“The biggest recognition, the thing that’s felt the best throughout this process is just like, people loving the looks and enjoying the looks on Instagram and recreating them.”
Fresh off of an Emmy nomination for her and her team’s work, Doniella Davy, who is the makeup department head on HBO’s latest hit and teen drama Euphoria, chatted with me over the phone about the show’s kaleidoscope of looks, self-expression through makeup, and being inspired by Gen Z.
“I was really excited to do looks like this because I have always loved using color, and for a while my portfolio was all sort of gritty, more realistic work,” Doniella tells me. She has previously been the makeup department head for critically acclaimed films including the Oscar-winning Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, where invisible makeup and dewy skin remained the focus for most characters.
Early in her career, she craved projects that would allow her to use more colorful palettes. “So I would organize these little photo shoots just for free,” she tells me. “Maybe that was a little bit of manifestation back then. I’ve always had this itch to do more Euphoria-esque makeup.”
We both agree that Euphoria has become a mainstream platform that showcases out-of-the-box makeup expression, from Hunter Schafer’s character Jules having a cloud drawn over her eyelids to Alexa Demie’s Maddy Perez accenting her makeup with gems. Previous to the show’s premiere, it seems makeup tutorials on YouTube and Instagram were the main sources of colorful eyeshadow looks and experimentation.
“That’s exactly it. Euphoria is a mainstream platform for this type of makeup to be seen. I think a lot of people that I talk to sort of speak to me like I’m the person who created this makeup, but I don’t think that’s true at all. People have been using makeup as self-expression for centuries and decades. I think it just happened on the perimeter of mainstream. So this was such a cool opportunity to just have this mainstream platform to sort of push this forward so that more people want to partake!”
Doniella is most excited by Gen Z makeup artists on Instagram, and cites Instagram as a main source of her inspiration for looks found on characters including Maddy, Jules, Barbie Ferreira’s Kat, and Sydney Sweeney’s Cassie.
“It’s unbelievable the way this young generation is using makeup in such a fearless and rebellious way to challenge all the antiquated norms that seem to continue to pass down each generation,” she tells me. Expressive makeup was always an intentional choice that writer and director Sam Levinson turned to Doniella with for the show’s aesthetic. When she signed onto the project and started creating her looks, she never expected for them to cultivate inspiration for so many others.
She makes sure that each character’s makeup matches their highs and lows, and merges their self-expression with their personal journeys. Meticulously glued crystals above sharp eyeliner express Maddy’s pageant background and carefully catered exterior, while colorful, dreamy palettes that turn the eyelids into a canvas express Jules’ desire to simply be without limits. I also give Doniella a lot of credit for figuring out what to do with Zendaya’s makeup for her character Rue, who is a drug addict struggling with her sobriety.
“In the beginning, I put her in this box a little bit. I didn’t mean to!” Doniella says. “So at first I thought, you know, she’s probably not wearing makeup to parties. I don’t see her as a makeup wearing person. And then Sam Levinson really challenged me on that. He was like, ‘Why? She’ll wear makeup!’”
With that she drew from Sam’s idea to keep Rue’s makeup under her eyes in a melancholic pooling, and from there she decided whether Rue would wear glitter and how to make it all work with the show’s shadowy lighting. Sam encouraged her to “get out of the box!” she says with a laugh. Rue’s makeup has now become a staple trademark of the show.
Due to quarantine, Doniella has also stepped out of her own comfort zone and begun sharing some looks on Instagram by using herself as a canvas, which she doesn’t often do. She tells me that if viewers are curious about what some of her initial makeup ideas for season 2 were, they could see many of them on her Instagram. “Seeing season 2 pushed so many months, I was like wait, I don’t want to just keep these looks in my head for months and months. They’re going to get stale. So I just started doing them on myself, so my Instagram has been a purging of my initial ideas for season 2.”
Sharing looks on herself on Instagram has been a new endeavor she’s enjoying. “Yeah that’s been really fun for me! I don’t really do makeup looks on myself and post them. I just started that during quarantine,” she says. “I really wasn’t that kind of girl growing up, I wasn’t the fearless makeup-wearing self-expressing girl. I was much more shy. So it’s funny that getting on this show was the chance to do all these unrequited makeup looks and live vicariously through these girls a little bit. It sort of goes to show just because some people are not at the place where they’re confident about expressing themselves doesn’t mean there’s not a world of artistry within them waiting to come out.”
She admits that even she still gets nervous posting makeup looks of herself. Putting yourself out there can be daunting for everyone, and yet the bold artistry of Euphoria’s makeup has created an entire hashtag of colorful homages to Doniella and her team’s work, who in turn draw inspiration from Gen Z, creating a community cycle of fierce expression and mutual inspiration.
Doniella is all about keeping makeup unrestricted and flexible. “You know those magazine articles that are like, ‘Daytime looks for this Fall! Nighttime looks! A party look!’ I’m not down with that. I like mixing it all up and taking away those silly rules because that’s no fun.”
This is what resonates with audiences about Euphoria’s cosmetic storytelling, too. There are no rules. Jules can wear the same makeup she’d wear to a party straight to school. Maddy keeps the precision and glam of pageant makeup intact with her head-to-toe coordinated aesthetic no matter where she goes. Rue’s main makeup go-to is glitter.
Just as New York City was it’s own character on Sex and the City, makeup has become a present character on Euphoria.
