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Day 1: Hari Nef

published on 1 May 2015

Model, actress and writer Hari Nef introduced her exploration of the trans aesthetic in fashion with a look at archive runway shows from Michel Andover, Helmut Lang and Prada.

Model, actress and writer Hari Nef introduced her exploration of the trans aesthetic in fashion with a look at archive runway shows from Michel Andover, Helmut Lang and Prada.

hi friends! my name’s hari nef and i’m excited to curate showstudio from may 1st-may 7th. i didn’t want to launch into content without introducing myself. i’m 22 years old and i live in new york city. i came to new york a little less than four years ago to study drama & theater arts at columbia university. i’m an actor, a writer, and a model. i am also a transgender woman, and have been on hormone replacement therapy since last march.

i cannot describe my transition succinctly, but i know that fashion has played an integral role in the proceedings.

growing up as a boy, i gravitated towards women’s fashion because of its variety. it is harder to be a woman than it is to be a man, and yet women are given a wider breadth for creating themselves from the outside in. with menswear, there is a script–but women are permitted to explore themselves through clothes. that fluidity attracts me, and always has. no one is quite sure what it means to be a woman. perhaps i feel safer in that ambiguity.

as i’ve watched my body change, i’ve thought about what it means to look like a man, and what it means to look like a woman. i have no answers. there are “male” bodies and there a “female” bodies–maybe. there are suits “for men” and dresses “for women”–sure. at the risk of sounding like an undergraduate cliché, i’ll say these binaries have begun to bore me.

my new body lies between two discursive extremes. i’m not a boy who looks a girl, nor am i girl who looks like a boy. “androgyny” is a ruse, and it is too often that discussions of gender fluidity end at the surface. if fashion is visual, then perhaps it’s safe to say that discussions of gender in fashion have been historically trite, to say the least.

people ask me how i feel about “fashion’s new obsession with trans issues.” the fact is: fashion doesn’t care about trans issues, but it absolutely loves the trans aesthetic. fashion loves fluidity, movement, role play, discovery–body joy and body horror. these are what they are, but in the context of bodies and clothes i would argue that they comprise what i call the trans aesthetic.

over the next week, i will outline an history of the trans aesthetic in fashion. the trans aesthetic is beautiful, powerful, terrible, and sublime. it exists at the core of fashion’s most iconic images, collections, and personalities. transness is beautiful, yet those who profess their transness openly are stigmatized–even in todays’ brave new world of heightened visibility for trans folks.

the trans aesthetic, however, has been here all along: celebrated and revered.

fashion & the trans aesthetic
by harinef | part i: runway archive

marie-sofie wilson-carr
helmut lang spring 2003
look 12

writing about helmut lang intimidates me.

i wasn’t there, so how could i possibly understand his impact? i hail from a generation that fetishizes vintage lang: we reblog it, moodboard it, and scour ebay for artefacts. we love lang, yet his work is no realer to us than database runway images and references on sex and the city. i wonder why we all love lang, and by “we” i mean me and basically all of my queer and trans friends who love fashion. after all: futurism, minimalism, and unisex dressing are lang innovations which have sprouted into clichés over the past decade or so.

as for look 12: what do you even call the network of red stripes enveloping wilson-carr’s torso: a vest? a gillet? red frames her shoulders and arms–a graphic index of armor. it crosses her breasts, converges at her loins, and zips into what i’m gonna go ahead and call a phallus. i can’t unsee it!

lang assigned look 12 to a 40-year-old model/actress, and layered it over an outfit equality suitable for an assassination or a gallery opening. look 12, in other words, marries disparate aesthetics which refuse to align along strata of age, gender, body, occasion–even time itself (that’s futurism for you).

maybe that’s why the kids still scream for lang: when you look at it closely, you get your tumblr dashboard: boobs, cocks, bossy minimalism, lara croft.

if that’s not a trans aesthetic, i don’t know what is.

fashion and the trans aesthetic
by harinef | part i: runway archive

miguel adrover spring 2001
look 31

i don’t understand why miguel adrover isn’t jason wu or alexander wang or marc jacobs. i number him among new york’s greatest, weirdest talents. we don’t get enough weird in new york. i wish he still showed.

what set adrover apart from his contemporaries was the way he dealt with references. where most new york designers water down their references into tepid, saks-ready separates, adrover emerges as a purist. he left his references virtually untouched: copied, pasted, and cobbled together. adrover’s collections lent fashion context to non-fashion imagery.

look 31 espouses male cadet and female librarian: cap and tie gives way to a wool skirt–and loafers. the model is bare-faced, stern, startlingly androgynous. disparate aesthetics brush up against one another; buzzwords fail. each element of look 31 reflects an archetype, but total into something new. i can only describe look 31 as unheimlich.

look 31 warps familiar contexts of body/gender/occupation beyond their origins, and projects them into something new to be taken on its own terms. adrover’s genius is pastiche: a drama unfolding on the stage of the body.

fashion and the trans aesthetic
by harinef | part i: runway archive

gisele bündchen
prada spring 1999
look 14

there’s plenty of literature on miuccia prada: the subversive heroine leading the fashion pack. i’ve always thought she was quite conservative. prada persists within a binary milieu: “riffing” on femininity, “tweaking” masculinity–but never departing from these codes.

spring 1999 is her weirdest collection…and perhaps the least quintessentially “prada” thing she’s ever done.

look 14 walks on gisele, so “sexiness” is point a. it begins with granny panties: naughty but dowdy. then a pleated skirt: cute in theory, chaste in wool. dad socks and brogues finish at point d: “formal masculinity” emerges from “sultry femininity.” we’ve arrived! the binary! “masculine” meets “feminine!” ew!

but what about the knapsack? gisele clutches its straps. maybe she’s got rations in there, some water. maybe she’s got a gun. look closely at the skirt: see the little stripe? it’s not the prada logo, but that of prada linea rossa: a sportswear diffusion line. branding crumbles; gisele’s on the run. the logo and the knapsack mobilize look 14, adding a sense of movement, purpose, even athleticism to a collage of disparate “gender cues.”

what is transness if not the intersection of gender and movement?

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Day 5: Hari Nef

05 May 2015
Day five of model, actress and writer Hari Nef's exploration into the trans aesthetic in fashion is dedicated to model Connie Fleming.
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Day 4: Hari Nef

04 May 2015
Explore day four of Hari Nef's Tumblr takeover, where the actress, model and writer is continuing to explore the trans aesthetic in fashion.
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Day 3: Hari Nef

03 May 2015
On day three of her Tumblr Takeover, model, actress and writer Hari Nef turned her attention to fashion editorials in her continued exploration of the trans aesthetic.
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