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“I’m Seldom Looking at Fashion Editorials”: Costume Designer Heidi Bivens on the Euphoria Fashion Book From A24

Barbie Ferreira, Hunter Schafer and Zendaya in the Euphoria Fashion book.

One of the most trendsetting costume designers working today, Heidi Bivens’s work on the edgy teen drama Euphoria mixes vintage pieces, subcultural styles and up-and-coming designers in surprising and visually dynamic ways. Her looks have captivated the show’s young viewers: Euphoria-inspired fashions can be found all over social media, and now her influential designs have been immortalized in a new book, Euphoria Fashion. Written by Bivens and published by A24, the book features interviews, essays from journalists and imagery of the designer’s creations featuring fun facts about her inspirations and the symbolism of various outfits. It’s a striking showcase for Bivens’s work as well as her encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and the many messages clothing can send. 

While Euphoria has brought Bivens’s distinct aesthetic to the masses, it’s just one of many impressive credits to her name. Bivens has worked with directors like Michel Gondry (One Day…), David Lynch (Inland Empire), Adrian Lyne (Deep Water) and Harmony Korine, and her looks have had a major impact on bringing these filmmakers’ distinctive worlds to life—it’s impossible to think about Korine’s Spring Breakers, for example, without conjuring Bivens’s skimpy neon bikinis and all the lurid excesses they represent. Whether in a popular TV show or an indie film, Bivens’s costumes are always charged with creativity and coolness. I spoke to her about her book, behind-the-scenes collaborations and unique position of being a costume designer primarily known for contemporary projects rather than period pieces.

Filmmaker: What was the process of putting the book together? Designers don’t often have the opportunity to work on books like this, especially ones devoted to a specific project.

Bivens: It felt like a first on so many levels. I’ve always been interested in graphic design and book design, so I had compiled ideas for typography and the style of the photographs, which we were able to reference in putting the book together. I’d worked in magazines, so I really enjoyed going back to things that inspired me and that I’d learned during that time in my career. A24 had success with their previous Euphoria book set and knew there was a built-in audience, so they asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating on a book for the costumes and of course I was excited. I really feel strongly about doing whatever I can to lift up the costume community. I think I instinctively knew this would be a chance to do something that could lead to more books like this for other designers.

I’m super thankful to A24, because not a lot of studios would find the value in doing this. I knew it was important for there to be a lot of content in the book rather than having it just be double-page spreads of stills. I wanted to give the fans something that felt fresh. There’s something I’ve been referring to as “Euphoria fatigue”—when something comes out and it’s been shoved down people’s throats. Sometimes it can be a turn-off. So, I really wanted to surprise people. They might open the book and think they know what they’re going to see and then their takeaway is that it’s something different.

Filmmaker: In the book you talk a lot about collaborating with actors and how their input plays into your costumes. What are those conversations like?

Bivens: If someone says red and I want blue, I’m usually not going to back down. I need a singular vision in order for it to feel cohesive and designed. But I really do value the cast’s and directors’ and cinematographers’ thoughts on costumes if that’s something that’s going to make it better. The actors are the ones who actually have to go on camera, so their input is incredibly valuable. If they don’t believe it, we’re not going to believe it.

Filmmaker: With so many shows and movies set in high school, how do you make the costumes for Euphoria stand out?

Bivens: I try to stay away from anything that I feel might be derivative, but you can still find inspiration from recognizable, iconic characters. In the book I talk about how Kat’s style in season one is inspired by Enid from Ghost World. I’m always trying to find the obscure reference so people don’t feel like it’s screaming at them but I do think it’s a lot of fun to pay homage to a visual language or colors. I try to look at what inspires me, but not be too distracted by it. 

It’s such a fast-moving show. People often ask me about my mood boards and honestly, it moves so fast that I do boards at the beginning of the season but then unless there are new characters moving in, I don’t really slow down to add more research past that point. I’m looking under all the rocks trying to find the gems in the vintage world and the costume house world and building those special looks for times where I have an idea but I don’t think I’ll be able to find it out in the world, and know it will be faster and easier for me to create something exactly how I’m envisioning it. 

Filmmaker: What are your biggest sources of inspiration?

BivensDefinitely real people out in the world. It could be someone I know, or just someone walking down the street. I like Instagram accounts that are feeds of real people on the streets. That’s really inspiring. I’m seldom looking at fashion editorials.

Filmmaker: You use a lot of vintage pieces for the show. Vintage shopping has become so much more popular in recent years. Has this mainstreaming of vintage made it more or less challenging to source those items?

Bivens: It’s just different. So much of it is online. Anyone can be a vintage dealer now, with all the resale sites, and those are a huge part of the market. People who collect vintage are such fanatics. They’re so passionate about it that I think it’s still a really dense market and there’s still a lot in little boutiques. I got really lucky with the costume houses, because I was looking at decades that hadn’t been picked over yet. There hadn’t been a ton of projects at that time using ’90s pieces, so when I started season one I was finding all the gems in the ’90s section. As we moved into season two I was moving more into the early ’00s. Fashion is cyclical, and it’s all coming back around, including some trends where I’m not ready for them to have a comeback. The timing worked out really well for me. I have friends who are working on period films and find that there are three other major studio projects at the exact same time shooting the same period. That will make you panic as a costume designer. The timing was great in terms of what I was looking for and what was available, but it would probably be different now. 

