Hari Nef is not your average campaign star. The 27-year-old actress, model, and writer has steadily rose to fame via Gucci runways,Transparent airwaves, and an aspirational Instagram grid that seamlessly weaves together high-brow references alongside unfiltered selfies so personal, they virtually place you in her inner circle. So despite casually dropping the word “parochialize” in ELLE.com’s conversation with Nef, she staunchly retains a lack of pretension that reminds us why she has come so far. Nef is, quite thoroughly, super likable. To use the word cool feels like a disservice.
The Vampire’s Wife, a fashion brand known for Victorian gowns with a spooky bent, strikes the same balance. Designed by Susie Cave (wife of that Nick), the label has amassed a celebrity cult following for making Halloween dressing a modern, year-round affair. The brand is lending its vintage touch to H&M for a collaboration that drops today, tapping Nef to be one of its bright faces. The alignment couldn’t be more perfect.
We spoke to the star about her initial thoughts on the seventeen-piece collection, how her style remained unchanged during the pandemic, and her fraught relationship with the term “self-care” in 2020. Read on to learn more about the triple threat, and shop our favorite styles from the H&M x The Vampire’s Wife collaboration, below.
What is your relationship with The Vampire’s Wife and Susie?
Susie is somebody I have admired from afar for a while. I always had a girl crush or a friend crush on that cool chick with the black hair in those amazing, form-fitting dresses. Obviously, I’m familiar with her husband’s work as well. She was this cool woman who made cool clothes and I admired shyly from afar. I was so excited when this came through.
Susie’s designs are always a little goth. So speaking of vampires, can you give us a little teaser of what your Halloween costume might be?
You know what? I’ll tell you what my costume is because it’s relevant. I’m going to be dressing up as Maggie Chung’s character in the Olivier Assayas film Irma Vep where she’s in costume. It’s a film within a film. They’re making a movie where she’s doing a remake of a vampire film from the 1920s. I’m hoping that my costume is going to arrive in time, I’m not sure it is going to. I might end up going to a fetish store. I just moved into the West Village and there’s a lot of really fun sex shops here. So if not, I’ll just take it as an opportunity to explore my local sex shop.
What did you think when you first saw the collection?
I thought, “Is this allowed? This is so luxe and glamorous! How were they doing this at an H&M price point? Oh, well, if they’re doing it at an H&M price point, how could it possibly be sustainable?” And then I found out more about the collection and these prices are accessible to anybody looking to make a small investment in a statement piece. The fabrications are made in large part from sustainably sourced materials including recycled nylon and recycled polyester, so I was pretty much ready to go.
I’d wear a lot of these pieces pretty much anywhere. That’s my test when I’m buying a garment. I ask myself two questions: Could I wear this to the grocery store and could I wear this to a wedding? All of the dresses fit that denomination, but maybe not the full length dress. I’m not sure I would wear that to the grocery store just because I don’t know if the grocery store is ready for that kind of goth glamor, but I would definitely wear it to a wedding or a seance.
Have you been to a seance?
If I told you, I would be betraying some deep, dark secret and I think that that’s what The Vampire’s Wife is all about, the unknown and secrets.
Could you elaborate a little bit more about how you approach your style?
I think that if you’re going to buy a piece of clothing and spend your hard earned money, create more demand for more stuff in the world, which is something that we need to do less of, you really have to know that you’re getting some mileage out of buying [it]. It’s not just going to be something that sits in your closet that you wear once or twice a year.
On a totally abstract level of taste and what inspires me and what my preferences are, I’m always looking to history and the past. I’m always looking to road groupies in the sixties and seventies. I’m always looking at Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I’m always looking at kind of a ’90s, early 2000s Hot Topic, Marilyn Manson idea of goth or occult.
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Has your style changed at all during quarantine?
No, not at all. If anything I’ve doubled down. I will plan an outfit for later, maybe a year later, maybe the one or two times a week that I venture out to some safely distanced social situation. I just moved back to New York from L.A. where nobody dresses for anything. I’m obsessed with dressing up right now. And I’m taking any opportunity I can to do it, even if it’s just for a mirror selfie in the privacy of my own home at one in the morning.
So no sweatpants?
I’ve never been more tapped into clothing as a source of personal joy, just not for how you can look for other people, not for a man, not in a social setting. Literally— I’ve never dressed more for myself because there’s nobody else to dress for right now and that feels good.
That touches on Susie’s themes for this collaboration: vulnerability, intimacy, the unknown and womanhood. With everything that’s happened this year between social unrest, the pandemic, the election, and being stuck at home, what does being vulnerable in 2020 mean to you?
Being vulnerable to me means engaging in difficult conversations with people who are close to you, people who you love, people whom you believed you shared a unanimous point of view with, who actually differ on this issue or that issue. Or there is maybe a fundamental difference in values between you that is uncovered by the difficult conversations that are being had right now about public health, racial justice, gender and sex politics, about queerness. It’s all coming to the surface and people are alert.
I’m not so interested in having a conversation about these issues with someone on the internet who I don’t know. I’m not so interested in baseless internet fighting. I think what’s important is bringing it back to a sense of intimate relationships and a sense of intimate accountability. Relating this back to clothes or a garment is a tenuous connection at best. These are high-minded things. But when I am dressed in a way where I feel beautiful, where I feel armored, then I feel better equipped to engage in all manner of discussions. I feel like anything I can do to arrive at the so-called revolution from a place of strength, comfort, confidence, and bounty, that’s going to serve me and my community well.
How do I reconcile the positives of life, like this campaign, with the negativity of 2020?
You’re not going to get anything done for anybody if you’re constantly throwing yourself into the fray. You’re not going to get anything done for everybody if you are torturing yourself for a thought or a belief you may have harbored that is now being parochialized or disabused by emerging discourses. Whether that’s a belief about race or gender or sexuality. You’re not going to get anywhere just frantically reposting for every cause you find, every infographic. You’re not going to get anything done if you’re constantly caught up in a state of alarm and penance and worry because that does not equip you to think. That does not equip you to demonstrate. That does not equip you to protest if you need to, or even fight if you need to.
I struggle with the term self-care because I feel like there’s a slippery slope between self-care and self-indulgence. But I do believe that balance is key. We’re living in a time of extremes. Bad versus good, good versus evil, wrong versus right. There has to be gray area, whether it’s thinking ambiguously, seeing both sides of an argument, or mixing the hard stuff with the stuff that brings pleasure and puts us at ease. I’m not someone who can speak to where some sort of collective “we” wants to go. I can only speak from my experience, but my initiative is readiness and if I don’t do right by myself, I won’t be ready.
How have you been trying to find joy personally in your life, especially in quarantine at home?
I don’t have a shocking, thrilling, or glamorous answer for this. I think that I’ve turned toward a lot of the things that other people have been saying, which is cooking for myself and writing, and really deepening and fortifying my relationships with the people in my pod. Getting outside as often as I can, wearing a mask every time, working on my fitness from home has been huge. I’ve gotten in shape in quarantine. I’ve decorated my apartment.
Anything that I was putting off, again, I’m sort of thinking of that phrase it’s all coming to the surface. When things come to the surface, you deal with them.
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