Nothing about my afternoon with Hari Nef feels like it’s happening in the 21st century. 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.
In 2016 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 role as the face of the Gucci Bloom ($130) 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—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 ($100) are among her predictions. Critical praise of her performance in the upcoming films Assassination Nation and Mapplethorpe is among mine.)
Want to know more? We did too—and so we discovered 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.
HARI NEF: “My beauty icons have always reflected what was most realistic for me at the time—finding someone who looks like the most idealized, beautiful version of myself. When I was younger, a teenager who hadn’t really filled out yet, I was like looking at Freja Beha Erichsen the model, or Saskia de Brauw the model, or I was looking at Agyness Deyn. It was always models when I was in high school. But now I’m 25, and I’m blonde, and I’ve filled out a little bit. I just started following a Marilyn Monroe account on Instagram because it makes me feel good to see a blonde woman with an hourglass figure, un-photoshopped. So I’ve always looked to beauty icons to affirm whatever I’m working with at the moment. That’s how I choose my queens.
“But feeling good about how I look every day is just—it’s hard. Difficult. But I think we have to understand that regardless of the flaws that we see in ourselves or even the flaws that we see in other people, I have to remind myself that what I’ve got is what they want. I feel like so many of us achieve things that are great, but we don’t actually allow ourselves to feel them and appreciate them. Everybody feels like they’re going to be found out. You see yourself so clearly and you see all your flaws and your details. But if you zoom out, people aren’t really looking for those things, and nobody really cares about you as much as you care about yourself. Nobody is paying attention to your body as much as you’re paying attention to your body. Most people just get a general idea.
“I think fundamentally if you approach people with positivity, they approach you with positivity. So when I feel a sense of negativity, I just try to push things in another direction. I do that when I go to work and engage with other people, or even just engage with myself. I fake it, and then I forget that I’m faking it, and it becomes real.
“As for how I keep myself in that positive place? Eight hours of sleep. Well, six to eight hours, six the bare minimum. Drinking a lot of water. Making sure that your mental health is just as well taken care of as your physical health. I’m a big advocate of therapy. I eat a plant-based diet—that’s something that works for me. It’s not necessarily something that works for everybody, but I try to be mindful about food—knowing where it comes from when I eat something. But with wellness, the definition has to change for every individual person. There’s no ‘recipe’ for wellness. The only way to participate in or consume this huge wellness culture we have now is to understand that 95% of what you read might not actually work for you.”
“Truthfully, I feel like Gucci Bloom has been the biggest affirmation of my modeling career. It almost feels like the climax of it. Fashion is my first home, and fashion is the first global industry that embraced me, Gucci being the first global luxury brand to embrace me. But more recently I’m focused on acting. I’ve shot two films this year and I’m shooting a television show currently. I shot a film called Assassination Nation and another film called Mapplethorpe about the life of Robert Mapplethorpe. Assassination Nation has a great cast: I co-star with Suki Waterhouse, Joel McHale, and Bella Thorne. And I’m shooting a television show right now called You, co-starring with Penn Badgley, Shay Mitchell, John Stamos. I’m having a really, really great time and I’m exploring more of my artistic passion, which is performance. Acting. I’m also doing some writing right now that I’m hoping to combine with acting (though I can’t speak too much about that right now).
“In the meantime, I feel so happy to represent Gucci and particularly Gucci Bloom. I’m just so happy that I have a home base that allows me to exist in fashion without having to open myself up to the vulnerabilities of perhaps less friendly clients or less forgiving contacts. I feel like I have my friends in fashion, and I know who they are. And I’m really happy to count Gucci as my best one.”
“I think the intention behind some of the more forced or clumsy attempts we’ve seen from other beauty brands toward representation or inclusivity still comes from a good place. I think people are truly taking a closer look at what have long-been the ‘ideals.’ They’re looking them in the eye and realizing that they’re no longer relevant and no longer useful for today. But they have to understand that the next chapter is not inclusivity or diversity for diversity’s sake, but an authentic vision that is open to a wide variety of people. But the intention and the vision is not the variety itself. You have a woman in mind, a girl in mind, a situation in mind, and you just have to open yourself up to that woman or that girl maybe looking different from the way she looked 10 years ago, or maybe it’s a boy.
“When people bring these huge ‘diverse casts’ through like a cattle call, it doesn’t feel specific. It feels like diversity is the vision. And diversity isn’t the vision. It’s not a worthwhile vision. It just makes me think of the posters from my kindergarten classroom that the teachers bought in the ’90s during the easy multiculturalism era that showed the kids from every country in the most stereotypical garb from each place, holding hands, orbiting the earth. That is so ’90s. It’s so not now. I think if the vision is authentic, if the vision is based on style over fashion, personality over looks, you will be able to find people who align with that vision from all walks of life. It won't be everybody. But that’s okay.
“As for my beauty favorites of the moment: Gucci Bloom, of course. Coconut oil lip balm. And Kat Burki has this enzyme toner that’s made out of fruits and vegetables. It’s something that you put on to prep the pH balance of your skin before either moisturizer or oil. That’s actually the last beauty question I googled—directions for how to use it. So I’m really into that right now.
“There are so many beauty trends I like. Androgynous fragrances: When I wear them, it feels sort of like how I have been dressing. Both now as a blonde and also in this crude political climate, I’ve been wearing darker colors. Boxier cuts. I’d like to see a blurring of those lines. I’m also tired of Instagram makeup. It’s not really something that I’ve ever done. I just remembered the lyric in that Kendrick Lamar song: ‘I’m so fucking sick and tired of the Photoshop.’ I would love to see what we would all look like if Facetune just got deleted off of our phones. I do it—Facetune, that is. But subtly. There are those two blur tools, you know. There’s the double drop and the single drop. I feel like you have to stick with the single drop, if you know what I mean. I’d like to see us move from a double-drop nation to a single-drop nation. That is my intention.”
Ed. note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.