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Published October 11, 2023

The ‘Women of Marvel’ Guide to Emma Frost

In this all-new episode of the ‘Women of Marvel’ podcast, we investigate how the mutant leader—and fashion icon—has left her mark on the Marvel Universe.

It’s an all-new season from the Women of Marvel! Listen to the latest episode from the podcast series, then tune into new character spotlight episodes each Wednesday!

Emma Frost’s name is known across the Marvel Universe, for reasons good and bad. A dynamic telepath—and fashion icon—Emma is responsible for catapulting the mutant nation Krakoa to success, turning the Hellfire Gala into one of the most hotly anticipated events in Marvel’s super hero calendar. But her road toward becoming a leader of the mutant world is paved with questionable choices. After getting her start as the infamous Hellfire Club’s White Queen, Emma has used her mutant gifts to influence minds, exert control, and even shape the next generation of mutants as a teacher and X-Man. But who is the woman behind that diamond-hard exterior?

In the sixth episode from the latest season of the Women of Marvel podcast, our hosts Ellie Pyle and Preeti Chhibber examine how Emma Frost has shaped the current state of mutantkind. They spoke to comics writer Leah Williams about Emma’s history and rise within the Hellfire Club, plus Marvel’s Associate Manager of Social Media Alana Herrnson about Emma’s big night, the annual Hellfire Gala! Preeti also sat down with Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, to discuss some of Emma’s fiercest looks.

Listen to Emma Frost’s full Women of Marvel spotlight, then catch our episode highlights below!

QUEEN OF THE HELLFIRE GALA

For Emma Frost, fashion is political. And that principle has been put into practice for the past three years at the annual Hellfire Gala. This event, hosted by Krakoa’s mutants, offers a dazzling night of diplomacy while simultaneously shocking the human world into submission.

For Alana Herrnson, Associate Manager of Social Media, it’s an opportunity to get creative. “It’s basically the Met Gala of the Marvel Universe,” explained Herrnson of mutantkind’s big night. “There’s this massive party; it’s sort of like a propaganda scheme for the X-Men to be like, ‘look how amazing we are and how we’re helping humanity!’” While promoting the event each year for Marvel’s social media accounts, Herrnson has centered on the Hellfire Gala’s emcee and queen—none other than Emma Frost. “So, the first time that [the Hellfire Gala] was pitched to us, we thought that it would be super fun to take Emma Frost and make her the celebrity of the day, and have her take over Marvel’s Instagram Stories, as a ‘Get Ready with Me’ takeover. And I was very lucky that I was able to tap in one of my absolute favorite artists of all time, Phil Noto. He created this collection of five incredible vertical Instagram Stories that we got to add our own copy to, to make it seem like Emma Frost was actually taking over the handle.”

“This past year we wanted to figure out a way to continue that narrative, so with the help of Emily Newcomen on our Talent team, we tapped Phil again for an idea that involved a retrospective on the past Hellfire Galas,” Herrnson said of this year’s promotion. “We were thinking about who Emma Frost is within this world that we built up on social media, and she really is the Anna Wintour of the Hellfire Gala. So, what better way for us to showcase that than by [showing] the in-process world of Emma Frost planning the Hellfire Gala? Within this world that we built up, Phil Noto was a photographer that was assigned the responsibility of following Emma Frost around as she’s planned the past two Hellfire Galas. There’s nothing I love more than Phil Noto drawing Emma Frost!”

Read Emma Frost’s full Hellfire Gala interview as captured by Phil Noto!

From Emma Frost’s “Hellfire Gala interview magazine spread” by Phil Noto.
From Emma Frost’s “Hellfire Gala interview magazine spread” by Phil Noto.

(FORMER) WHITE QUEEN OF THE HELLFIRE CLUB

When speaking to X-MEN: BLACK - EMMA FROST (2018) #1 writer Leah Williams, Ellie and Preeti got into Hellfire Club history, exploring Emma’s earliest brush with this elite enclave who exploit and corrupt mutants for personal gain.

“Their whole thing is power,” Williams explained. [The Hellfire Club] wants to accumulate power. They want to stay in positions of power. And it doesn’t really matter what the casualties are of that.”

“They’re [also] a traditional hierarchy where we have the queens, a White Queen and a Black Queen, and then we have the White King, and then at the top would be the Black King,” Williams continued. “And there’s also Bishops in the Inner Circle and inner sanctum. Like, all these different kinds of Freemason-esque levels of secrecy and hierarchy.”

Notably, Emma’s rise to the top of the Hellfire Club was meteoric. “So, she was 19 years old when Sebastian Shaw took notice of her and kind of turned her into his protégé,” Williams said. “And they were romantically involved, and he was significantly older than her. And [Emma] ousted the former White Queen and took over her position. It’s a huge rise to power from where she began. And as White Queen, [Emma] became far more involved in the behind-the-scenes puppeteering that the Hellfire Club has going on. And it’s not so much about morality, even though for Emma, it is always there. She just thinks that she can walk the razor’s edge of that morality.”

For Williams, there is a clear distinction between too the White Queen and the present Emma Frost, teacher and protector of mutantkind.

“As the White Queen, the way that I tend to think about it is [that’s when] we’re talking about Emma’s most famously villainous days, like when she was doing really awful things like kidnapping Kate Pryde and running a school for evil young mutants, the Hellions, who she loved dearly. But it was all sort of while she was with Sebastian and very heavily influenced by him.”

So, is Emma good? Or is Emma bad?

“I firmly think of her in gray territory, and I wouldn't have it any other way,” Williams stated. “She is no saint. She has a checkered past. I would not take that away from her because I think it makes it more interesting. There is something fiercely exhilarating about a character who isn’t going to let moral scruples restrict her when she’s going after what she wants, but she still has the inner core of goodness in her. But she's capable of doing terrible things, and I love that about her.”

EMMA FROST: FASHION AND POWER

Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, shared her take on Emma’s powerful, and sex-positive, approach to fashion. She also ran through some of Emma’s best looks from Hellfire Galas past.

“Well, no one person can decide [what] is a sex-positive look,” Steele said. “It’s always going to be something which is both individually subjective and culturally constructed. I think that whenever you have clothes which are body exposing, you’re going to have a wide range of responses. Some people will find it sexy and empowering and other people will find it disgusting and sluttish. You cannot control what other people are thinking.”

When talking about Emma’s sense of empowerment through fashion, Dr. Steele first defined “power.” Listeners might pick up that Emma checks both boxes!

“Power can mean two things,” Steele explained. “Power can mean freedom. If a woman feels empowered, she means she is free to walk at night on the street without being afraid. It can also mean, of course, power to oppress other people. And there you have again, not only a differing definition of power, but also the complexity of dealing with other people in the real world.”

“I think that there's a lot of generational differences and a lot of cultural differences in how sex positivity and dress is perceived in terms of power and freedom,” Steele theorized. “But definitely from a subjective point of view, feelings of sex positivity make you feel more powerful and more free.”

The latest season of Women of Marvel has arrived! Tune into upcoming episodes spotlighting a new hero each Wednesday, available wherever you listen to your podcasts!

Women of Marvel: Emma Frost
Women of Marvel: Emma Frost
Emma Frost’s name is known across the Marvel Universe, for reasons good and bad. See how this dynamic telepath and fashion queen catapulted the mutant nation Krakoa to success and turned the Hellfire Gala into one of the most hotly anticipated events in Marvel’s super hero calendar.
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