Filmmaker: Do you have favorite designers to pull from?

Bivens: It really just depends on what’s called for for the project and character, so I don’t really have favorites. I have personal favorites, but when I think about design and who I like working with it’s more about collaborators I can design things with. Seth Pratt is a designer in LA who does custom work. He does work for a lot of pop stars, and he was introduced to me by Kat Danabassis, the assistant designer on the first season of Euphoria. I worked with him on building some costumes in the first season for Kat and Jules. In the second season I asked him to collaborate with me on looks for Maddy and Cassie. Amber Doyle is another designer who’s incredible. She built custom suiting for musicians like Phoebe Bridgers and helped me build the costume for Grandma Kitty. It’s all about working with people who are highly creative and capable of collaborating. I can pitch an idea and we can work on refining a sketch, then do fabric swatches and sign off on fabric, then we build and do fittings. 

Filmmaker: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from working on independent films?

Bivens: I definitely know how to do something for no money. There’s a funny misconception about hiring someone who’s only worked on small budget stuff and then having a big budget. Someone will say, “I don’t know if they can handle it” if a designer’s only done small budget. But it’s the opposite. If you can handle a small budget and get it done, then of course you can do it with a larger budget. When you have a smaller budget you have less crew. You’re doing multiple jobs and everyone collaborates. It definitely gave me a lot of experience wearing different hats. Producer friends I’ve worked with joke that I could be their secret weapon. If an actor who I have a relationship with—and you can have a pretty intimate relationship from them coming in for costume fittings—has an issue, I can talk on their behalf to the director or the producer. You get a different kind of experience since you’re not expected to stay in your lane in the same way. 

Filmmaker: It was just the 10th anniversary of Spring Breakers. What was your experience like working on that film?

Bivens: I had great direction from Harmony. He’d had the idea for that movie for some time before he got to make it, and he’d built an archive of photographs from Facebook and other places of girls on spring break. A lot of them were pretty wild, like the Girls Gone Wild era. So, I had great references. And I love color. It’s such a huge part of my job and I really knew what they wanted it to be. I feel like with this and other movies of the time that used a lot of neon, like Drive, there started to be a visual movement in cinematography, editing, and coloring, this new school visually. 

Filmmaker: What was David Lynch’s approach when you worked with him on Inland Empire? He’s someone who seems so mysterious yet has such a distinct way of building a world, which extends to costuming.

Bivens: The maestro? He’s the best. He’s such a singular filmmaker and it was a dream come true to work with him. Knowing what his taste and aesthetic is and getting the script, we never got a hard copy of the whole script, just pages. It shot over two years. So, we’d come in, get pages, go to the costume house first thing in the morning and bring costumes to set to fit whoever was working that day. It was a very experimental way of working compared to a normal studio film. He’s communicative and will write stuff into the script pages if there’s something important visually, but I don’t remember him micromanaging, except he loved to take the camera and shoot himself, and shooting on digital provided a lot of freedom. Coming from that, it really solidified that I wanted to make a career of working with auteur filmmakers. 

Filmmaker: In the Euphoria book, the fashion designer Jeremy Scott writes, “I suspect a lot of people could be great costume designers for period films set in the 1800s, but very few people could do contemporary costumes and make looks as iconic as the ones Heidi has created.” What is it like being a designer who’s best known for contemporary costuming and dealing with people’s misconceptions about modern versus period costume?

Bivens: Any costume designer who’s done both period and contemporary will tell you contemporary is often more work. Producers sometimes think that because something is contemporary you somehow need less crew and less budget and it will be easier. I’m generalizing here, but oftentimes costume designers who specialize in period get more respect from producers and can be taken more seriously. There’s that idea of, “Everybody gets dressed in the morning, so how hard can it be?” I think that’s the sort of sentiment that would come from a producer who doesn’t care about costumes. 

I would love to continue to be available to help educate people and organize with the Costume Designers Guild to do workshops for producers and explain what each person in the costume department does and how vital each one is, so they can understand. There’s a handbook for production design that producers have access to, but there’s nothing like that for costume. When a producer thinks that a costume designer can work without an assistant and that’s OK, it’s often because they don’t understand what that person does. They’re the hardest working person in the department. To cut them is so shortsighted. Whenever I’m hearing my colleagues complain about budgeting in terms of crew, I always just think, “It’s not out of spite, it’s just that they don’t understand and we need to educate them.” I think we’re making progress and I think the producers of Euphoria inviting me to be involved with [Euphoria creator Sam Levinson’s upcoming show] The Idol as a co-producer is valuing me beyond just putting clothes on people. It can help set a new precedent for below-the-line crew. If below-the-line crew is interested and capable and willing to rise to the occasion, then they should be made larger creative partners.

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