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Euphoria’s Costume Designer, Heidi Bivens, Is Doing The Damn Thing

If you loved the style in HBO’s Euphoria (of course you did, who didn’t?), you have Heidi Bivens to thank. The costume designer and stylist is most definitely a hot commodity, having worked on so many amazing projects. She dressed Matthew McConaughey in some of the wildest fits I’ve ever seen in The Beach Bum, had the cast of Jonah Hill’s Mid90s serving authentic skater realness, and made Vanessa Hudgens look so good in Spring Breakers that we all want to be messy party girls in Florida, which is a feat in itself because, well, Florida. Her work on another coming-of-age story, Sam Levinson’s angsty teen drama Euphoria, is already major, and we’re only in season one! Heidi chats with NBGA about her start in fashion, her style, Euphoria, and the state of the fashion industry today.

What was your first fashionable memory?

My mom was super interested in fashion. She collected fashion magazines. So, I was looking at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar from a very young age. Also, I played with paper dolls. I used to love cutting out the outfits and putting them on.

I remember those, super fun.

From a super young age, I was interested in putting looks together and understanding how clothing communicates to the outside world, and to others. I remember being in grade school and understanding that on picture day whatever I decide to wear in this picture, the details of the outfit, the color, or whatever it was, would communicate something about myself. So yeah, from an early I understood storytelling through clothes.

Absolutely, fashion is a tool. Would you say that that’s where your interest in styling came from? Like from an interest in fashion at such a young age?

When I was in college, when it was time to decide on a career, I had been studying journalism and filmmaking. I was interested in journalism, so fashion was a way to work in magazines. I started doing market-editing and writing. I would write bylines for WWD, and did an internship with W, and worked at Paper Magazine for quite a few years while in college. They would give me these little investigative reporting stories. I remember one time, I did this story where I went to the makeup counter at a well-known department store, dressed nice, looking like I had money, and I was treated one way. Then I went back and I was dressed down, and I was treated another way.

Ooh, scandalous.

Yeah, but it was really hard to make a good living as a writer. At the time, I think it was 10 cents/a word at those publications, so unless you were going to write a novel and get a good book deal, it was pretty hard to make a lucrative living as a writer. You know, I was graduating from college and needed to support myself, I had to figure it out. I also studied film in school and was interested in film, but it was really hard to break in if you didn’t have someone to help you out and get you a job. So, I realized working in the costume department, through my connections in fashion, was easier than trying to get another role or job on the film set. Costume and styling were my way into the world I was interested in. So with publishing and journalism, it became styling and magazines, and with film making, it was costumes. I was definitely interested in both those things, costumes, and styling, but I think my initial attraction to those industries was a bigger scope, and that was kind of my way in. Then I started really enjoying it, so I pursued both. I did a lot of fashion styling early on and then the film projects came, and now TV has kind of come later in my career. But I feel like they both inform each other, the styling informs the costumes and vice versa. And I’m glad I have that background of fashion-styling because I feel like it gives me a wider spectrum of reference than a lot of traditional costume designers.

Very awesome. How would you describe your personal style?

I feel like I’m pretty eclectic, I think I dress pretty simple. I don’t wear a ton of accessories. The jewelry I wear is usually something that’s sentimental, something someone has given me or something someone has made for me. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to put on other people, so I don’t spend a huge amount of time thinking about my own wardrobe. I’m not the kind of costume designer or stylist who’s putting looks together and taking selfies, posting them on my Instagram. I love it when people do that, and I’m inspired by that. It’s just my interests in fashion, aesthetics, and costumes are more about telling stories in other people, and not so much making myself the subject. But in terms of my personal style, I think I definitely have a curated closet. If you look at my closet at any given time, it’s constantly changing and morphing, I’m always changing it up, depending on what I’m inspired by currently. I like to wear color, I like to wear happy colors, I like to wear patterns, I like unusual silhouettes. I think I do tend to dress a bit androgynous sometimes, but my friends would probably say that’s not true. I’ve been trying to find the new way to refer to what used to be called a “tomboy”. Because tomboy isn’t very politically correct.

Oh, I get what you mean. Agreed. I mean, I don’t know, but I feel like androgynous might be the right word. 

Yeah, so I tend to dress very casually. I wear a lot of sneakers and t-shirts. I’ll wear Dickies, a t-shirt, sneakers, and call it a day. But then I’ll also invest in pieces that are high fashion. Each season I’ll probably invest in a few pieces that I’ll wear a lot, like wear constantly. Like today, I have my Miu Miu sweater that I bought like a year ago. It’s like a cardigan, and it has a UFO on the back that says “Miu”.

Miu Miu Red Virgin Wool UFO Cardigan. Sold out everywhere. Sorry babes.

