Photo via IMDb.

The Designer Creating 'The Beach Bum's Wild, Pure-Id Look

GARAGE talks to Heidi Bivens, the costume designer behind Harmony Korine's latest film.

by Kelsey Lawrence
Mar 22 2019, 1:35pm

Photo via IMDb.

You might expect that the flame-print suit, aquamarine Floridian hedonism of Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum would be saturated with neon. It was the defining palette, after all, of 2013’s Spring Breakers, his first id-by-the-beach film that might be single-handedly responsible for the DayGlo resuscitation still seen today in the hot pinks and slime greens of Instagram clothing.

Heidi Bivens, stylist and costume designer, says she “specifically tried to stay away from neon” in Korine’s upcoming film The Beach Bum, out March 29 from VICE Studios and starring Matthew McConaughey as poet/stoner Moondog (a role, by all accounts, he is made for), Zac Efron, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Martin Lawrence, and Jimmy Freakin’ Buffett.

The film’s wardrobe is no less frenetic, set against a deceptively serene south Florida tableau of pools and palm trees. There are cosmic Uggs, two-piece cabana sets, silk robes, Bluetooth headsets, Lilly Pulitzer golf prints and parrots on cocaine. Bivens chatted with GARAGE about creating the unbridled Florida-man wardrobe for McConaughey’s Moondog, the sometimes-homeless, crossdressing icon who was the inspiration for Moondog’s style, and confirmed that Buffett provided all of his own costumes.

What was the process for creating this crazy Florida aesthetic for The Beach Bum ?

Harmony had contacted me probably at least a year before we started shooting to tell me about the project, and then he would periodically send me references—like inspiration— photographs of real people in South Florida and the Keys, mostly old-timer expat kind of characters. It was really about getting down to Florida, and soaking up all the local color, and being able to travel down to Key West and see the locals for myself. That was a good part of the inspiration.

What was it like translating what you saw in Florida into the costumes for the film?

We were able to take inspiration from real characters, but then also embellish and take creative license and create more pronounced, exaggerated aspects of real people that we would come across. That had a lot to do with colors and fabrics.

When Moondog starts crossdressing in the film, [we were] borrowing from real women of the Keys who I would see hanging around, but then making it a little bit more absurd in terms of playing up the comedy. Whenever there was a question as to which direction to go regarding costume, Harmony would always push us to play up the comedy.

Where would you go in the Keys to encounter the sorts of people who were inspiration?

They're pretty much everywhere. If you just walk down the streets of the Keys, there's a big population of people who have gone down there to sort of check out, who aren't really interested in being part of the rest of the U.S. and what's going on, and who've gone there to, either retire, or be day drinkers, or are maybe running from the law. All kinds of reasons. But there is a general sort of laid-back quality that lends itself to a character like Moondog down there.

Are there some people who stand out as inspiration, or were they just kind of random people?

There was one person in particular who actually isn't from Florida, but he is a fixture in Austin, Texas. Someone had brought it to my attention that there was this guy, Leslie [Cochran], who spent a lot of time on the street and was very locally famous for wearing women's clothes— and not just women's clothes, but women's underwear in the streets. And that he is just this wild character, who's super free-spirited.

That sort of realness, the idea of there being this kind of character in the world who is playing by his own rules and doing his own thing, that was an inspiration in terms of that type of person and that type of character. I looked at a lot of pictures of him when I was starting to create the ladies looks for Moondog.

I know you also did Spring Breakers , and it's set in a similar Florida situation, even though, obviously, they’re very different films. What was it like diving back into this environment?

I'm always happy to dive back into that world. When we were shooting Spring Breakers, there was a tabloid story of these three girls who went on a crime spree in Clearwater, which was just north of where we were shooting around that time. To me, these characters existed, and I was building their look based on an aesthetic about colors and silhouette, but also grounding it in what I imagined could be a reality. With The Beach Bum, and specifically Moondog and some of the other characters, I gave myself a little more freedom to be able to focus more on creating fun visuals that would play for comedy.

I think that has a lot to do with the genre because The Beach Bum is kind of a broad comedy, and Spring Breakers was more of a cautionary tale, if you will. I think the genre is different in that way. But I did try to be aware not to repeat myself, I tried not to use neon colors in The Beach Bum. There are a lot of bright colors, but I specifically tried to stay away from neon and just tried to do something different.

Where was a lot of the wardrobe sourced from?

We were able to build a majority of the costumes. I was given a seamstress for the whole shoot, which is not always the case on every movie I do. All of Moondog's shorts-and-shirt sets, a take on the fifties cabana set with the loose dad fit, we were able to build all those. And his flames suit that he wears for the wedding sequence, we built that. A lot of Snoop's character's wardrobe was custom-made because he's not an off-the-rack size.

Minnie, played by Isla Fisher, her costumes were sourced in Miami, because her character's a wealthy woman, and we wanted to use known brands that people might recognize as equalling her wealth. Like she wears a Roberto Cavalli dress to the wedding, and she wears a Gucci dress in one scene.

Did you have a favorite character to dress?

Moondog, for sure. He has an evolution in his wardrobe, and I won't give it all away. No spoilers. But there is an evolution there, and it was the most fun I've ever had in fittings. [McConaughey] was very open, a great collaborator, and just so silly. Like wanting to have fun and not take himself seriously. I've never laughed so hard.

I mean, he stays in character. At least he did on that film, like pretty much the whole time. Whenever he would arrive to set, he was Moondog. I don't know that I really know Matthew. I know Moondog, but ( laughs) I don't know that I actually really know Matthew. I'm sure Matthew's a lovely human being, too.

Did you dress Jimmy Buffett?

No, Jimmy wore his own stuff, but he would bring options, and we would just tell him what would look good.

How do you think people will look back on the costume design and aesthetic from The Beach Bum ?

Hopefully people's takeaway will be something at least to similar to what Harmony was hoping to do with this film, which is provide an antidote to what's going on in the world today. I don't have to start listing the reasons why people need a good laugh in these times. I think that more than anything, he wanted to make a film where people could walk in a theater and sit down and just laugh their asses off. There are some underlying messages that could be read into in the film, and I think that's up to the audience as to what their takeaway is.

But I don't think he set off to do anything overly intellectual with this film. I think that there is a lot that could be observed and interpreted in the character of Moondog and how he lives his life, in regards to bigger issues, but for the most part, I mean, honestly, he wanted to make a stoner comedy.

Harmony Korine
Spring Breakers
the beach bum
heidi bivens