Meet the Woman Behind the Streetwear-Heavy 'Euphoria' Wardrobe

An interview with 'Euphoria' costume designer Heidi Bivens about her inspiration, use of streetwear brands like Supreme, creative process, and more.

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Image via HBO

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Euphoria, the HBO teen drama created by Sam Levinson and produced by A24 and Drake, certainly isn’t the first high school-focused drama to hit television screens, but it is arguably one of the most authentic when it comes to the brands worn by its cast members. For instance, McKay (Algee Smith), the superstar athlete, and the local drug dealer Fez (Angus Cloud), are both fond of James Jebbia’s Supreme. As the series moves forward, more under the radar labels like Peels, CNY, Aries, and Sci-Fi Fantasy also make cameos on main character Rue Bennett (Zendaya) alongside a plethora of vintage items, Polo, and more.

The woman responsible for the heavy streetwear influence in Euphoria is Heidi Bivens who continues to build on her already-impressive resume. She’s also helmed costume design for Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s, and has frequently worked with polarizing director Harmony Korine on films like Spring Breakers and The Beach Bum, the latter of which has a particularly stellar wardrobe.

Ahead of Euphoria’s season one finale, we speak with Bivens about what inspires her process, how she sources all of these brands, some of her favorite style moments from the show, and more. 

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.) 

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How did you originally get your start as a costume designer?
I went to Hunter College for filmmaking, and it's part of the City University of New York. I always knew that I wanted to be involved with filmmaking. I think in the beginning I wasn't quite sure how. I knew that I wanted to be involved with storytelling. I was also interested in fashion, and when I was in college I worked at magazines (W, WWD, and Paper) doing market editing and styling. It just seemed like a natural transition to go from one to the other. To be able to work in fashion and know the history of fashion, but also work in the costume wardrobe department on a film. To get my feet wet, I would be on set and figure out what it is I wanted to do with film. And then I just really enjoyed it.

What has it been like working with Sam Levinson on Euphoria? What is his input on the wardrobe?
He writes wardrobe cues into the script, and then based on his original vision for the story, I'm able to sort of gather what he's looking for. Then, I present mood boards and references for what I'm thinking, and the direction that I instinctively think we should go in, and he gives me feedback. Sometimes he has very specific ideas about a character, and other times it's free reign for me to come up with the back story and the look and present it to him. So, it's sort of a case by case basis with the characters. Once we got into shooting and he was writing, producing, directing, he really just trusted me to deliver what he was looking for. 

It feels like with Euphoria you found a way to showcase Gen Z style almost perfectly. How important was it for you to showcase such an authentic representation? Because there's been a lot of teen dramas over the years, but none of them really feel like they actually did it the right way.
I remember wanting to steer clear of anything that felt like what I call, “ABC Family teen.” I was given the freedom and the support to really push it. I was asked to push it. By that, I mean just not playing it safe and not doing anything that was generic or commercial looking. It started from the top, from Sam [Levinson] giving me that license to really just have no rules and to do whatever I thought was right for these characters. I'm not close to teenagers at this point, but I still feel like a kid. I like to think that I can relate to young people. I have a lot of young friends. I work with a lot of young people. For me, I think I am still in touch with youth culture, and I think I probably always will be. I was able to tap into something that I wasn't even necessarily aware that I was doing it. I just did what instinctively came to me. I like to think that it's because I still feel like the kids. I still feel like I'm a teenager.

What was your process like to source these pieces?
My background in fashion has given me the ability to be super aware of everything that's going on in terms of streetwear and fashion. I didn't pay as much attention to runway or high fashion on this particular show as I've done with some other projects I've worked on in the past. I think as a stylist or as a costume designer, when you're working on stylized projects, it's nice to have a wealth of resources and look under every rock. I just have this ability to retain that kind of information over time. Some people can remember the capital of every state. I can probably remember the designer who did every collection for every fashion brand or every runway collection since I was old enough to pay attention to that stuff. I just kept retaining that kind of information naturally. 

I think when the show came up, it was just about going through that rolodex in my brain of what would work for each character. Some of that came from research that I did while we were prepping, doing the deep dives on Instagram, and finding out about young designers and brands that I hadn't heard of before. Then, also pulling from references, and brands, and sources that I had used in the past, whether it was an editorial or another film I'd worked on. People even reached out to me who heard I was working on the show and showed me their stuff, and made me aware of brands I wasn't aware of before. It was coming from a lot of different directions, but I think spreading the net really wide helped create something that can hopefully feel new. You're not just shopping at Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. I think when [costume] designers who are doing modern shows stick to very specific resources that are readily available, like the department stores for example, even a Barneys, a lot of people who are interested in fashion can watch the show and say, "Oh, I know that shirt,” or, "I've seen that." I think that was one of my main objectives. I just wanted to show people something fresh that was inspiring that they couldn't necessarily always pinpoint where they had seen it before.

