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All Hail Hari Nef : Queen Of Digital Downtown !

Hari Nef photographed for The Imagist by Marcus Morris.Hari Nef photographed for The Imagist by Marcus Morris.

Fame only happens when you exceed the system because often times when the new proposition, the new thing shows up, the system, the program, doesn't know how to factor it.

Here we are in a nondescript coffee shop just off Hudson in the West Village, waiting for Hari Nef, the inimitable Hari-Nef, heat seeking, hi-octane Hari Nef. Who is Hari Nef? New York club icon ? It-Girl, currently reigning at the No 1 position on Dazed & Confused magazine Readers' 100 ranking? Tastemaker and socialite as wired in as any dowager on the Upper East Side charity circuit in the grand tradition? All the above yes, but I like best the Hari that is the actress, the actrice in an even grander tradition.

From Edie Sedgwick to Jenny Lumet , Jenny Shimuzu to Jenny Talia (google 90's CK Jeans) to Chloe Sevigny, there's been New York club icons and It-Girls and Downtown girls aplenty. Downtown, (though Downtown has been dispersed , essentially to Far Brooklyn these days ) needs these sign-posts beauties for a self-definition. Girls that are not London or Paris or Berlin but could only occur in New York City. Gritty girls who also are beneath the tough exterior, pretty girls, like early Madonna, who believe it or not, truly qualified as a girl-of-the-moment in her burgeoning days. This when her roommate was Martin Burgoyne and she took the boom box, neon graf , bric-a-brac of the early 80's to truly exceed the system.

Remember now, on Madonna's early records, released as white labels to urban radio (ah radio, ) everybody assumed Ms Ciccione was black and her music "street". Well in that way all the now kids, the 10's across-the-board kids, couldn't care less that Hari is transgendered. People are not even sure what that means anymore now that gender fluidity is the thing, from Candy magazine to Barney's to Playboy to Givenchy to Orange is the New Black. Hari is not the new Teri Toye. There will actually never be a new Teri Toye. Hari is the new Hari, synonymous with her times of Hood By Air and Eckhaus Latta where she stomped down their Spring 15 runway in all her Hari-ness.

Miss Nef is necessarily prescient as to what's relevant next, a fact established as far as back the Fall of 2012 when she was casting Eckhaus Latta and Issa Lish came in, back when NY didn't get Issa at all . But Hari gasped and lived and got it and that's what is meant by exceeding the system.

You need that drama, that intent, those entrances. Like the one Hari is making now in this nondescript little coffee shop called "Think" on the edge of the West Village. She's tall and sleek in a black halter dress with hair swept back and no eyebrows and such a proud mouth. I'm assessing her, she's assessing me and for all her minimal punk insolence, Hari is drenched in that most pink of perfumes, Chanel No 5.

"A woman's first line of taste is a good fragrance and I love that you've come so classical"
"Thank you" Hari laughs and now that the ice is broken and that first impression out of the way, we both relax and start to ramble and gossip and hiss. Hari confides " I'm really amazed Wayne that you're actually doing this piece. I have so much respect for your taste. I've been reading The Imagist since I was 14" and I gulp a little when I think how arch and bizarre and copiously sexual the blog could be in its early days. I make a note then, that it all starts with the 14 year olds, the 10's across-the-boards generation, who can quote Paris Is Burning line for line and never knew anything but the post-digital. And when I say post-digital, that really means way past digital as technology. This is digital as lifestyle and as Hari confided to Dazed, " I'm an internet kid. The Readers' 100 is interactive, so I interacted with it. I posted it everywhere and asked people to vote for me because they wouldn't do it if I didn't ask. It's not cool or chic to ask for help, but it gets the job done!” It certainly does, with frightening proficiency. Hari goes on to tell me about escavating the internet archives of the early models.com and dredging up the pages of its gossip forums and I thought, history, after all, does not delete itself.

So we're talking, kikiing now really, because I'm eager to get to the essence of Hari. The little girl from Massachusetts, reading arch blogs about insider NYC life, and after classes at Newton South High School, right there on Brandeis Road, getting a second education, the vital one, by scouring the $20 magazines at Border's. Hari knew. "I knew I was going down a different path from the one that I had been on, living at home in Newton, Massachusetts. So it was a branding decision. I wanted to create an aesthetic world for myself ", she once said and I wonder is it, after all, all branding? Is it all red hot digital ambition? Or is the talent cogent?

