Individual Photo Credits
Transcript/Intro: Camille Bavera
Video Intro and Edit: Zoe Adlersberg
Brownstone Cowboys asked two of our friends - stylist, Heidi Bivens and designer, Sofia Prantera - to come together and discuss their work in fashion around gender identity. Euphoria, for which Heidi heads costume design/styling, has been highly successful in blurring the lines between androgyny and fashion while Sofia’s brand Aries, since day one, has made a place for gender fluidity based in skate culture and the boyish XL girl fits she grew up with. How has fashion changed in order to gel with the more genderfluid times? How does the media represent gender fluidity? When will department stores realize there is a land beyond the duality of men’s and women’s departments?
The confines of gender in fashion are outdated; we should only have to concern ourselves with expression.
Sofia Prantera always intended to create a genderless line - her roots in the ‘90s skate world led her to bring oversized clothes to womenswear. Stores wouldn’t display her clothing line as she would have liked - men’s and women’s side by side in a department store with the intention of allowing buyers to float in between the gendered sections without judgment. Aries has become a true champion of androgynous streetwear and paved the way for skaters and streetwear designers alike in every corner of the globe.
When it comes to Heidi Bivens work, it’s the same case, different scene. Her styling on coming-of-age filmography like Spring Breakers, Euphoria, and Mid90’s have landed her as a lauded Hollywood stylist who has been most famously applauded for her rebellion of typical teen fashion on Euphoria, exchanging basic streetwear for elevated ready-to-wear on the backs of supermodel bodies like Zendaya and Hunter Schafer. Bivens may have strong muses that influence every project but her determination to bring across her own point of view is also crystal clear.
Heidi: Okay, cool. I'm so excited to meet you. It's been forever that I feel like I've known you. And this is the first time we've actually seen each other face to face.
Sofia: I'm a real fan of your show and past things that you've done. And I really, really find what you do inspiring in the way it gels with what I do. So it's really amazing to meet you. .
H: Well, since day one of my styling career, I think what you've done has spoken to the aesthetic that I'm interested in. I've been aware of your work as a designer since the early early days when you were at Slam City. And then I was a huge fan of your last label, Silas. I bought Silas, I wore Silas,. I actually just went online recently and looked up vintage Silas, which you still can find, by the way. And then I thought how fun it would be to put it in season three of Euphoria - like, Easter egg surprise.
S: I actually have archives, so you don’t have to go buy it, you can get archives if you want!
H: Omg, yes that would be amazing! Aries is one of my favorite brands of all time, and I just love what you do and I wanted to talk to you about the initial genesis of the brand based on you, where you came from, and then how you ended up with Aries. So, just the general trajectory of how you got to where you are now with the company? You started it with Fergus Purcell?
S: I mean it's interesting, you know, because when we started the brand, the pillars of the brand were always there, but it was hard because we did start it in 2009. And, actually Fergus is not involved anymore. He was involved in the original identity for the brand, but then he started working full time for Palace in 2010. Aries was always meant to be a genderless brand. And I think that the idea of it being genderless came from the fact that I grew up in skateboarding, and that's where my visuals and aesthetic came from, because I always was wearing men's clothes. And even the time before Silas, when there was Extra Large and x-girl and all those labels that we grew up loving, there were also the interchangeable lines between womenswear, menswear, and women would wear, you know, some of one and some of the other. It didn't make sense to me to make two lines as a start, so we thought we'll make something and then we'll sell it as one line. People might want to buy this side of it or might want to buy that side of it... but it was a complete disaster! People just didn't get it then back then.
“Aries was always meant to be a genderless brand...the idea came from the fact that I grew up in skateboarding, and that's where my visuals and aesthetic came from, because I always was wearing men's clothes.” - Sofia
Even now, everyone talks about it, but it's still really something that is not in the commercial world. For example, we were talking with a big online retailer the other day, and they said, “You know, you still have to do this as menswear, and this as women's wear.” It's 12 years later, it's still something that's not quite as straightforward as we hoped. Your work has really helped in this way because when I saw what you did with Euphoria, I started looking at your older work, which actually, I was also familiar with - I just didn't know it was you. And I realized that you were illustrating within a real life scenario or semi-real life scenario what we were trying to do with fashion. I think you really helped make it click.
H: I just got goosebumps when you said that!
S: I watched the first season of Euphoria with my 16 year old daughter and it was like, this is what I wanted because it had the same energy of a Supreme video, you know, I'll still go watch one of William’s throwback videos, but Euphoria was for isn't gendered and was also depicting women behaving in that way, it felt very empowering.
And maybe it's because I've been around a long time and I'm from a slightly older generation, I always had these problems like, 'how do you translate this kind of attitude into womenswear?' I've always felt apologetic, in a way, when I was putting womenswear together, you know, and I think what you did with Euphoria was to give it the energy that it needed.