“It’s so cool that people interpreted it that way!” Doniella says. Finding the balance between purpose and fun is what she does for every character’s makeup. Telling and serving the story is always the priority for her.
“I’m hired onto something to tell a story, and to deliver the director’s vision. So it was really important for me that the looks were not frivolous, cool for the sake of being cool, or loud for the sake of being loud. How I made everything make sense to me was for every look I designed, it had to be grounded in the storyline. I always married the makeup to the scene, and there’d have to be some sort of evidence in my mind, like why red? Why green?”
It was a fine balance of going for it, pulling back, and sometimes even thinking looks could go even further once they had hit the screen, Doniella explains. She believes she fell deeper into her rhythm as filming progressed. She also didn’t want to bombard viewers with detailed makeup looks on every shot.
“There needed to be this breathing room for bare faces, so that the more intricate makeup designs would have more impact.”
She even tells me that half of the looks were spontaneously conceptualized, including Jules’ famous cloud shaped eyeliner pattern, while the other half were meticulously planned. She didn’t want every look to come off super-designed. She wanted some to have more freedom to them. “Most of my inspiration for the show came straight from Instagram,” she says. “Looking at a lot of what Gen Z kids are doing, and like I said, the fearless way I’m seeing makeup used, sort of defying gender and makeup and beauty norms.”
She also looks at makeup through the decades. “’60s, ’70s, ’80s, the ’90s definitely has a clear influence,” she says. “But the fun sensibility I really learned from Gen Z Instagram accounts.”
On pushing her creativity further, she works to challenge herself to use an item in a way that it is not typically used. Cue the colorful shapes framing Jules’ eyes, Cassie’s bejeweled face in her ice skating fantasy, or the cherries dotting the sides of Maddy’s temples.
Doniella fills her notebooks with designs inspired by her vision and her Instagram scrolling, and an innovative idea can strike at any time. Taking into account that Euphoria, like all shows, is filmed out of order, Doniella’s organization of each chronological look is a task and skill in itself. Even in a series of quick shots of a character, you’ll see a different makeup color-palette in each shot so one look doesn’t blend into the next.
Her favorite look from season 1? “I get asked that all the time, it’s so hard,” she admits. “But I always say Kat—Barbie Ferreira’s nun look.” This look being a Halloween costume reference to the film Ms. 45 worn by Barbie, which is accompanied by tiny reversed black crosses drawn beneath her eyes, blended red eyeshadow above, and a red lip lined with black.
I share my favorite look with her, which was Maddy’s first day of school eye makeup – lilac shadow on the lids lined with reddish-orange pencil. A color combination you wouldn’t expect to be pulled off well, but which works strikingly.
“That look is a cool example of how Gen Z takes something and infuses it with new life. So one thing the director wanted was Maddy’s makeup looks to match her outfits and be part of her whole outfit. So she’s wearing literally completely lavender from head to toe. So we did lavender eye makeup on her, but I was like, this isn’t enough. It needs something.” Doniella then told her assistant who applied Maddy’s makeup: “Let’s do a bright orange on her nails and her eyes as an accent. Because we both agreed that orange looks really cool with lavender. Bright, with a pastel.”
The lighting in Euphoria is dark and dim, and figuring out how to create looks that didn’t disappear into the shadows was actually a big reason for using big and neon colors. “Glitter and gems look amazing in lowlight,” she tells me.
Particular products that became essential to her makeup bag for the show? SUVA Beauty Hydra Liners, Danessa Myricks cream-color matte liquid pigment for lips, cheeks, and eyes, and eyeshadow palettes from ColourPop for “fun, saturated eyeshadow colors.”
The best part is that all of these products are accessible. “None of the makeup was really expensive or unattainable, as well as the designs themselves!” Doniella continues. “I really wanted people to be able to look at the looks and imitate them without feeling intimidated.” She also takes actor feedback very seriously and encouraged the girls to DM or text her anytime with collaborative ideas.
Euphoria’s mainstream reach has ushered in encouragement to have more fun with makeup, creating a sort of community under Doniella’s Instagram tags and in hashtags like #euphoria and #euphoriamakeup. She’s happy to see it.
“It’s like this big thing all these people have in common now!”
And for all the aspiring makeup artists looking to get into the entertainment industry, Doniella’s biggest advice other than learning the craft as well as you can in a learning plan that works for you is, “Say yes to every job. Treat all of your jobs with the same amount of respect and seriousness …You never know. The producers and directors you work with on a tiny short film, you don’t know who they’re going to be. I met the producer of Moonlight on my first feature film … That producer, I had no idea she’d go on to do Moonlight and bring me on to Moonlight. And then I got introduced to Barry Jenkins, and then I ended up working on several more of his projects, so that was my first little film. I could have really goofed off on that film … but I took it really seriously. I kept my head down, focused on the work, I did good work, and you just don’t know who you’re working with and what you’re going to come up with together.” From student films to feature films, professionalism will take you everywhere.
She also encourages artists to make their own projects and take control of their portfolios rather than just express what they don’t have in it. “Go make those images, do makeup on yourself or your friends or your family, and really take ownership over your portfolio.”
She believes her challenge for season 2 will be how to keep the makeup interesting without just adding more glitter and getting louder. “I don’t think that’s the answer. I think the makeup’s going to have to change in some way, but I don’t really know, as of yet!”
By the looks of her Instagram, we’re looking forward to whatever she dreams up next.