By: Keith Lutz, Staff Writer
Combining the glitz and glamour of Hollywood with the pragmatic, streetwise chic of informal wear is not always an easy feat to pull off, but for British actress and style icon Naomie Harris, it’s all in a day’s work. Honored with the Order of the British Empire for her work in the arts and beyond, you might remember Naomie Harris’ from her roles in such smash films like 28 Days Later or Disney’s Pirates of the Carribbean, or from her role as freedom fighter Nelson Mandela’s daughter in 2013’s Long Walk to Freedom. She even received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Moonlight.
Born in Islington in London, UK, Naomie’s life almost seemed destined for the spotlight from the very beginning. Daughter of Lisselle Kayla Carmen and fashion designer father Brian Clarke, Harris’ parents have Nigerian and Grenadian as well as Guyanese ancestry respectively, Harris’ parents separated prior to her birth. She attended the St Marylebone School for her education and then went on to Woodhouse College before entering Cambridge University’s Pembroke College, graduating in 1998. For her training as an actress, Naomie Harris is an alum of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
Her career began early at the age of 9 with a role in the remake of The Tomorrow People with her breakout role coming some 2 years later in Danny Boyle’s zombie film 28 Days Later. She later partnered again with famed director Boyle when she starred as Elizabeth Lavenza in a play version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which showed at the National Theatre in 2011. As far as her most critically acclaimed performances go, her turn as Paula in Moonlight not only got the attention of critics but also cemented Naomie Harris as a true master of the art of acting.
Despite what her runway looks might tell you, Naomie Harris isn’t a natural to the world of fashion, but she is a passionate fan after she got shown the ropes of the ins and outs of putting a look together.
When asked by The Guardian whether or not fashion was an obligation or a passion, she answered, “I love fashion and I have a great stylist who introduced me to it, because I didn’t know anything about fashion before. Now we go every year to these shows and it’s just a fun thing to do. But it’s just for the red carpet, not everyday life.”
Yet Naomie’s everyday look is quite inspired itself with her penchant for elegant yet forceful expressions in streetwear a well-known fact in the fashion press. That’s probably because Naomie is cognizant of her image even when she’s not on the screen and that look is one of a strong female that loves her independence.
Perhaps this is why she tailors her onscreen roles to her offscreen persona, telling The Guardian that, “I’m not interested in playing roles that stereotype me as a woman or as a black woman. I grew up with incredibly strong, powerful women around me who were highly intelligent and doing their own thing, and those are the women I’m interested in portraying because that’s what I know to be the truth. A woman who waits around for a man, pines after them… I don’t have any experience of that kind of woman, so I don’t think I’d be very good at playing that kind of character.”
One thing that you readily notice in reviewing Naomie’s sense of style is that she has a sense for keeping things in perspective. Her earlier looks definitely evidence the advice and direction of a professional which she describes in her interview, but, as she comes into her own in Hollywood, a lot of that falls away for looks that are more chic than overly extravagant. That’s probably why a lot of Naomie’s pieces, like her Miu Miu fuzzy black crop top and cream skirt from 2017 that stylist Danielle Nachmani put together, can be easily replicated using more affordable off the rack clothing. Debuting the look at Paris Fashion Week, Naomie’s instant glamor but girl-next-door appeal was heard to deny. Indeed, many commented on the masterful use of black and white contrasts to great effect, including fashion magazine InStyle.
That same year, while lighting the Christmas Tree in Times’ Square, New York City, Naomie chose to don to an aqua blue one piece business piece that was both perfect for the occasion and the weather. Relatively free of adornment and embellishment, the outfit evoked classic cuts from Chanel in the 1950s while dominating the minimalist chic aesthetic that is so characteristic of modern outfits.
Contrast this with the 2004 gold-sequined dress that Harris wore to a screening of After the Sunset, and it is easy to see how she has both established control over her look and given it her own personal touch. While she looks absolutely stunning in absolutely everything, her elegant and demure approach to putting an outfit together is both iconic and evocative of modern femininity which puts a premium on independence and personal expression. A 2006 white sequined suit worn to the MIami Vice premiere illustrates how Harris was begin to explore ways to meld both the glamour of Hollywood with her sensibilities as a strong woman.
By the time of the October 2012 premier of Skyfall, where she takes a role as Moneypenny, Naomie Harris was combining her love of dynamic sequins with color patterns and a sheer black fabric draped over her for a look that is both dramatic and is an interesting combination of statement piece and retro chic. Embodying a modern interpretation of the 1960s obsession with flash and revealing clothing, these elements are toned down to almost muted levels by the black sheer fabric the encases the entire look.
By the time of the 2013 Oxfam Charity Gala during Dubai International Film Festival we start to see Harris trade the sequins in for flowing fabric with a beautiful flower pink Monique Lhuillier gown which was followed up in February 2014 by a ruby red thigh-high split gown from Gucci that she paired with dynamic black for a look both understated and classically elegant. This exploration comes full circle with the donning of a Christopher Kane asymmetrical dress in cotton pink and black for the Serpentine Summer Party. Both an exploration of silhouettes and fabric geometry, the Christopher Kane piece is both experimental yet completely wearable. By the time of the February 2017 Oscars, Harris was rocking a white knee-length dress with trailing white cape that was then followed up by a flowing, ruffled white gown that she wore to the Vanity Fair Oscars’ afterparty, maintaining the elegant chic look she had mastered over the ensuing years.
Most recently, Vogue has highlighted Harris’ looks for the Allbright Members Club in London and another event in London two months later wherein she debuted her almost Chanel-inspired Tibi pink suit and a follow up chrysoberyl hued suit for Roksanda. Both suits demonstrated a kind of pragmatic and attainable elegance that the ever gorgeous Naomie Harris elevates to entirely new levels.
In terms of what Naomie likes to wear on the street, she also keeps her street style elegant and chic like her red carpet looks. But that doesn’t mean she’s afraid to do something a little edgy. For instance, her look for the She Inspires Art for the Women For Women International charity in the UK was both classically elegant with a v-neck and leather paneling to give it a bit of a modern cut. She also showed she wasn’t afraid to wear some color at the Vivienne Westwood Show at Paris Fashion Week 2015/2016.
Harris seems to prefer the practical and comfortable when it comes to street style but she never, ever sacrifices elegance – or the chance to make a statement. Overall, that seems to be the theme with a lot of her outfits. While she went with the ultra-glam looks of the Hollywood red carpet early on in her career, her tastes have since transitioned to the more down-to-earth yet totally cutting-edge looks of now. She effortlessly pairs elegance with a daring sense of experimentation and that’s why it is not hard to see how she is such a fashion icon.
Whether it is her outfit from Miu Miu or her ruby-red Gucci dress, Naomie Harris also shows a delicate understanding of time and place. Her outfits are always appropriate to whatever she is doing and that, in many ways, is a good rule for fashion in general. When she’s on the red carpet, she is suitably elegant and somewhat unattainable but when she’s speaking at She Inspires Art, she wears an edgy street style that grounds her and connects her with her audience. And that probably isn’t shocking since, as an actress, she has mastered the art of connecting an image with and an emotion which is why Naomie Harris’ style can best be described as both cinematic, dramatic, and utterly aspirational.