How Hari Nef Made It to the Met Gala With H&M

How Hari Nef Made It to the Met Gala With H&M

By Alaska RileyMay 07, 2024

Actress, model and writer Hari Nef has been a fashion girl. Her early days as a model were marked with international high fashion runways that haven’t shied away from bringing her back for shows even amidst a busy year of Barbie press in 2023. Her name has graced many “Best Dressed” lists over the years, and she’s been a long term muse for high profile industry clients like Jonathan Anderson, Mugler, Gucci and Ferragamo.

For her second Met Gala attendance, Nef partnered with H&M to create a custom white gown complete with a larger-than-life bow trailing behind. “It was such a pleasure working with Hari for this year’s gala,” said Ann-Sofie Johansson, Creative Advisor and Head of Womenswear Design for H&M. “We took a lot of inspiration from archival H&M pieces from the 1950s. I’m delighted with how this dress came out; the dramatic taffeta bow was a standout detail that really popped on the red carpet.”

Ahead of the big night, PAPER sat down with Hari Nef to discuss dream Met Gala themes, quiet confidence, collaborating with H&M and watching Challengers in IMAX.

Let’s get into it. So the big day is tomorrow and the theme this year is “Sleeping Beauties: The Awakening of Fashion.” I wanted to hear what your interpretation of the theme is, and what excites you about it.

I remember going on and reading everything I could that had come directly from Vogue about the theme. Similar to the first Met that I went to, which was “Camp: Notes On Fashion” in 2019, there's a text that serves as the inspiration. I just did my homework. I was thinking about the past and the present, and the way certain looks from the past or aesthetics move through time and gain different contexts in the present. I interpreted it very broadly, but also it was an invitation to be interpreted personally as well.

I was just reading a quote from Tom Ford on Instagram right before this interview about how he was reminiscing on the days of the Met Gala when people just wore very beautiful clothing. I'm excited to see some very beautiful gowns. Going back to your first experience at the Met Gala: What was that like? And what feels different going into it this time?

Oh God, I was so nervous because I grew up within the generation that was experiencing the Met Gala from the Internet and through my mom with magazines. Anna Wintour was really elevating the Met Gala into this huge event with international coverage. It used to be a very glamorous New York fundraiser, and now it's the Super Bowl of fashion. There was no limit in my mind in terms of how intimidating it was going to be. I was nervous. I was going with Gucci in 2019, which was the kind of sponsoring primary designer of that year and “camp” was like my dream theme, so I feel like I started out in a really efficient way. I felt confident and glamorous and sure that I was that girl, but also so daunted by the unknown. What I discovered when I got there was to never go on a red carpet before Haley Bieber because you will get about two seconds when anybody is saying your name or caring about you for a damn and then Hailey's gonna come on, and you're just gonna get shuffled on up those stairs. I'll never forget getting to the top of the stairs and Alessandro embraced me and whispered in my ear, “To me, you are the most beautiful.” Like that was just the most beautiful, perfect moment I'll never forget.

That's so cool.

So do you think Chris Hemsworth will say that to me this year? No, I'm just kidding.

I'm rooting for that moment for you! Do you feel like you're going into it with the same sort of confidence this year? And like, do you think do you feel any less pressure since you've been there once before?

I definitely feel like I'm going into it with more confidence. Over the past year I've experienced new levels of visibility, and that kind of thing breaks you in. There were moments of it that were scary and freaky or just plain vulnerable. Tomorrow, I want to look gorgeous, and I will. I want to have fun, and I will. I think that if I go into it with a quiet confidence, outside of expectations, just allowing it to be an event that I'm going to in a dress, having my photos taken, and not thinking about all of the chatter and, you know, “Hot or Not” or whatever. I've never let that determine what I do. Tomorrow I'm going to be giving a version of glamor and beauty that I don't usually give. It’s definitely more straightforward. I was just at the fitting with my agent, and my stylist and I were like, “This is like the moment in every season of Drag Race where there's like the alternative queen or the edgy queen and Michelle Visage is like, “Can you do glamor? Like I know this is your thing, but I want to see you give like glamorous drag just once.” And I feel like that's what Anna and the H&M team were kind of giving me with this dress. It's like, “We want to see you do Barbie fish one time.”

Period! So you're collaborating with H&M. Can you tell me about your relationship with them? And what was the creative process like bringing this to life?

You know, all the way back to the beginning of my fashion career, I walked their show in Paris. I was in a commercial that they shot in Spain. I've had ups and downs in my career, and even when I wasn't working very much in film and TV, or it was like a quieter moment for me in fashion, H&M was still booking me. I am really proud that I get to share this big moment with them.

