'Euphoria' Costume Designer Calls Show's Street Style a "Time Capsule" of How Teens Dress Today

Eddy Chen/HBO
Zendaya in 'Euphoria.'

"All of the women in this show are self-assured and self-empowered, which I found very inspiring," said costume designer Heidi Bivens.

Over the last decade, costume designer Heidi Bivens has channeled a directional aesthetic honed by her work as a stylist for i-D, Purple, W and Vogue magazines into conceiving alluringly offbeat wardrobes for a succession of intriguing features, from David Lynch’s Inland Empire to Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and Jonah Hill’s recent skateboarding comedy/drama Mid 90s. Bivens was also the go-to stylist for the influential shorts with cutting-edge directors Sean Baker and Spike Jonze that Kenzo creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim instigated to contemporize the LVMH brand. Bivens' “first TV gig” – Euphoria – is airing now on HBO and, in this coming-of-age drama, her talent literally shines.

The drama’s much-ballyhooed all-star cast includes Zendaya as Rue, Hunter Schafer as her transgender friend Jules, promiscuous Maddie (Alexa Demie), experimental Kat (Barbie Ferreira) and good-girl Lexi (Maude Apatow). To lift the street-style wardrobe,  Euphoria creator/director/writer Sam Levinson encouraged Bivens to adorn some of the wardrobe’s mostly quotidian togs (think merch sourced on Ebay, Etsy and Instagram, along with the odd designer finds) with Swarovski crystals, while the series' makeup head, Doniella Davy, laid on the glitter.

The sparkle might seem incongruous to the Euphoria setting. Levinson’s fictional adaptation of a same-titled 2012 Israeli TV series portrays a diverse working- and middle-class suburban California teenage clique as they wildly experiment with sex and drug consumption. Critics have trounced Levinson’s depiction of teenage proclivities as over the top. “Sam’s not really interested in straight reality,” says Bivens, referring to the director’s viewpoint, not to mention his enthusiasm for shimmer. With cinematographer Marcell Rév conjuring drama by deeply bathing scenes in red and blue light (evoking the moody look of Aaron Katz’s 2017 mystery thriller Gemini), the gleam of the cosmetics and costumes helps with visibility.

For Davy, “shimmer and glitter on or around the eyes” enhances the fraught emotion permeating the show. “Glitter visually mimics tears, especially in low light, and a reflective eye will always hold the attention of a viewer. Our actors on Euphoria are so good at conveying emotion through their eyes,” she says.

Shimmer aside, Euphoria is sure to make its mark in fashion due to Bivens' skill at conceiving a wardrobe that authentically reflects the way urban teens dress today. There are some smart, eye-catching costumes in the show, such as a faux Louis Vuitton exercise ensemble sported by Maddie (a nod, explains Bivens, to Billie Eilish’s penchant for fake LV) that works like a punchline. And a fabulous candy-pink slip dress from Stella McCartney’s resort 2019 collection (“borrowed” from the designer) flaunted by Jules with a vintage mesh top turns up the heat in episode four. As for Zendaya’s Rue, Bivens admits: “She could wear a paper bag and still look amazing.”

The comment is apropos given that Euphoria’s heralded lead character, whose drug addiction seems fueled by the grief of losing her father, presides over the show in a succession of loose-fitting outfits. Although Bivens won’t cop to it, it seems that Euphoria could be the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? moment for the mesmerizing "Z" (as the superstar was known on set). In other words, it's Zendaya’s chance to demonstrate she can transcend Disney’s K.C. Undercover and plausibly carry off a gritty drama co-produced by uber-cool A24. So out went any whiff of Law Roach (her longtime fashion stylist) and on went baggy shorts, anonymous denim and well-worn Converse Chuck Taylor All Star black high tops. Of the oversize burgundy Hanes hoodie into which Rue retreats for the first half of the series, notably during a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Bivens admits: “It’s her ‘hero piece.’ It’s like her baby blanket – a safety net.”

At 5 foot 10, Schafer is an exact match for Zendaya’s height and, as the character Jules, she gives an equally compelling performance, which is impressive given that it's her inaugural screen role (aside from a 2017 appearance on Fashion Police.) In recent years, this trans youth activist and model has worked fashion runways for Dior, Erdem, Mary Katrantzou  and Rick Owens and has appeared in influential ad campaigns from Marc Jacobs Beauty’s #GratefulNotHateful for Pride 2018 to Donatella Versace’s “young creatives” 2017 rebrand of Versus.

Similarly, Ferreira lends her unique fashion experience to her role. The former model ranked on Time magazine's 2016 list of the 30 Most Influential Teens due to her pioneering work championing the body positivity movement while modeling for accessibly priced consumer brands such as American Apparel, ASOS and Adidas.

“When I say that they made my job easier, it has nothing to do with their figures,” says Bivens of Shafer and Ferreira. “It’s about the way they know how to wear clothes. That comes from experience with modeling. But all of the women in this show are self-assured and self-empowered, which I found very inspiring.”

Expressing a costume designer’s typical objective, Bivens reflects: “Hopefully the show will feel timeless.” Then she adds, “I do think it is sort of a time capsule, in a way, of what’s going on right now.”