"What I've Got Is What They Want": Hari Nef Gets Real About Body Image and Fame

Nothing about my afternoon with Hari Nef feels like it’s happening in 2017. The canary-yellow sofas in her suite at the Chateau Marmont look like something out of the 1940s. The Polaroid camera we brought to shoot her is a vintage one from the '80s. (“It’s the same model Andy Warhol used,” our photographer tells Hari, to which she breathlessly responds, “Ugh, I love that.”) Our subject’s gently flared jeans fastened with a threadbare Gucci belt, her soft lilac eye shadow, and the freshly dyed blonde framing her face are pure ’70s. But Hari herself—her brain, that is—is like something from the future.

Exactly one year ago, the 25-year-old model and actress (for whom I felt my first pangs of infatuation during her turn on Amazon’s Emmy-winning series Transparent) told The Guardian, “Identity is dead. It’s a snoozefest.” Only now do I feel like I understand what she meant. Hari and I are the same age, but she’s lived thrice as many lives. This keeps her a few paces ahead of most other 20-something It girls (and most interviewers—Hari answers my questions about beauty icons, mental health, and diversity in the beauty industry with such self-possession it’s as if she knew what I was going to ask). By 23, the Massachusetts native had already moved to New York City and founded a performance art collective called Chez Deep; she’d already written for cool-kid online magazines like Vice and Dazed, shaved her head and grew it back again, become an Instagram sensation, signed with IMG, graced the cover of Elle, and walked her first runway show for Gucci in Milan. Oh, and she picked up a degree in theater from Columbia along the way.

Two years later, I find myself sitting in this yellow room at the Chateau with Hari in honor of her new role as the face of the just-released Gucci Bloom ($124) fragrance, which Hari says she wears on days when she wants “to be a floral bouquet.” Not to be like one, but to be one, fully. To transform. “I’ve been thinking back on my life and I’ve come to the conclusion that I was definitely blonde the whole time,” Hari writes in an Instagram caption a few days later. That’s just the thing, though: Hari wasn’t always blonde. She’s an Ashkenazi Jew from Boston. But metamorphosis is the model’s specialty. Yet talking about her metamorphosis itself is part of the snoozefest Hari spoke of last year—sometimes it’s cooler just to be yourself than to have to constantly scrutinize what it means. I repeat, always a few paces ahead.

I once heard Joan Didion’s old editor at the New York Review of Books say that he assigned her the political pieces he did just because he personally wanted to know what she thought of the subject matter. He admired her brain that much. That is how I feel about Hari Nef. So over the course of our 16-minute conversation, I sweep every corner of her brain, searching for what people are inevitably going to be talking about a year from now in the beauty industry. (Spoiler: Androgynous fragrances, the dissolution of Facetune, and endless vats of Kat Burki PH+ Enzyme Essence are among her predictions. Critical praise of her performance in the upcoming films Assassination Nation and Mapplethorpe is among mine.)

Want to know more? Read on to peek inside the future brain of Hari Nef—from who she’s following on Instagram to what she makes of the current “wellness” boom to whether or not she thinks the beauty industry’s ongoing push for inclusivity comes from a genuine place. Meanwhile, I dare you not to screenshot the Polaroids.

Ed. note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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