Cute! 

Yeah, that was like a splurge, but I wear it all the time. I don’t mind spending a lot of money on an item of clothing, or a pair of shoes if I love them and I’ll wear them all the time. Because I have a tendency to be kind of particular. I can literally go into a multi-designer store, like a Dover Street Market, or Barney’s and have a large credit to spend and not be able to find anything I like. I’m just super picky when it comes to my own shopping and what I wear. So I tend to have things that I love and then I just rotate those and wear a lot of the same stuff. And then I’ll get really bored of it, and then I won’t ever want to wear it again or see it again *laughs*. And I’ll move on.

*Laughs* Oh my God. So, do you have any particular styles, trends, or brands that you’ve been really loving lately?

Ever since I did Mid90s, I’ve sort of regressed back to my street, skater style from when I was that age. And that works, depending on what project I’m on.

But, I’m about to start this project in New Orleans, it’s an Adrien Lyne film, he’s the director that did 9 1/2 WeeksFatal Attraction, and Flash Dance. He’s making a super sexy, psychological thriller and the whole vibe of the film is very mature, chic, and sexy, so I think when I’m on that set I probably won’t be wearing skater clothes.

Fair.

I’ll probably make it a little more elevated. I think, not that I’m a chameleon, but I definitely get influenced by what project I’m working on. I sometimes start to wear stuff that is inspired by the character I’m working with.

Female cast of Mid90s.

Very cool. Speaking of Mid90s, you’ve worked so many major films like Mid90s, The Beach BumSpring Breakers. What was your “official start” in the industry?

My first film project was Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That was like my first gig working in the costume department of a movie. From there, I was given some opportunities from people I met or knew. But that was my first entry into film rooms, and that was quite exceptional because it was such an unusual film. It was a good crash-course. As for styling, I started styling my own shoots when I was super young, and it was like before people knew what a stylist was, so it wasn’t as competitive back then, by any means. There weren’t as many people doing that job, so it was easier to break in at that time. If you had the desire to do editorial and create images, you could just find photographer-friends, pitch to independent magazines and usually get shoots. Just because the industry wasn’t as saturated.

How would you describe your styling process/costume design process? Do you mood-board? Where do you begin when looking for inspiration for a character’s style?

Definitely mood-boards. That’s so important for the team you’re working with, whether it’s a photographer, a director or whoever you’re collaborating with, to be able to envision what you’re thinking and where your head is at. It’s always helpful if I’m working with other creatives, who also have ideas. We share visuals, so that’s definitely a starting point. It just depends on the project and a lot of times on the budget. On some projects, I’m given the luxury of having someone on my crew who can help build costumes, so I can make anything I want. I have an idea, I can execute it, rather than going out in the world, and trying to find this thing that might not exist. It can be a needle in a haystack. A lot of times, if you’re not able to build all the costumes, you end up compromising on some level, cause you’re just working with what exists in the world. But again, it depends on the project because not every project calls for building costumes. For some projects, it’s more important to use real things that exist in the world, that is easily referenced. You’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, because, for the characters or the story to be believable, it doesn’t call for high-design or costumes to be built. So it just depends, but definitely mood-boarding. I think visuals are really important, in that it always kickstarts the creative process. 

You mentioned characters style as being real. Euphoria is a very real show. It’s a fantastic show. Your work, the whole show really, is just top-notch.

Thank you. 

What did a typical workday look like for you while working on Euphoria?

It’s a pretty intense schedule, working in television. I like to equate it to a beast, you have to keep feeding it. It’s pretty non-stop, so you just have to do whatever it takes to get the job done. We usually start early, call-time for wardrobe crew on a Monday morning is usually 5 am. 

Wow.

Depending on your commute, you have to consider that travel time, it’s a really early rise for Monday. I usually have fittings and prepping for the next week. So, I’ll go to set to establish any costumes that are going to be seen on for the first time, say good morning to the actors and actresses, and be there for them in case they have any concerns or want to change anything last minute. You know, just to make sure everything runs smoothly. There are set-costumers who stay on set who watch the clothes and take care of continuity. So after something’s been established, I have the freedom to be able to walk away from the set and work on whatever’s coming up next. It’s kind of like a rolling prep, where you’re always preparing for the next week, the next episode, or whatever’s coming up next. It’s usually long days, at least 12 hours. Then as the week goes on, it can get progressively later. By Friday, our call time can be as late as 6 pm, if they’re doing a night shoot. So, it always differs. It just depends on what we’re shooting, and if we’re in a studio, or if we’re on location, shooting exteriors. So you always have to look at the schedule to see what’s going on. It’s always going to be a surprise.

Who was your favorite character to style? 

