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How Costume Designer Heidi Bivens Secretly Created Your Wardrobe

Rachel Tashjian

Back in November 2017, when director Harmony Korine started filming The Beach Bum, his costume designer, Heidi Bivens, asked the director if she should call in some flame-print Ugg boots designed by their friend Jeremy Scott. The aesthetic was almost eerily perfect for Korine’s universe—high fashion meets bad taste—and after all, Korine had told Bivens, “I just want [Matthew McConaughey] to look like he’s on fire.” But they decided against it, Bivens said. “Harmony was like, ‘We can’t use any fashion, because whatever we do is going to end up becoming fashion.’ ”

That seems to have happened even faster than Korine and Bivens thought. As soon as filming began, paparazzi images began circulating from the set, a year and a half before the movie’s March 29 release date. The images went viral: By now you’ve surely seen countless photographs of McConaughey, who plays the wandering Florida stoner Moondog, with his hair a stringy, bleach-blond straggle, wearing a burnt-orange-and-blue palm-tree-print shirt with matching shorts, and white tube socks and Velcro dad sneakers.

Costume designer Heidi Bivens gets ready to ride her Vespa scooter in Soho in New York City

Bivens out and about.
Splash News

Or in a grandma’s Florida condo chintz-print blouse and shorts. Or skateboarding in silver Uggs appliqued with purple sequin hearts. Every look was more ridiculous than the last: in mid-December, McConaughey was in a kind of cheesy ’90s mall version of a Memphis Design pattern, riding a hoverboard while eating a lobster with his hands. His shirt was unbuttoned, and he was wearing a lobster bib. It was righteous.

As images kept arriving over the next few months, it was like there were two performances happening: the film itself, and the making of the film, distinct from the movie’s plot, which unfolded with its own cinematic twists and surprises. Here was Isla Fisher, playing Moondog’s girlfriend Minnie, in skintight jersey with a giant pink margarita glass. There was Snoop Dogg, wearing purple silk paisley. Then Zac Efron showed up, in a denim vest covered in evangelical Christian patches, his beard carved into stripes (Korine recently said this was inspired by “a panini”), and his badly bleached hair moussed into a freakish wedge. Then McConaughey was reading a book that matched his shirt and wearing a madras blazer while wearing two pairs of glasses. Tom and Lorenzo called it “the role he was born to play.”

Korine has a pretty bizarre conception of celebrity; he doesn’t so much wink as he does look at you, deadpan, and blink slowly. It seemed like McConaughey was playing a caricature of the most extreme version of public persona—“Alright alright alriiiiiiight” but with a wardrobe to express the joyful chaos of his inner life—and Efron was toying with his inherent cheesiness, and Snoop Dogg was...getting paid to play Snoop Dogg, the ultimate Snoop Dogg finesse. The film’s costumes, and the moments that seemed to erupt in tandem with their exuberance, were so extreme, so potent, that if the film never came out, we’d still have felt its influence.

And then a weird thing started happening. Uggs came back into style. Prada showed a flame-print suit last summer. Footwear News wrote that Justin Bieber appeared at Coachella “dressed up like Matthew McConaughey’s character in the actor’s upcoming film, The Beach Bum,” and in June, Vanity Fair anointed Bieber and Jonah Hill and Pete Davidson as kings of “scumbro” style—“the R.E.I.-clad trustafarian co-ed meets Supreme. It’s pizza for breakfast and caviar pizza for dinner.” The film hasn’t even been released yet, but its fingerprints are all over fashion already. How did Bivens and Korine tap into the unlikely way that a ton of guys are dressing before this movie has even come out yet?

