The working wardrobe: Heidi Bivens
Costume designer HEIDI BIVENS – who was nominated for an Emmy Award this year for her work on HBO’s hit show Euphoria – talks to MEGAN LOGUE about finding her big career breaks, her fail-safe formula for feeling confident in her own style and how she’s pushing the boundaries for Euphoria season two
Film has been Heidi Bivens’ first love since she was a child; but despite setting out to become a director – she moved to New York to study filmmaking at Hunter College – Bivens first found her way into fashion. “It was really difficult trying to break into the movie industry without having any connections, but I managed to get myself internships at magazines including W and Paper, which is how I got my start.”
However, the allure of working on movies and TV never waned: “I just fell in love with the idea of working behind the scenes, telling stories.” So after a few years spent working in fashion and forging connections in the city, she had another crack at breaking into the industry. Spoiler alert: Bivens has since become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand costume designers. Her stellar work on projects including Spring Breakers, Mid90s and The Beach Bum have been credited with kickstarting major fashion trends, including the recent resurgence of ’90s surf style. However, it’s Bivens’ innate ability to distil the essence of a character that has made her one of the industry’s burgeoning power players.
Of course, she is now best known as the mastermind behind the costumes of HBO’s Euphoria, for which she earned an Emmy nomination this year. The landmark show has captivated global audiences and, according to Bivens, even on set there’s a sense that everyone on the team is part of something special. “It feels like being with family; like finding a group of people you can create with who trust and love each other. Not every project is like that.” Euphoria’s legions of fans rejoiced last month at the news that two special episodes would be released this December. Although Bivens can’t reveal much, she does think audiences are in for a surprise. “Sam Levinson [Euphoria’s writer and director] is a very sensitive soul, and I think the pace and tone of these episodes is going to feel different based on what the world is going through right now.”
Next year is set to be a pivotal one for Bivens. Not only is she releasing Deep Water – the Patricia Highsmith adaptation directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas – along with an as-yet-untitled Lila Neugebauer movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, she’ll also celebrate her directorial debut – a watershed moment that will see her career, and dreams, come full circle. Read on to discover her professional and style secrets…
The Euphoria cast all have such great instincts about their characters and costumes; they’re always texting me with ideas or sending me references on social media”
Trust your instincts
“Even when I was working as a stylist, I was always trying to tell stories and create characters. I wanted to get into film and diversify my work at a time when not many other people were doing that. In fact, a lot of mentor-types actually discouraged me; they told me to focus on just one thing, but I think film and fashion really inform each other.
“The first movie I ever worked on was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I had met the assistant costume designer on an advertising job and she brought me on board. Working alongside Melissa Toth, the costume designer, was such an enlightening experience; I took it all in like a sponge. My creative process is very similar to hers. I’ll usually start building a character from a few seemingly unrelated images. It could be a painting, a snapshot of someone, Pantone colors, a paparazzi image – anything. I try to take inspiration from different places so that, when it all comes together, the work feels fresh, not derivative of something that came before.”
Push the boundaries
“From the very beginning [working on Euphoria], Sam Levinson said, ‘I don’t give a fuck about reality,’ which gave me the licence to have as much fun as I deemed necessary. The cast all have such great instincts about their characters and costumes; they’re always texting me with ideas or sending me references on social media. Jules [Hunter Schafer’s character] is my favorite to dress, because there’s no limit to creativity there.
“We’re going to push it a lot further for all the characters in season two. I was pretty floored to be nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Contemporary Costume category this year. It was pure joy to be recognized by my peers in that way; truly a dream come true. Also, the fact that a show like Euphoria has been embraced and deemed worthy of recognition goes to show how much the industry, and the world, is changing.”
I try to take inspiration from different places so that, when it all comes together, the work feels fresh, not derivative of something that came before”
Be the change
“Sam Levinson, and Kevin Turen, a producer on Euphoria, have become champions of mine. They recently asked me to direct four episodes of Gossamer, a TV show based on the books by Lois Lowry. Directing is something I have always wanted to pursue, but to be completely honest, as a petite woman I didn’t feel confident about the idea of commanding a set. However, it’s been really uplifting to see more of my female peers direct projects and make strides over the past few years. I’m hoping the industry can continue on this path of inclusivity.
“Some colleagues and I recently founded a non-profit organization, The Film Path, aimed at ushering in new talent, specifically, from the BIPOC and transgender communities. We want to build a talent database so anyone hiring can look beyond the small pool of people they always hire from. The lack of diversity can be really striking on set. After this year, lots of people feel the need for change and we can all do our part – it’s just about getting creative and figuring out how.”
Invest in exciting pieces
“I know stylists and costume designers with impeccable style – who put a lot of thought into their looks every day – and then there are those who have a uniform. I admire both, but I definitely fall into the latter category. I do like to add elements that speak to my personal style, though – it might be a piece of jewelry or an unexpected shoe. My outfits have to feel original to me. When you’re working in TV, the hours and workload are extremely demanding, and it’s really easy to end up neglecting yourself. I’ve learned that the best way to combat that is by making sure I buy a few special pieces that I’m really excited about at the start of each season; that becomes my capsule, so I don’t have to worry about what to wear during filming. I also have a minimal beauty routine: on and off duty, it’s limited to moisturizer, eye cream, mascara, complexion perfecter and lip balm.”
In September, when I was packing my suitcase to head back to Los Angeles to work on Euphoria, I realized I really needed to up my game. It was like I had forgotten how to dress myself over lockdown”
Step outside your comfort zone
“In September, when I was packing my suitcase to head back to Los Angeles to work on Euphoria, I realized I really needed to up my game. It was like I had forgotten how to dress myself over lockdown. There’s a warehouse full of clothes on set, but usually I don’t consider costume clothes as options for myself; once we wrapped, though, I was getting ready to go back to New York and thought I’d just take a look. I wanted to inject some fun into my closet and ended up finding a handful of pieces that actually work for me, so I’ve got a bit of Euphoria going on right now. There’s one pair of multi-colored silk pants that I would just walk past in a store because I’d just assume they’re too wild for me, but I absolutely love them.”
Create your own esthetic
“Growing up, I had really varied interests and was involved in all sorts of activities, so I got to be friends with different types of people who all [dressed] according to what clique they were in. I understood from a young age that having a more interesting or personal approach to dressing was one way that I could create a sense of individuality. And so, I was always marching to the beat of my own drum.
“I remember the intensity and importance of deciding what to wear for school pictures, because that photograph would do more to identify you than the information accompanying it. Personal style is something you feel intuitively, it can actually feed your identity, which is why people gravitate towards certain colors, prints or pieces year after year.”