Zendaya’s character, Rue. It was very easy for me to envision that character, and to know what would work for Rue. I have a lot of friends or people who I’ve known in my life who have elements of Rue’s style, so I was able to just take real inspiration from people I’ve known in my life, to make her feel real, to make that character feel real. I think that was important to me, to be able to have real-life references.

With all the inevitable changes the characters will be going through into season 2, do you think that some of their styles will change?

For some characters, there will be sort of a natural progression of their style, which I don’t think will be too extreme. But I do think that we’ll see some transformations in season 2 for some of the characters. I mean, we began to see that with Barbie’s character, Kat, and Hunter’s character, Jules, in season one. And that only takes place over a few months, cause the formal dance is the winter formal, so really, they didn’t even finish a whole school year. So, there’s this idea that in the first season they began to make these transformations, and I think in the second season we’ll be able to explore a bit more with the passage of time. And whatever Sam Levinson, the genius creator of the show, writes into the script. Which I have not read yet! I’m waiting!

We’re all waiting! The cinematography of the show was fantastic, and things like the palettes, sequins, and glitter add so much to the scenes, especially the “trippier” scenes. Do you work with the camera or editing team when styling/designing those details or does that happen to just magically come together?

In an ideal world we absolutely would, and sometimes we were able to do that, to think forward and collaborate in that way. But other times, just because of the pace of the show, it was a happy accident. I’ll give you an example. There’s a sequence where Rue is in her bed, and I didn’t know the bedding would be a tie-dye kind of treatment, and then the shirt I put her in also had that kind of look, that tie-dye. There was a moment when I found out that the bedding was the same, that I thought I could’ve changed her look, but it just worked somehow. I was like, ‘the girl who wears this shirt also has these sheets.’ So, yeah, sometimes it was happy accidents, and other times it was much more thought out. I think in general, in a film, you usually have more time to be meditative about those choices, and collaborate with the production designer and set decorator. On TV, it just so fast-moving that you’re just lucky that you can get everything done in time, to get it ready for shooting.

Whew, that’s wild. I’m going to pivot a bit: how do you feel about the current state of fashion and the fashion industry? With new elements like sustainability and inclusion being highlighted, do you think that there’s’ going to be a shift in the fashion industry?

Absolutely. I mean, I think its already happening. I see a lot of young people living more towards sustainable fashion, and up-cycling, and recycling fashion. And not necessarily giving into this idea of needing to spend a lot of money on luxury, high-priced fashion in order to buy into some idea of cool. I feel like a lot of young people today see through that. I think that’s one of the reasons why Depop has been so successful. I just think young people are being a lot more creative and inventive with the way they’re dressing. Part of that is not needing to spend a ton of money on clothes, and not necessarily buying into fast-fashion, which is just so disposable, poorly made and going into landfills. So I think there is a lot more responsibility these days and it’s exciting to see. That’s actually one of the reasons why I use so much vintage on the show. The girls are probably in at least 60% vintage. The way that money is being spent is changing, and I think that people, especially young people, realize that’s the power that they have, how they spend their money. I think being more responsible about how their money is spent is something we’re going to see a lot more of. 

Earlier, you talked about getting your start at a time that the market wasn’t as saturated. What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into costume design or professional styling today? 

I think there is something great about the fact that now you don’t have to be shooting with the top-tier photographers or having tear sheets and editorials at the top magazines to be considered a player in the world of fashion. I think that if you’re making cool images, even if it’s just with your friends, or you’re making cool clothes, even if it’s just in your garage or your bedroom– with social media, there’s an outlet for people to show their work. And I think that has evened the playing field in a lot of ways, and made it possible for anyone to jump-start a career. That obviously started back when people were blogging and with influencers and that kind thing. I mean, I feel like that has gotten a bit out of control. The other day, my friend was telling me that the new thing, for some young people, is calling themselves creative directors. Like that’s what they’ll put on their Instagram. 

I was just ranting about this.

I mean, I guess someone can say they’re a creative director, even if they’ve never creatively directed anything but their own life. Technically, I guess you are a creative director. You don’t really need validation to say you are. At the same time its a bit of an eye-roll, but I think that sort of speaks to my point. That these days, you can kind of fake it till you make it. 

Absolutely.

You can have this outlet for your work, that is social media, and get a lot of attention just from having cool content. I think it’s just about, for young people, breaking in. If you don’t have a connection, someone to give you a leg up, it’s about doing cool work and being able to post it and getting as many eyes on it as possible. 

Totally! Heidi, thank you so much for sitting down to talk! I’m excited to see your work on your next project, and obviously, I’ll be counting down the days till Euphoria will be back on my screen. 

Thank you!

By: Vanessa Fajemisin
Cover photo: HBO