Witness Matthew McConaughey at His Sun-Baked, Kitten-Cuddling Best

“The costume designer's incredible, Heidi Bivens," says Hayes. "She did Spring Breakers, and she also did Jonah Hill's movie, Mid 90s. She's kind of like an auteur costume designer. It's incredible what she does.”
Korine and McConaughey relaxing on set. “Even when they were not rolling camera, him and Harmony would kind of be hanging out and just shooting the breeze. They definitely had a really amazing way of communicating.”
“I think in the film he says, ‘I gotta go low to get high.’ He definitely kind of lives the life of a grimy Key West beach bum.”
“The kitten is one of our early introductions to Moondog, the protagonist in the movie. He just happens upon this perfect white kitten, in a drunken, raw, on the dock—he's just like, stumbling drunk. He comes across this kitten, and it becomes his kind of, like, sidekick in the first segment of the film. You look at this dude, and he seems kind of like a wild street drunk, but then he has this kitten and you realize he's kind of, like, an amazing, innocent soul, you know?”
“It’s like this character, Moondog, has taken the idea of vacation and kind of made it his whole life.”
“Key West, it's just one of these places...that has these kind of people that could only exist in that ecosystem. These are his tribe, kind of. If you've been to any of these places like Key West, where outsiders end up going—you can day drink your whole life and it's all good, nobody's gonna cough at you.”
Korine and McConaughey wound up sharing the typewriter a lot. “It is Moondog's typewriter in the film. He's not exactly, like, an iPhone guy.”
As the film continues, Moondog runs through some of his luck. “That's, in a way, one of the biggest tensions in the film, letting all this bad stuff happen to him,” while maintaining his good vibes.
Harmony Korine on set.
“He's a poet, an over-the-hill literary celebrity. We get those every once in a while. He's kind of like a throwback to when you could be a literary star, you know?”
Korine takes over Moondog’s typewriter.
At one point, Moondog visits the home of his wife, played by Isla Fisher. “He comes back to Miami, to his wife and his mansion. He's just kind of out of place. In a way, he's going into her world. He's wearing her clothes.”
“He's kind of living the dream in a certain sense, but as every single Behind the Music ever has shown, you're making deposits in a sadness bank, that the bill comes due for at some point.”
“Nobody had any problems with [the photos]. It was like, everybody was just doing their thing. It was for real. It all felt very natural, you know?”
Hayes says the shooting felt like a vacation, “but a very surreal one... That's the dream of the rock star, the art star that he is.”

It isn’t that Bivens is some kind of sleazecore whisperer; by all appearances, she seems to be a cool blonde who wears a lot of black clothing by The Row and Christopher Kane. Instead, Bivens shares Korine’s bizarre Gen X vibe: an obsession with subculture and brands and ideas and people the mainstream might overlook or discount, whether that’s Uggs or Disney stars. But The Beach Bum isn’t the first time she’s filtered those interests into film. Bivens, who is 42, started her career working in magazines, styling for W, Purple, and Vogue, and has worked as a costume designer since the early 2000s—she’s styled music videos for Kanye West and Beck, for example, and did costumes for David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006), and that great Spike Jonze Kenzo perfume ad from 2016 in which Margaret Quallay dances like a maniac, and short fashion films directed by the likes of Tim Barber, Cass Bird, and Daphne Guinness.

More recently, her approach has bled into—or straight-up helped inspire—the current ’90s revival. In addition to Korine’s upcoming film, Bivens also worked last year as the costume designer for Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s. “I hired Heidi three years before we even started shooting,” Hill told GQ around the time of the film’s release. “I knew very early on who I wanted to do costumes.” In other words, she’s sort of a legend in that universe. For that film, she scoured her stash of contemporaneous skate magazines and recreated graphic T-shirts by brands like Blind and Chocolate; she even called in Spike Jonze to look at a screen test to make sure the baggy fit of the jeans was just right.

Jonze is a telling reference: Bivens has that Gen X energy, though hers leans distinctly more toward that era’s cool girls. She has the same “girls have to stick together” outlook, protective without mothering, that helped make Kim Gordon, Natasha Lyonne, and Chloe Sevigny icons. That led her to Korine, who she’d never actually met despite moving in the same skateboarding, fashion, and art circles throughout the ’90s. “We have a lot of mutual friends in common, like more than I can count, but I just never knew him when he was in New York,” she said. So when Spring Breakers was moving into production, she asked her then-agent set up a meeting, for which she went down to see Korine in Nashville. (He now lives in Florida.) “And I think it was clear to him from the start that we could have a shorthand,” Bivens said.

