In the show, Schafer is Jules Vaughn, a transfeminine high school student who befriends/has a romance with classmate Rue Bennett (Zendaya), a 17-year-old addict just out of rehab. Euphoria marked Schafer’s first foray into acting after she saw a casting call on Instagram. It wasn’t until filming started on the sixth episode or so that the former runway model (she’s walked for Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs and Christian Dior) realised she could do it. “I’m comfortable with this,” she recalls thinking. “I know Jules.”
Telling stories that mirror her own journey was part of the allure. “As someone who holds a lot of privilege, I definitely have the trans community on my mind,” Schafer says. “I want to use what I’ve done as a pathway for others.”
As for Euphoria’s graphic nature, Schafer doesn’t sugar-coat it. “Usually I’ll just say it’s a show following a group of high schoolers navigating love, sex, drugs, violence, etc.,” she says. “But I’ve had friends say they can’t watch. It might be triggering for them, and—hell, yeah—I understand. It’s not for everyone.”
Among those who were perhaps nervous to watch the finished product was her family back in Raleigh, North Carolina. While Schafer’s three younger siblings all loved it, the racy subject matter could rattle even liberal parents. Fortunately, her mother and her father, a presbyterian pastor, were also supportive. “They watched it and they’ve been really great,” Schafer says. “Though I don’t think it’s the kind of thing they’ll watch again.” Schafer says she probably won’t, either. It was hard enough to see herself on-screen once.
But that won’t stop her from stepping into Jules’ stylishly scuffed combat boots for Euphoria’s second season this year. Though Schafer hasn’t seen any of the new scripts, she communicates often with creator Sam Levinson, usually to send him music she thinks would be good for the show. “Music is actually a very private thing for me,” Schafer says. Drawing and painting are also modes of meditation that help alleviate her anxiety, something she has been working through since adolescence.
“Anxiety is a hard thing to describe,” she admits. “It’s a never-ending journey, figuring out how to reconcile some of that. Making art is definitely what I’ve used to find peace. It allows me to take something that I’m holding onto and release it in some way.” Given her modelling background, Schafer has an artistic eye that extends to fashion as well, although she saves her most transformative looks for red-carpet outings. One night it could be a pearl-encrusted skirt suit from Christopher Kane (paired with pearl face jewellery, natch), another a black fringed halter dress by Loewe or a bold graphic cocktail dress by Mugler.
“I like the cross-section of art and fashion,” Schafer says, noting that she favours outré labels such as Comme des Garçons, Rick Owens and Hood By Air. “You have more room to breathe when you’re not thinking about who you’re marketing to or how many pieces you’re going to sell. The designer sees a void in the world of fashion that they want to fill. They’re making these pieces because they are pushing themselves to do it. It’s much closer to art and more exciting than something that’s based off a trend forecast.”
One bonus of Euphoria’s success is that Schafer is “actually able to afford things now”—though the local op shops are still personal favourites. “The ones in North Carolina are better than the ones here in Los Angeles,” she says. “Not as picked through. I’ve found Comme des Garçons there for $5.”
Staying low-key off-screen also helps her navigate her fame—whenever she’s dressed up, she gets recognised. (Jules Vaughn was a popular Halloween costume last year.) And forget about shopping at any gen-Z locale. Since Euphoria, Schafer has had to rethink where she gets her undergarments from after some shopping trips saw her mobbed by fans. “It’s kind of crazy,” she says, shaking her head and letting out a quick laugh. “But if you have any ideas of where I should get underwear and socks, let me know!”
Photographed by Sebastian Faena. Styled by Julia von Boehm. Hair by Danilo. Make-up by Sandy Ganzer. Manicure by Shigeko Taylor.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of InStyle.