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One of the first things that I noticed when watching the first episode was characters like McKay and Fez in Supreme. Rue wore a Gosha Rubchinskiy tie-dye shirt in the first episode. Stüssy also pops up. Was there a conscious decision to choose some of these well-known streetwear brands?
Sure. Supreme is such a household name at this point. I remember when I first suggested putting McKay in a Supreme sweatshirt for the first episode, Sam [Levinson] pushed back a little bit because he thought maybe it was too expensive for someone of his socioeconomic background. I was quick to point out that Supreme is affordable. That's one of the great things about the brand, and why they've been so successful. They still keep the clothes affordable so that anyone who has a minimum wage job and doesn't have a huge overhead, they can still afford it. They can afford a T-shirt. They can afford a sweatshirt. You can also get that stuff secondhand. With the Gosha T-shirt, in my mind, Rue isn't necessarily going to go to a Barneys and buy a Gosha T-shirt, but she could have lifted it off someone at a party. She could have found it in her friend's car. She could've gotten it at a thrift store. In my mind, I always had to rationalize how someone could have a fashionable item of clothing if it didn't necessarily make sense on paper. Rue wears a Proenza Schouler tie dye T-shirt. We found that T-shirt for $35 at the Bearded Beagle in Los Angeles. So, even though that T-shirt probably retails for maybe $160, maybe less, we found it at a thrift store. In my rational mind, I'm like, "Okay, this could be believable because if we can find this in a thrift store. She could've found it in a thrift store.”

Certain characters also wear smaller brands like Sci-Fi Fantasy. Zendaya wore the Peels button-up last episode, and the brand actually ended up restocking the shirt this week. Did you want to make sure to spotlight these lesser-known brands?
Both those brands I believe in, and I like what they do. Jerry Hsu, who owns Sci-Fi Fantasy, is my assistant costume designer Kat Danabassis’ husband. Even if I didn't know Kat, I'd be supporting Sci-Fi. I just love what Jerry does. It's so simple and so smart. I'm always just looking for brands that feel right for the character. If it's someone I believe in already, then that's just a bonus.

Does your process differ depending on the character? Is it fun to play around with each specific character’s arc?
I would say it differs, but primarily because of how much information I was given from the beginning for each character. Barbie Ferreira’s character Kat, for example, I knew that she was going to experience this arc from the beginning. With some characters, like Sydney Sweeney’s character Cassie, we were learning about her arc as we would receive each script. With Hunter Schafer’s character Jules, when I received the first couple scripts, it was pretty clear based on Sam's writing that she was meant to be this candy-colored anime sort of unicorn character. As we received more scripts, it became clear to us that her arc would involve not needing gratification and acceptance from these types of men and boys who she would have these one night stands with. She became more self-empowered, and could look to herself for that kind of love and focusing more on like self-love. So, she stopped dressing as cute and fem. Other characters don't have such a dramatic arc. Nate is sort of the jock character who we all are familiar with. There wasn't that much to do with him in terms of thinking outside the box. We needed him to be that guy that we all sort of know as the quarterback. With his diabolical behavior, we were able to create something fresh and new, but in terms of the way he dresses, he's sort of the classic high school male.

Do you have a specific character/outfit/episode that you enjoyed styling the most?
It's the last one. The finale, I think, is going to hopefully blow some people away. Like if everyone's been enjoying the show so far, it'll be the cherry on top.

Other than the finale?
I mean, there's so many. Halloween was because Sam wrote all those costumes into the script. I think some of the actors and actresses were a little concerned that a younger generation wouldn't know who they were supposed to be because some of the references aren't necessarily like Gen Z-ish.

Like the Bob Ross costume?
Yeah. Even like Alabama Worley, or Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. So, there were some suggestions that came back from the cast about, "Well, maybe could I be this? Or what about this," and Sam was very clear. He had a distinct vision about who he wanted everyone to be dressed as for Halloween. So we stuck with that, and I think it was a huge success. I was really surprised how many young people got it. People love that Bob Ross. That was like everyone's favorite. That's Sam's brain. He is a genius. He makes me look good. It's not unlike working with Harmony Korine. Harmony writes all the wardrobe cues into the script, and then I'm interpreting it. It's a gift once you work with directors who have such brilliant minds and don't put the reins on their ideas and storytelling. 

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Have you paid attention to the reception that the show has gotten for its wardrobe? Have you noticed how much people care about what these characters are wearing from episode to episode?
Yeah, it's been pretty wild. I don't think I anticipated the kind of response we've been receiving. I maybe should have. But when you're doing the job and you have this crazy schedule you're just trying to keep one foot in front of the other, and get the show made the best you can. You kind of have blinders on, and it's hard to anticipate what's going to happen after you're done. I always believed in the show from the beginning, especially after I saw the pilot episode, even before it was officially picked up. I always knew that it was something special. I get kind of emotional even thinking or talking about it, but to be involved with a show that's portraying these characters for young people to see on camera, it's really unprecedented and it feels really good to be involved with a project like this that can inspire. Hopefully, it's going to pave the way for a lot more characters who young people can relate to, to be in films and television to help start dialogue about real issues that people are dealing with, and create a safe place for those conversations.

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