Don’t Touch Anything: ‘Euphoria’ Costume Designer Heidi Bivens Takes in Richard Avedon’s ‘Murals’ at the Met
Bivens is no stranger to an ensemble cast. She shares her thoughts on Avedon's epoch-making group portraits of the 1960s and '70s.
Don’t Touch Anything is the new column where William Van Meter takes a fabulous person to a noteworthy exhibition to talk through the show and their current projects.
On paper, a television show that’s essentially a cross between Saved by the Bell and Requiem for a Dream doesn’t necessarily scream cultural game-changer. In its preproduction stages, it would have been easy to underestimate the juggernaut HBO’s Euphoria would become. “When I first got the call for the pilot, I was like, OK, let me cut my teeth on TV,” said Heidi Bivens, Euphoria‘s pacesetting costume designer as we were walking up 5th Avenue.
“Once Zendaya and Hunter Schafer were cast, and I did those first fittings, I started to think that this could be something special,” she said. “But when I saw the dailies and the scene where Nate confronts Hunter in the kitchen at the house party, I cried. I was so moved and realized, OK, we’re really creating something that felt we hadn’t seen it before—a show about teens for adults.”
Bivens’s compelling, visual-heavy new companion book, Euphoria Fashion, compiles many of the show’s exceptional looks, and delves into the character psychology and backstory that goes into every garment Bivens assembles to actualize the cast. “If there was a different cast on Euphoria,” Bivens said, “I don’t know that the show would’ve done what it’s done.”
Undeniably a contributing factor to the troupe’s stratospheric success, Bivens’s costuming work has had a resounding impact in fashion far beyond the confines of the show, with her vision inspiring and filtering onto various designers’ runways. Every cast member has scored major brand contracts, too.
On the day after her book release last week, Bivens and I took a celebratory trip to the Met to check out “Richard Avedon: Murals.” It seemed like a good match—the TV show and the exhibition both deal with ensembles and archetypes and are unadulterated reflections of the zeitgeist.
With these oversize prints, originally made and displayed in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the late photographer encapsulated the turbulence of the era in the black-and-white group shots of cultural players from the stars of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene to the Chicago Seven (anti–Vietnam War protesters the U.S. government infamously charged with conspiracy), to an array of U.S. generals and policy wonks who orchestrated the war. Avedon assembled these men frontally, as though in a police lineup. The towering work lends itself to a sense of monumental intimacy that is stunning in person.
The billboard-proportioned prints that line the walls like tapestries are all 10 feet high (the largest is 35 feet wide). The scale is humbling. Bivens approaches the Warhol image, the Pop artist’s coterie dramatically posed in a Renaissance-like tableaux.
The Factory image is the star of the show, and has particular fashion significance; it inspired Steven Meisel’s benchmark 1994 CK One campaign, which crested in Bivens’s youth. “It was a real reflection of what I saw around me in my community in D.C.,” she said. “I was going out to Riot Grrrl conventions, punk shows, and go-gos, hanging out with graffiti writers and skaters,” she continues, inadvertently name-checking various subcultures that percolate in Euphoria’s wardrobe language. “It was a portrait of what I was surrounded by so it felt real and not like unattainable fashion advertising. Since then, I’ve come to know a lot of the people who are in those photographs. At the time I didn’t know it was an homage to Avedon.”
Then Bivens leans in close to the Chicago Seven portrait to analyze the corduroy trouser paired with a knitted, fringed scarf worn as a belt. “Building characters is my passion,” she said, “and to see these portraits of such distinct individuals is exciting. Their style is seemingly pedestrian, but it becomes iconic through Avedon’s work. It’s often about noticing the detail about how people wear things, rather than what it is they’re actually wearing.”
As we meander through the exhibition, Bivens checks out a case that holds outtake studies for the murals. A cutting-room-floor Avedon is still anyone else’s masterwork. In these compelling B-sides we see Candy Darling posing demurely in a sunhat and dress and then stockings (she’s fully nude and Venus-like in the finished mural, an ahead-of-its-time and powerful gesture of trans visibility). “Everyone wants to see the outtakes these days,” Bivens said. “If you have post to social with no BTS or something new to add to the conversation that everyone else is posting, even if it’s a project you’re attached to, it just feels derivative.”
Exiting Avedon, we make our way to check out the just-opened Cecily Brown show (“I see the order in her chaos,” Bivens noted, quite impressed) which proved quite difficult to locate and entailed a joyful wander through the modern art halls. We then sat outside the museum on the fountain ledge.
“Part of Avedon’s magic is knowing who to document,” Bivens said. “It’s always about whom he chooses to be his subjects.”
Right now, Bivens is awaiting the show’s new scripts, and then she’ll begin formulating the looks for the next season of Euphoria—which is set five years after the last season left off. Bivens studied film at New York City’s Hunter University, a few blocks away from the Met. Before theatrical costume design, she began as a fashion stylist and still often works in that realm. She styled Chanel’s spring 2023 campaign with Kristen Stewart, as well as their latest fragrance campaign. For her next projects, she’s moved beyond costuming. She is co-producer of Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson’s upcoming HBO series The Idol, which stars Lily-Rose Depp and The Weekend, and is attached as producer for director Mary Harron’s next film.
“Collaboration has been the cornerstone of everything I’ve ever done successfully,” Bivens said. “I’m not a solitary type of creative. I love a dialogue. I enjoy parameters.”
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.