Since its debut in 2019, the HBO series Euphoria has cemented its pop-culture domination with costumes and makeup that tell a story of today’s youth culture as much as the plot. The show’s ‘90s and Y2K style references earned costume designer Heidi Bivens two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes. For season 2, Bivens — whose past work includes other teen-centric projects like Mid90s and Spring Breakers — says she wanted to take the costuming even further.
“I tried to have more fun with the costumes and just push things visually a bit more than I did for the first season because I realised how much of an audience there was for the show,” she tells Refinery29. “People were excited about the costumes, and that was surprising and inspiring for me.”
Despite a two-year gap between the releases, the story in the second season (streaming now with new episodes dropping on Sundays) begins just a couple of weeks after the first one ended. With this in mind, Bivens says that staying consistent with the timeline and characters’ styles was a priority — and a challenge. She continued to mix thrifted pieces with designer clothes and further evolved dress codes for each personality. But while last season Bivens was concerned with the idea that “most young people in high school don't have a ton of money to spend on clothes,” this time around, she was less realistic about the budget.
Take, for example, the popular cheerleader Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and good girl playwright Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow) — two sisters with opposite personalities — whom Bivens dressed up in Prada and Miu Miu, respectively. “I just decided that whatever I felt could help tell a story visually that even if it was an item of clothing that realistically the character wouldn't be able to afford, I still went for it,” Bivens says. That also included a vintage Jean Paul Gaultier vest, seen on Rue (Zendaya), and a 2018 Blumarine green robe and slip dress worn by Maddy (Alexa Demie).
While Bivens allowed herself to work with designer archives and high-fashion collections this season for the fantasy factor — see: the fashion montage in Episode 2 when Maddy sneaks into the closet of the woman she nannies for, slipping into vintage Dior, Mugler, Valentino, and Chanel pieces — she says that most of the pieces came from thrifting, ordering custom-made clothing that would fit a character’s personality, and using designs by independent designers she found on Instagram. “It’s very exciting for me to be able to help brands get that kind of exposure on the show. I think more people are aware of what they're doing and hopefully, it could change their year,” she says.
Bivens tapped emerging designers like Mimi Wade, Jerome Peels of Peels, and Aidan Euan of Akna. For the season’s opening scene, Bivens opted to dress Marie O’Neill (Fezco’s drug-selling, violence prone-grandmother, played by Kathrine Narducci) in custom-made suiting by New York-based bespoke tailor Amber Doyle: In the flashback scene, we see her stepping out of the car in a royal blue suit with the words “God’s Word, God’s Will” embroidered on the back. “We discussed the personality of the character and kind of the certain attitude that she had,” Doyle says. “I feel like a suit, in general, is for somebody who’s extremely confident, really has a great sense of self, and you can really see that comes through in this character.”
For up-and-coming designers, being featured on a critically-acclaimed, award-winning show like Euphoria can become a lifeline at a time when many brands are turning off their lights amid the pandemic. That was the case for Jerome Peel’s namesake brand Peels, which he launched in 2016 and that almost didn’t survive the recent economic downturn. “Coming back to this right after, we're kind of coming out of it. It was one of the reasons why we exist,” says Peels. “She [Bivens] is helping small brands make it one by one.”
While Peels, a brand focused on utilitarian, genderless clothing, had been featured in the first season — with a navy blue embroidered short-sleeve shirt worn by Rue — the designer says that, this time around, the excitement feels even bigger. In the two years since the show has been on pause, Zendaya has become a major force in fashion with the help of her stylist Law Roach, even receiving the CFDA Fashion Icon Award in 2021. “I think that no matter how many pieces I sell or how long I'm in the show, none of that matters when you have that validation from Zendaya and Heidi,” he says. “That means you're on the right path.”
Much like Peels, designer Mimi Wade says that Biven’s stamp of approval is a brand-defining moment. “She is a real inspiration,” Wade says. For this season, Bivens used Wade’s designs for Kat (Barbie Ferreira), who wore a babydoll dress with puff sleeves in the first episode. “Kat has a strong sense of what she thinks is cool and isn’t really swayed by trends or what her peers are wearing.”
For the rest of the cast, Bivens tapped into trends from the ‘90s and early ‘00s — see: cut-outs, opera gloves, mini skirts, and wide-leg jeans — that have become the defining styles of Gen Z in the 2020s. For Bivens, it’s also a way to look at her own generation’s past: “It's just this idea of like everything sort of comes back again, and for me, it's nostalgic.”