In the days after I received the sketch, I scoured Tumblr and my bookshelf for references. Things really locked into place when I revisited Frank Simon’s 1968 documentary The Queen, which goes behind the scenes of a drag pageant. I was inspired by how these queens interpreted the glamor of the ’50s from the social fringes of the ’60s. It was all about feathers and jewels and shine — glamor which requires no subtitle. Big hair and heavy paint! At the end of the doc, there’s this amazing scorched-earth speech by the gorgeous Crystal Labeija, who felt marginalized even within the drag circuit and went on to form the House of Labeija, which was foundational to the ballroom scene as we know it. I’ll be thinking about Crystal tomorrow. Sampling these aesthetics of the past from my perch in the new world, while also acknowledging the legacy of the queens who paved the way and did it before me — it all felt correct. This interplay and tension between the past and the future felt, to me, on-theme. It felt like an invitation to embody classic glamor in a way I usually avoid.Very Hollywood, very Barbie. I usually wear black, and this is white. I favor harder silhouettes and unconventional materials, where this is soft and grand. But I was up for the challenge.

You're coming off such a successful year professionally with Barbie and the announcement of the Candy Darling biopic. I think it's really cool that this is such an important night in fashion, and you're getting to go into it with so much more peace than maybe you did the first time. I think that that's really, really exciting.

Yeah, because nothing new ever happens in this career. The new things that happen are the things that happen on-set, in the scripts you get in the characters you play. That's what's new. Everything else is the same five or six types of gigs, and you do get used to it. What I love is that the only thing that changes and surprises you is the reason you put up with all of this flashy stuff in the first place, which is the work. As long as that keeps me interested and scared and excited for the rest of my life, I'll keep doing it.

And we're gonna keep cheering you on.

Thank you, baby. I love you so much.

Love you so much. Who are you most excited to run into tomorrow? I mean, apart from Chris Hemsworth and whatever recording artist we will be finding out about. The linkups are always iconic. We need to see you in one of those big bathroom selfies!

I mean, you know how I am at parties. I like sitting in the corner with like the four people that I know because I want to look like I'm too cool for school, but I’m actually just anxious and not trying to talk to new people. I'm gonna push myself to walk around. I'm going to be cinched within an inch of my life so I will have to pace myself and be very intentional with my movement. I am wearing a corset underneath my H&M dress by the corsetiere, Mr. Pearl. Legendary corsetiere. Gaultier in the ‘90s. Mugler! You know that corset that Kim wore at the camp year with Mugler? That's who made my corset, and we are lacing that corset as tight as it can possibly go. So like I might pass out. You might be getting the scoop that Miss Scarlet took a tumble down the stairs.

I'm excited to see my friends. I share a stylist with Charli XCX. I am a stan, but I'm also a sister. We found each other at the last Met, and we were both just like, “What the hell? Let's go to after parties together.” I always find Emily Ratjakowski in the room. I met Omar Apollo at the Vogue party on Friday, and he was really sweet and cute. So maybe we'll kiki and have a time. Jonathan Anderson is an honorary chair. That's always my sister in the corner. We're always mumbling and cackling about somebody in the corner, smoking a cigarette. Anna would probably kill us if we smoked a cigarette in there. I would love to see Bella. I don't know, like who's on my wish list? Who's fun? Who gets in trouble? I hope that I personally get to see every member of the principal cast of Challengers and just tell them about our crazy night in the IMAX theater. I already told Jonathan.

Do not reenact any of my reactions!

Oh, I mean, if I see anybody from the Barbie family that is instant comfort and joy. I will be forever connected to those girls. I hope Ryan's there. Ryan always has a sweet word for you and always tells you you look beautiful. That's a real man right there.

Is there another highlight from your first Met Gala experience that maybe the internet doesn't know about?

I think you can go back and find the picture. There's this picture of me on the dance floor with Miley Cyrus and Zoe Kravitz having a time. We were the only girls in the room dancing.

I’m gonna go look for that after this.

I know who the musical guest is. So I'm definitely excited to see her. I'm not supposed to know. A pop star, one of the biggest.

Don’t get my hopes up. So my last question is: If you could choose the theme next year, what would you choose?

I have several ideas. I would love to have a meeting with Andrew Bolton. I would love to see a Met Gala about downtown New York, like the fashion and the legacy of downtown style. Or maybe it would be like this idea of “cool.” Like what we think about when we think about cool downtown New York — all of the fashion that came out of that scene from like the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s up till today. You could have everything from vintage Norma Kamali to Eckhaus Latta.

There could also be a lot of Ballroom influenced looks from that as well.

Totally. You could also do something about the idea of party dressing: what people would wear to a ball in the Gilded Age all the way up to like a rave in Ridgewood today. Like the idea of an American party, I would love to see lots of different interpretations of that. And obviously, I love a party, so that would be fun. Also, they would probably never do this, but if I got to control everything and just force everybody to dress to a really crazy theme, I would do one: fetish and kink and how that has influenced fashion. You'd have so much great stuff like McQueen and Mugler. I feel like fetish and kink are something that especially gay male designers always come back to because it's such a part of the LGBT lifestyle, and I would love to see people interpret all the different kinks for a gala red carpet. That would be really, really sickening. Just like anything involving sex would be cool, but that's not very Metropolitan Museum.

I’m excited for tomorrow. I'm really excited to see the final look. And I can't wait to celebrate with you after. So thank you so much for doing this with me today.

Me too, honey. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I really do ramble.

I love you, and I'll see you soon.

Bye, bye.

Photos courtesy of H&M