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Atsushi Nishijima - Courtesy of NEON and VICE

Her background makes her a unique quantity in Korine’s universe. When we talked about her first working with Korine on Spring Breakers, for example, which stars three young women opposite a savage James Franco and an extremely hard Gucci Mane, she said that she and Korine both felt “that it would be beneficial to have a female costume designer working with the girls. There were a lot of times during that shoot where the girls could have felt vulnerable, and I think it was good for them to have me to lean on and turn to in terms of building the wardrobe for the film.”

But something feels different this time around. I told her that, while lots of people are thinking about The Beach Bum as Korine’s magnum opus—his most fully realized and coherent film—it feels like her magnum opus, too. Something about the insane coherence of its chaotic look feels inevitable, like Korine and Bivens have been waiting to articulate this for a long time.

As she did in Mid90s, for example, she called on her long term brain trust for The Beach Bum. Efron’s vest, for example, is a piece Bivens made in collaboration with New York artist Chris Habib, another friend and fan of both Korine and Bivens. “I told him about Zac’s character—that he was sort of a nihilist, but also a Jesus freak. And he just took the ball and ran with it.” The patches are earnestly boneheaded, and therefore hilarious: “These ARE my church clothes,” reads one.

Korine and Bivens are sort of like the Astaire and Rogers of bad taste: he dictates the broad strokes, and she fills them in with fancy and totally absurd footwork. “He writes a lot of detail in his script regarding how he sees the clothing, and how he sees the costume,” she said. Like the Uggs: Korine put them in the script, but Bivens painted them silver and added the purple sequin hearts. Or the marabou feather pink robe: “It’s written into the script that he would be wearing Minnie’s robe, and then it was up to me to interpret what that robe would be. I just wanted to make it ridiculous and over the top.”

And maybe that’s the secret of The Beach Bum’s style: there’s an appealing zeal that’s made the look so viral. Being totally dedicated to A Look has historically meant setting boundaries—that’s the appeal of men’s suiting—but the more dedicated you become to looking wild, the freer you are. Who wouldn’t want to dress like that? Like when Snoop Dogg wears a Snoop Dogg robe: “He just showed up on set that day to shoot a scene in that robe,” she said. “You don’t really tell Snoop Dogg what to do.” She and Harmony decided to just let him wear it. “And in the end, it kind of creates another comedic moment, if people even notice that it says ‘Snoop Dogg’ on it,” she said. “It’s obvious that Snoop Dogg is basically playing Snoop Dogg.”

Or when Korine told Bivens that McConaughey should look like he was on fire. “I don’t even think he was specifically thinking of literal flames—we ended up using this photorealistic print of flames—but he just wanted to convey visually that he was on fire,” Bivens said. “I just wanted to make it ridiculous and over the top. Because we were really going for comedy. That was stressed throughout the visual direction: if we had a choice, go for comedy.” Good fashion is so serious; doesn’t it feel good to be able to laugh at it for once?

I asked Bivens how she accounts for the strange coincidences—the Uggs, the flames, the scumbros. “We chose [McConaughey]’s shoes before we realized that there was a dad shoe trend happening,” she said, and “Harmony said this thing about how he wanted it to look like he was on fire before that season came out for Prada. And Prada has used flames in their archive, so it’s not that Miuccia saw the paparazzi photos and then was inspired.”

“But I like to think that there is a creative ether that exists, and we’re all influenced by stuff even when we don’t realize it, even if we’re not conscious of it.” As for whether the film’s release will mean even more guys dressing a la McConaughey and Snoop, Bivens said, “We’ll see what happens this summer. I think it’s fun because it’s not taking itself too seriously. And I’m happy to see that, just because it feels refreshing.” Catch you guys on my hoverboard.