Then Hari says this strange and true thing that I stop to punch into my iPhone. She says " These days you have to give the audience something well done, well worked out but then you have to slip this thing in there that's kinda disgusting, kind of like ..Ewww. What?" The context of the quote was a conversation about the secret of the ethos of Hood By Air and Shayne's peculiar ability to do an "off" that actually strikes the cultural nerve point as absolutely "on". I mean, anyone could have seen that seven years ago when HBA first blipped on the radar that the sportswear of it was always going to boom, but it is the other things, the disgusting, peculiar, eccentric conceptualism of the brand that makes it live so well, in contemporary consciousness.

But enough about the past and even the present context that Hari comes out of, this current soup of New York nightlife co-mingled with a new kind of fashion flaunting contemporary art world tropes. The Hari, that in my mind looms as #futureforce, is the one currently enrolled in the theatre program at Columbia University. In November she turned in a performance as Arkadina in Chekov's "The Seagull", that was gut-wrenching in its emotional commitment. Arkadina is a still beautiful middle-aged woman of aristocratic lineage whose beauty and fame have passed their prime. In Chekov's play, Arkadina is neither villain or a hero. She proves herself to be excessively vain and miserly and yet compassionate and surprisingly vulnerable within the shell of her vanity. For a young woman to make the leap to this kind of character requires channeling an emotional spectrum a 21 year old cannot possibly have lived. Which is why you have to wonder, where in Hari's case did the emotional material for the angst in her performance come from?

I'm thinking Chekov was very good food for Hari's initial performance and that this is the key to her next permutation as an artist…the rich material of grand narratives so that she is not that thing that lasts only for the duration of an iPhone flash. I tell her she has a resonance of Chloe... Sevigny that is, a girl from outside the city that becomes the coolest thing within the hermetic in-crowd of the city, who rides style and myth all the way to indie-cred ("Kids") and then hi-jacks that all the way to Hollywood ("Boys Don't Cry"). Hari blanches at the compliment , her hand on her chest. It's a demure gesture made with strong hands and I think, there are blue chip photographers , tasked with being ever au courant , who love a girl who knows what exactly to do with her hands, waiting for Hari.

Hari is checking her incessant texts pouring in from her friends congregated by the corner of 14th and 8th avenue demanding, "Where Are You?" There's a party at Gilded Lily and that's Hari's next appointment because Miss Nef is a scheduled lady with a social calendar exactly like the froth of activities you get from, let's say, The Warhol Diaries and then I deduce that Hari chose this location of this nondescript "Think" because it is two blocks from Gilded Lily and makes for an time efficient evening of socializing . She is not anything if not ruthlessly efficient. Which is a great virtue in a burgeoning celebrity.

"You should come out with us.
" No offense to Gilded Lily but I just like the idea of having gone through my life without setting foot in The Gilded Lilly." I say
"Oh we''ll have fun"
I think about it and my longstanding policy to absent my self from current NY nightlife and thought, why the hell not?

Gilded Lily is just like every other night I've ever spent in a New York club. The guest list, the step and repeat, a booth and the table service. Hip hop is booming. The room is a swirl of Society Management models, flashbulbs and selflies and Hari and I fight through the conversation over the loud beats and the shrill parrot house chatter of general conversation. I close down on Hari and I see it beaming out through this room full of ambitious kids, kids who are artists and musicians and models and actors and designers and writers, the it that makes her different in a room full of difference, the it being Hari's odd charisma. The drive is always evident but as the conversation becomes real and vulnerable and aching and it occurs to me Hari will never make complete sense until she's completely famous. That is a manifest destiny. Hari's publicist has joined us. He looks to be about 17. He is here to nudge her back to another vortex of picture taking . Hari wants to continue conversing but I get it, I have what I need to form a portrait and I know the meaning of these parties is in the mileage of the exposure generated. Such are the metrics of our age. It's the perfect time to slip back out and so I social kiss my way to the exit.

Yes, I think. Hari is our here and now… talent redirecting itself through digital to amplify its blast radius. Hari is now the creature she always dreamt to be. Look at it this way, she is now just like the girls she grew up idolizing — the ones she had read about in $20 fashion magazines from Borders. It's her " now" . She's snatched the crown.

Hari Nef as Arkadina in Chekov's "The Seagull" at  Minor Latham Playhouse/Barnard College.Hari Nef as Arkadina in Chekov's "The Seagull" at Minor Latham Playhouse/Barnard College.

Hari Nef photographed for The Imagist by Marcus Morris.Hari Nef photographed for The Imagist by Marcus Morris.

Taste is a dictatorship.

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