Heidi Bivens has worked on films including Spring Breakers, Mid90s and Beach Bum, which hits cinemas this week. Speaking to AnOther, she opens up about her creative process
Heidi Bivens never set out to be a traditional costume designer and it shows – in the best possible way. A proud New Yorker with an astute eye for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, Bivens has created looks for some of the best contemporary cult films: she’s outfitted everyone from the bikini- and ski mask-clad girlfriends of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2012), to teenage skate kids in Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s (2018). She is best known, though, for her work on Sam Levinson’s hallucinogenic high school TV drama, Euphoria, of which her much-replicated trippy streetwear looks and colourful, bejewelled make-up have become ubiquitous on Instagram.
Speaking from the set of Deep Water, an Adrian Lyne-directed psycho-sexual thriller she is currently working on, Bivens says she’s felt the draw of cinema ever since she was a teenager. “I went to school with the intention of writing or directing someday; I believe that I have an understanding of storytelling,” she says, referencing her degree in filmmaking from Hunter College, New York. “My real career, though, started in the fashion industry.” Pivoting into the world of fashion after university, Bivens interned at W, WWD, and Paper (later, she would contribute as a stylist to Purple, American Vogue and i-D, among others), before getting her break working in the costume department on Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).
This time would prove extremely formative: “One of my first gigs was as a costume PA on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” she remembers. “It was an incredible experience. Then we started working on music videos and commercials for a couple of years after that.” Working with Gondry would also provide a gateway to collaborating with the most important directors of the day, from David Lynch – Bivens outfitted his 2007 film Inland Empire – to Spike Jonze, and later Harmony Korine, as she would end up piecing together the retina-stinging pink balaclavas and day-glo bikinis of his 2012 film Spring Breakers.
Now, she has collaborated once again with Korine on costumes for new comedy The Beach Bum – showing at Genesis Cinema, London this Friday – which stars Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a pseudo-vagrant stoner and writer who has become a local legend in the Florida Keys (Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron and Isla Fisher star alongside). Bivens was tasked with taking beachside surfer-boy (or, in McConaughey’s case, surfer-man) style to the limits of taste – think: flame-trimmed Hawaiian shirts, flip-up sunglasses and sequined Ugg boots. “After I knew who the cast was, Harmony and I would brainstorm ideas, usually over text,” she remembers. “He would send me a seemingly random reference and I’d run with it. It was a ‘no-holds-barred’ kind of creative process; he really encourages you to think outside the box.”
On set, Korine and Bivens used music to channel Moondog, who lives his life inebriated, on half-tilt. “We had a constant Moondog mix playing on set, created by Harmony’s friend and documentary director Sam Hayes,” Bivens says. “It consisted of a lot of the songs which ended up on the film’s official soundtrack, like Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind and Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down The Line.” Other inspiration came from the everyday: “My influence comes from people on the street, and documentary photographers,” she says. “Most directors prefer to see mood and inspiration that is not too derivative of something that came before, so I look for references that are hard to pinpoint, to try to bring something fresh to the process. My favourite kind of film to work on is one like The Beach Bum, where I’m asked to call attention to the clothes. A lot of your research is rooted in what real, non-famous people are wearing.”
One thread which runs through Bivens’ work is her subjects, who invariably come from a background devoid of money or status, meaning a keen understanding of street culture and thrifty resourcefulness are necessary to bring distinctive identities to the screen. “I work well within parameters – I kind of like creative stipulation,” she says. “If I have to create a backstory that adds to the reality of a character’s look, it means I can’t just go out and buy or make them anything. I need to consider their socio-economic background.”
In The Beach Bum, the look is a refraction of culture and fashion at large (the flame-trimmed garments that Moondog proudly parades along the coast would align with a similar print adopted by Prada in their Autumn/Winter 2018 collection last year) that is both aspirational and yet attainable with the right frame of mind. It has kept her spectacularly busy. When asked who she would love to dress in the future she jokes that she wouldn’t mind dressing herself, such is the demand that she tends to other people’s wardrobes.
Lyne’s Deep Water, which stars Ben Affleck and Knives Out’s Ana de Armas, has her occupied for the time being. When asked to describe a character whose evolution she’s enjoyed charting the most, her answer leans towards a project which truly asserted Bivens as one of the most important costume designers working in Hollywood: “Jules [played by Hunter Schafer] on Euphoria. And we’ve only just begun.”
The Beach Bum is showing at Genesis Cinema, London on November 8, 2019.