‘Transparent’ Breakout Hari Nef Takes Control of Her Story One Instagram at a Time

by Stacy Lambe 10:01 AM PST, December 18, 2015
Photo: Amazon

Hari Nef came out of nowhere, becoming the latest “It Girl.” That's in part thanks to her worldwide modeling contract with IMG and a coveted role on season two of Transparent.

In various profiles, she's waltzed in wearing “fuzzy Gucci loafers” and a “cinnamon fur-and-leather Vejas jacket” or “silver hoop earrings” (an accessory that became the star of another recent photoshoot), commanding the attention of everyone in the room. The 23-year-old has been dubbed a “Tumblr-age Chloë Sevigny,” while building her unique brand (and fan base) on social media.

It’s an apt description considering how Nef, who became the first transgender model to sign with IMG in May, ended up playing Tante Gittel, a Pfefferman family ancestor, on the Emmy-winning Amazon series.

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Creator Jill Soloway, who first met Nef when she was just a teenager, wrote the part for the budding actress after the two reconnected on social media and later attended a PFLAG gala together. “I think her experience of me was that I was this New York party girl, who was also an artist, but just was always having fun, partying and enjoying life and kind of wild,” Nef tells ETonline.

On the show, Nef appears in flashback scenes set in 1930s Berlin. There, Nef (as Gittel) brings to life the decadence and gender-fluidity of the Weimar-era culture, which was destroyed by the Nazis in WWII. The scenes are Transparent’s version of Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, which was later adapted into the musical, Cabaret.

“When we were filming these flashback scenes, especially the party scenes, it was just a bunch of cool queer and gender nonconforming people hanging out together, partying and having a good time,” Nef says of being on set. “The exuberance came from an authentic place. There’s not a lot of ‘hashtag’ acting.”

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That cool girl persona has become part of Nef’s mystique since she left her native Boston, Massachusetts and moved to New York City. There, she attended Columbia University, where she transitioned, before stepping out onto the runways of New York Fashion Week. Nef has appeared in i-D magazine, written for Dazed and Vice, and even friended Lena Dunham.

Her biggest platform is Instagram, which she values for more than gaining followers. “I just wanted to create a space where I could create visibility and a vocabulary for myself,” Nef says. “Whether you’re a woman, a transwoman, a person of color, I feel like Instagram is really important for the creation and framing of the self.”

“If you’re anything other than a white, cisgender, able bodied dude, people are going to project narratives, imagery, and context onto you that you might not necessarily see for yourself,” she continues, explaining the importance of every day transgender representation going beyond her modeling or her role on Transparent.

That ownership over her narrative also extends to her sense of style. “It’s your opportunity to take control of the way you are in the world,” Nef says, when asked about her storied looks. “You can tell an entire story about who you are, what you want, and what you like, just by what you wear, even if you’re not making a statement at all. Even if you’re just wearing jeans and a t-shirt, that’s still information.”

Transparent season two is now available on Amazon.