marchioness > archive > issue 2 > Heidi Bivens: Costuming on the Edge
Interview by Abbey Bender / Edited by Jessica Ann Richardson
Costuming on the Edge
Marchioness talks HBO’S EUPHORIA, ‘90s NEW YORK and REALREAL.COM ADDICTIONS with stylist and costume designer Heidi Bivens
@ Heidi Bivens
Costume designer Heidi Bivens specializes in the kind of street-savvy and boldly colorful work that’s instantly recognizable and has influenced countless Instagram posts. While costume design is often most associated in the public imagination with period pieces, Bivens’s work is resolutely modern, and never lacks an edge. With a background in fashion and styling, Bivens knows how to make characters look genuinely cool, which is more difficult than it may sound. Her characters look like people you’d legitimately want to go shopping with. Currently, Bivens’s work can be seen in the stylized teen drama Euphoria. Her costumes perfectly encapsulate the show’s energy—in fact, it’s impossible to imagine the show without the deft mix of nostalgia and youthful sass she brings to it. Bivens’s costume design career has been iconic from the very beginning: she started out as a costume assistant for Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and received her first feature credit as designer for David Lynch’s hypnotic epic Inland Empire. She’s worked with the controversial director Harmony Korine on the neon-soaked, revealing bikinis of Spring Breakers and the chill yet chaotic stoner tropicalia of The Beach Bum, and dressed the young skaters of Jonah Hill’s Mid90s with an authenticity that could only come from being deeply embedded in the subcultures of that time. All of her costumes are simultaneously stylish and lived in, playful and provocative. Marchioness emailed Bivens to learn just how she makes every character she costumes look so unmistakably hip.
What was your experience of living in New York City during the '90s? Has your relationship to the city changed over the years?
It was a simpler time and beauty came with that simplicity. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was a teenager when I first moved to New York. The '90s were an exciting time to be a young person there because it was right before the internet hit big. There were a lot more small mom-and-pop type businesses and artist types living in the city then also. I still love New York and always will. I think I’ll always want to have one foot in the city. It’s my home and if past lives exist, I probably lived there before. It feels like coming home.
Did you always know you wanted to work with clothes? Did you have a creative upbringing?
My mother is very creative and collects Victorian costumes. She would dress my sister and I up when we were young and stage photos of us. She also collected fashion magazines like Vogue US and UK, Harper’s Bazaar (during the Liz Tilberis years), and Elle, and I would comb through the pages and get inspired.
What’s your personal style? Do you have any favourite pieces of clothing?
I’m pretty casual in my day to day. I like being comfortable and can’t believe there was a time I liked to wear tight skinny jeans. I’m a bit sporty, classic, and feminine in my style. I like to support young designers and shop vintage and I’m guilty of a RealReal.com addiction. My favorite clothes include a cashmere sweater, a Chanel shorts romper, a silk slip dress, a pajama set, a pair of Levi’s jeans, and a hoodie sweatshirt.
Do you think the fact you have worked in fashion has given your film projects an edge?
If by “edge” you mean perspective, then yes. It’s given me a specific point of view that has helped me create an aesthetic thread that hopefully runs through all the work I do.
What would be your advice to creatives starting out and struggling to persevere in such difficult times?
Well, luckily social media can give a platform to anyone now. Whereas once before, breaking into any creative industry had everything to do with who you know, now opportunities can be discovered through having a social media presence that has everything to do with vision and perspective. It’s a new kind of rat race, you could say! But definitely a more open and inclusive one than before.
There’s so much negative talk surrounding social media platforms but it seems like you really utilise Instagram to find images for research and contact designers to borrow clothes. Has social media changed how you work?
Definitely. It’s been a huge inspiration and networking tool. The fact that we can view a photo posted by someone across the world in real-time can be invaluable. The way we can reach so many people with our thoughts, ideas, and images is exciting to me.
What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
This might be a boring answer, but it’s working with kind, happy people. The fondest memories I have are of laughing on set with colleagues. If you can laugh at work, then you’re doing alright.
Do you have any designs you would consider your favorite?
Probably Matthew McConaughey’s costumes in The Beach Bum.
If you could live inside a film, which one would you choose?
Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt.
Is there a genre you’ve been wanting to work in but haven’t done yet?
I would love to do Sci-Fi and any period costumes.
What do you think is the secret to your success and carving out such a creative and interesting career for yourself?
I set out from the beginning with a focus on working with artists and auteurs. I’m interested in cinema as art, but love a big blockbuster too. I’m definitely interested in reaching a large audience while also appreciating the obscure.
What’s exciting you in film and fashion right now?
In the film industry, that there could be a return to independent projects being made without big studios. In fashion, that the industry will figure out a way to reinvent itself and an experiential way to shop and buy clothes.
You have an uncanny attention to detail when it comes to imagining a character’s wardrobe, not only their look but where they might have sourced their clothes from and their budget. Where does this skill come from?
I suppose from writing stories. I’ve studied screenwriting and while creating characters in a story, it’s usually important to have some idea of their history and details of their life, even if they aren’t necessarily included in the actual story. I have a habit of creating backstories for people.
What can you tell us about your costume process for season two of Euphoria?
I did a lot of sourcing vintage (mostly at costume houses), designed and built costumes for the big set pieces like Halloween and Winter Formal, and looked under every proverbial rock for the special pieces which made up the lead character’s closets.
In Euphoria, there are so many characters and so many outfit changes to organise. Could you talk a little about your process from initial moodboard to final looks on set? How long did you have to work on both seasons? How big is your team?
I tend to pull general mood and inspiration references when I start prep. Then I get as much in that works for the ideas for each episode and the looks come together in the fittings. The first season was nine months of work total for me. In all, the wardrobe department is usually ten people or more.
Did your creative process for season two differ in any way from season one?
Yes, in that I know the characters better now, as I’ve been living with them longer. Also, I feel like I can push the creative aspects of the costumes now. I can be a bit more daring.
What is it like working with a director on multiple projects?
You often have time to develop a shorthand with a director when working together on multiple projects. You have a chance to get to know each other’s perspective better, which can only add to the success of the collaborations if it’s a good match of minds.
What's been the most exciting part of working on a show like Euphoria? It must have been amazing to see the programme become such a success and beloved by so many and then to get to work with the same cast and crew again.
I think the most exciting part is knowing that people will see the work. To think the show will air all over the world eventually is the greatest reward!