.

Brava, Alexandra… and, um, May the Fourth always be with you 😉


© Anna Nappi (5/4/22) Special for FF2 Media.


Read Nicole’s analysis of many other period films designed by Alexandra.

Watch the action-packed superhero movie The Avengers on Disney+.

See Autumn de Wilde’s beautifully shot film Emma. on Amazon Prime.

Visit Alexandra’s Wikipedia page.


Featured: “27th Annual Art Of Motion Picture Costume Design” by waltarrrrr is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Final: “27th Annual Art Of Motion Picture Costume Design” by waltarrrrr is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Tags: alexandra byrne, Anna Nappi, avengers: age of ultron (2015), elizabeth (1998), elizabeth: the golden age (2007), emma. (2020), guardians of the galaxy (2014), hamlet (1996), Nicole Ackman, the avengers (2012), the buddha of suburbia (1993), the phantom of the opera (2004), thor (2011)

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Anna is currently a senior at Brandeis University studying Film, Journalism, and Psychology. At Brandeis, she writes for the student newspaper and is the undergraduate degree representative of the Journalism program. From theaters to museums to concert halls, she loves exploring the art world in Boston as well as in her Maine hometown. Anna is passionate about FF2’s mission and excited for the opportunity to work alongside a wonderful team dedicated to supporting women artists.
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