Hari Nef on Embracing Beauty in Times of Turmoil
When life feels untethered, actress and model Hari Nef finds peace in audacious, uncompromising fashion.
I remember grocery shopping with my mother. She’d wheel me—giggling—down the snack aisle. I don’t know if they still do, but kids’ movies and TV shows used to collaborate with snack companies on promotions. The results were limited-edition sparkly bags of Scooby-Doo gummies or fluorescent boxes of Animaniacs mac ’n’ cheese. I’d reach for those. “You don’t like that kind,” my mom would say, and she’d be right. “I like the box,” I’d say. “It’s crazy!”
* * *
I met Adam for dinner on November 11, 2016. Adam, my best friend—who once described his personal style as that of a “gay Jewish Gianni Versace”—wore a white T, faded Levi’s, and a lumpy black coat. I wore about the same. “We look funny,” I said. “I know,” said Adam. “I got up this morning and I was like, this is Trump’s America and I’m too sad to wear actual clothes.”
I think back to seeing white letters on black: YOUR SILENCE WILL NOT PROTECT YOU. The phrase has persisted on social media since the election. I knew my silence wouldn’t protect me, but I wondered if my coat would. Days later I decided it was OK to take my first selfie since the election. I pouted in a yellow Gucci dress: highlighter lemon with magenta embroidery. A silk flower exploded from the cap of its single sleeve; another bloomed from the crest of the opposite hip. I looked like a poisonous tropical fish in the shape of a sulky 20-something girl. I felt beautiful, but not effortlessly so.
I mulled over the Instagram caption:
“who let patti smith into zsa zsa’s closet?”
“you can learn a lot of things from the flowers”
“xoxo charlotte perkins gilman”
I settled for absurdity by way of SpongeBob: “absorbent and yellow and porous is She.”
Absurdity felt good: a way out of mourning without totally disavowing it for joy (or resignation). I looked absurd; the dress, perhaps (to most), was absurd. I looked intentional too—bold, maybe—which was nice because I didn’t feel either way. I’d been crying a lot, which was obvious, but the yellow made it less so.
My friend Laura texted me with a screenshot of the post. “Yes!” she wrote, then “How are you?” It was too soon after the election to say “good” (was I good? I didn’t know). “Gucci as self-care,” I texted back. “LOL!”
Three weeks later I am laughing on the corner of 57th and Fifth. I’m standing where I climbed and partially wrecked a police cruiser during a protest march the night after Trump won the election. We’d marched from Union Square. #NOTMYPRESIDENT. I feel like I’m standing on a grave, or near a mausoleum. My laughing turns to giggling.
The Gucci store, I realize, isn’t merely “near” Trump Tower but within it—doors flanked by secret service. I peer at the guards, then their guns. I check my purse for flakes of marijuana. I laugh some more. “Where are you going?” asks the security guard. I pinch my voice into the sweetest tone: “Around the corner.” He checks my bag. “Have a good day, ma’am.”
A family beams for a photo under the Trump Tower sign: mom, dad, and a young daughter. The little one wanders to the Gucci window. A gold sneaker with a rainbow platform rotates on a pedestal; a peach chiffon dress with a pastel marabou train and crystal appliqué glimmers in the light; a men’s cardigan reads “Bowie” on the back, surrounded by hearts and exotic birds.
“Wow,” says the mom, “who’s gonna wear that?”
“I like it,” cries the girl. “It’s crazy!”
I walk inside.
Photographed by Jason Schmidt. Gucci silk-wool gazar gown with duchesse bow belt, glass pearl, crystal, and aged gold–finished ring (right hand), and resin pearl and aged gold–finished multifinger ring. Fashion editor: Ali Pew. Hair: Eloise Cheung for Kate Ryan Inc. Makeup: Linda Gradin for L’Atelier NYC. Manicure: Yuko Wada for Atelier Management. Set design: Cooper Vasquez for The Magnet Agency.