H: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right about how we still have a long way to go in terms of a general market accepting this idea of a fluid way of dressing. I think one of the things that stands out in my mind about the fashion industry is how they've taken their sweet time to embrace this whole concept of non-gender dressing, is when I used to do more editorial and I would request from specific brands in Italy and France. I would want to put menswear on a woman and sometimes I'd want to put what they called womenswear and showed on a runway, as womenswear, on a man. But I was told I couldn't do that (by the brands) and that they wouldn't lend me the clothes if I was planning on doing that.
But I remember at the time thinking how short sighted it was, just because I knew what was coming. I remember that always being frustrating for me. And then the other thing about my style, which varies a lot depending on my mood, but but I usually find myself wanting menswear and I'm petite and I can't find it in my size. But I if I walk into a boutique that sells different designers, most of the time I don't want anything in the women's store. And then I walk into the men's store and I want everything, especially the Japanese brands, I want everything cut down to my size, it's so frustrating.
" I think one of the things that stands out in my mind about the fashion industry is how they've taken their sweet time to embrace this whole concept of non-gender dressing." - Heidi
S: Commercially, it's because we have big stores that, for example, I want to represent womenswear now but they buy into our brand and they say there's no commercial womenswear. But the reality is that the commercial womenswear for us is the menswear. And then maybe there are bits that are more gender specific for girls, and even though a lot of boys wear them, they're still specific.
We were bought by Selfridges for the first time - great buy. We’ve dealt with them before and it had never really worked out. But actually this time when the menswear buyer came, he bought men's and women's clothing, and put it all on the menswear floor. I thought ‘so cool, this guy's a genius.’ because they did a proper ‘genderfluid’ buy instead of a more male-skewed buy.
Right now I’ve been noticing, weirdly more in Italy than in the UK, a lot of bands and celebrities that are deciding to wear the women's wear pieces within quite a masculine setting. Or pieces that you would traditionally associate with a women's wear store, actually worn by pop stars and rappers and they just got to the other side, which I think is even more genius. I love it. I think that's the future.
“But the reality is that the commercial womenswear for us is the menswear.” - Sofia
H: Well, I'm also really interested in your design process. I think I relate to you a lot because I've read that collaboration is really important to you and that your approach to working with your team is very egalitarian; every idea is valid. As a stylist, I obviously need help, and so I have assistants. But as a costume designer, I have a big team and I'm managing and delegating. So I was wondering what's an average week like for you with Aries and how do you work with your team?
S: We have quite a much bigger team now on design, and I do have a design director now. Everyone will do research, and research will go on the wall - and we work very much with process in mind. So for us, we're really process driven in a way and maybe a lot of skate brands don't work like us. They work where you might send a picture, or you might send a reference to the factory, but we are very much developing a lot of it in house. We have sewing machines and washing machines. We start developing things fast so that when we're sending them to the factory, we know what we want already. It's unique in that way.
A lot of our team were friends or people that we met through friends - we haven't really as yet done a proper hiring system. It's more of where, you know, everyone who ended up there were the interns or involved the brand in some way or another. . I guess as a designer, and this is probably where I stand differently from a lot of my peers, I’ve never wanted to design under my own name. I have zero interest in being successful as a person; I think it's much more about a brand and a world that I create. I don’t do my own social media.
H: I can relate.
S: Are you comfortable in this world of social media?
H: I would call myself pretty shy. I can relate in that I hope my peers and others will see the work, but like, don’t look at me. I think that there's freedom when it becomes about the work and not about yourself.
S: Exactly. And you can create these worlds where you can be you, and not be you, you can draw your own line. For instance on Instagram, I get a lot of DMs (on the Aries account) and I am interacting with people who maybe don’t know they’re interacting with me. We still don’t have that many followers, so they’re pretty manageable.
H: It’s fascinating though, because it’s always moving so fast, and you can keep going down and down (Instagram) like a rabbit hole.
S: For me it’s Instagram casting, you know, I become obsessed with people; there are quite a few models in our campaigns that have come from social media. I’m always on the lookout.
Oh and Heidi, I wanted to say that my favorite look that you did was in Beachbum! (2019 with Harmony Korn film). One of my friends called me and said, “Oh my God Sof, they made a film about you!” I was him! In that moment of my life, that was how I was dressing. He was kind of a male version of me. You know, it was a joke, but it was also kind of real.
H: Yeah, that film reminds me of Euphoria in a way where it’s like a hyper reality, and Aries’ aesthetic speaks to that as well. Not relying on what we see in the world, it's what we imagine it could be aesthetically. There's definitely a lot of crossover in our aesthetics. Maybe because we come from similar sort of background references.
S: Yes! The whole American aesthetic and post punk references were really really formative for me. Big Brother Magazine, Grand Royal Magazine, all the advertising the skate brands were doing…was so much more interesting to me than what fashion was doing at that time. And so it’s that way you know what’s happening in fashion, but you slightly rebel against it, because it is not your world. It's not right. There's a reality difference.
S: Yes skate culture definitely influenced both of us, which brings that overlap in what we do. I mean….for your work, how did you prepare for Euphoria? I know that you’ve done film, and styling, but how did you prepare to create those characters?
“I hope my peers and others will see the work, but don’t look at me. I think that there's freedom when it becomes about the work and not about yourself.” - Heidi
H: When I received the pilot script, that was (going to be) the first time I had ever done television, so I approached it like I would a film. And the way I approached films is informed by how I approach editorial. So it's definitely story building. Because I have a background in fashion, the resources for inspiration, I think, can be different than sometimes your average costume designer. Similar to someone like Arianne Phillips or Jacoba Leesy who works with the Safdie brothers. Once you've worked in fashion, your net that you cast for (design) resources for design is much greater.
S: Was it part of the script that you should have a fashion eye? Is that why you were involved in the first place?
H: No, Sam (Levinson) actually hired me because of my work with Harmony (Korine). He’s definitely focussed on aesthetics. You see that in his first film, Assasination Nation, and then in the show - it’s become a look that he and his DP’s strive for. I'm guessing in 10-20 years when students are studying film theory, they’ll look back on this era of filmmaking, and there’ll be some term attached to this look - like Benoit Debie who did Gaspard Noe’s Into the Void, or Spring Breakers, or Beach Bum - there are certain films that have this aesthetic - this sort of hyper surreal - and I instinctively knew that was where he was coming from.
I remember the first day I met Zendaya, it was a pilot meeting, and she came in wearing a white tank and simple blue jeans. I remember thinking: “Is anything about her right now the character?” Of course it didn’t end up that way, and what I mean from this story is that, from the very beginning I didn’t know…it came out over time while learning more about the story and the character trajectories, and knowing it was important to differentiate between the characters in an ensemble cast. And I didn’t want anyone to look too similar. Honestly, there are little parts of me and my style in a lot of the characters, but especially Rue.
I was really excited when streetwear came back into fashion in a really big way in the last ten years, skateboarding came back in a really big way - and then translated into designer fashion and runway. When I look at the stuff I used to wear - heels and skinny jeans (so embarrassing, ha) I was really excited when the comfortable silhouette came back into fashion and really leaned into that with Rue. You can relate it to whichever gender or neither gender… it really boils down to this idea of comfortability with her.
S: What’s really amazing in the second season is that she manages to look confrontational, and I love that. What I find really fascinating with women is when someone who’s beautiful manages to look ugly, and she personifies that.
H: In the second season I thought it really important to not make her ‘style-y’ in a way that girls would want to be her because it’s fucked up what she’s going through! And I didn’t want to glamorize her lifestyle. In the first season there was a Beach Bum Hawaiian shirt moment, and happier colors because she had gone to rehab and fell in love with Jules, and then in the second season my gut told me I couldn’t do anything like that because it was irresponsible of me.
She has a specific style and silhouette that speaks to the streetwear cultures we love, but I didn't want to put her in anything trendy because of the stuff Rue was going through.
And then with Jules, from first season to second season…Hunter’s got such great style, too. I I don't think the character is representative of Hunter’s personal style, but she has great instincts, she's been an incredible collaborator. It was exciting for me to work with Hunter, and to know that we were making groundbreaking television. It was so brave to break ground in this way, we hadn't seen a character like Jules on television. A teen character, a trans character. I commend her so much, and I’m so excited for her career and everything she's going to do. I hope that, and think that, her being on the show has opened up a lot of people's perspectives.
S: I think that’s what's really important and what’s come out of Euphoria in general: The fragility of some of the characters is also their strength, and putting that fragility on TV and making characters out of it, will make people identify with those characters and hopefully realize that there's a strength to their diversity. Sometimes it seems really obvious, but it takes something that's that in your face to make people realize that what they’re feeling is acceptable. It normalizes the conversation. Obviously as a woman it’s one thing, but as a trans teen or someone fighting with their sexuality, it's so important to show it is normalized and can be your strength. I really believe that gender shouldn’t exist, that we’re some shade of gray - it’s that black and white division that creates the problems. But if you saw it as a spectrum of differences, not so black and white, I think teens would find it easier to accept who they are. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but I think you did it with Euphoria, and fashion didn’t overtake it.
"I think that’s what's really important and what’s come out of Euphoria in general: The fragility of some of the characters is also their strength, and putting that fragility on TV and making characters out of it will make people identify with them and hopefully realize that there's a strength to their diversity." - Sofia
H: Thank you, that’s what we tried to do. One of my really big hopes is that by showing all these styles on the show that are pushing what we see in reality will help young people and all people - feel inspired to be themselves and to dress the way they want to dress while not feeling stifled by judgment. We’re coming out of a time (before the pandemic) where a lot of bullying was happening in schools, which I think went down when kids weren’t together in a physical space. But I think and hope that showing this kind of style on the show will give people license to express themselves in ways they wouldn’t have before the show, and so the bullies will have less power.
The new flagship Aries store has just opened at 31 Great Pulteney Street, Soho, London.
Heid's Bivens just published a book "Ephoria Fashion" that is available for purchase online.