Marmite is staring me down from across the room. She’s on the bed, her eyes dead set on mine, as if she wants to make sure I am aware and in awe of her ever-so-mighty presence. She seems just like any other big, black, fuzzyy cat who beckons to be pet right away, but Harley warns me: “Don’t be fooled. She’s not friendly at all. She’ll hiss.” So I stop dead in my tracks and retreat to the safe zone, i.e. Harley’s closet, where vintage, not feline is King. “Mo is my best friend,” smiles Harley, who has clearly been absolved of any wrong-doing after three years of pet ownership and is able to swoop up the beast without scathing repercussions. “I adopted her from the Bidawee shelter. She is massive!! Hence the nickname, Tiny. She’s my whole world! I’m definitely a crazy cat lady…”
Well, it takes one to know one, and I soon find out this is just where the similarities begin. When Harley opens the four doors of her wardrobe, and starts to pull out dress after vintage dress, I notice there are hardly any contemporary pieces. “I’d say about 75 percent of my closet is vintage,” says confirms. “I’m drawn to vintage shapes, prints, and ideas. I love that rush of finding an incredible gem in the bottom of a pile of clothes at a thrift store in the middle of nowhere. The hunt is half the fun. I’d rather spend money on unique pieces you can really call your own.”
And all the dresses are the same proportionate length too, like a new box of freshly sharpened crayons. “I usually don’t even shop by size; I shop by fabric, color, or pattern,” she explains. “And then I take bags of $5 dresses to my tailor who looks at me and shakes her head every time I come in. “You could spend a bit more on the dress and buy it in your size you know,” she says. But that’s why my dresses are all similar lengths and shape – because I’ve made them that way! I found a formula that hopefully sort of works with my proportions. In that way I’m a little bit predictable in that I have a day uniform of vintage min-dresses.”
On a recent trip to the Manhattan Vintage Show however, a curious thing happened. Harley found herself inclined to buy slightly longer dresses, just over or even under the knee. Whether this was due to her impending 25th birthday or an inevitable desire for change remains a mystery, but she’s unrelentless in her pursuit of a new-found, mature femininity, and has instructed her confused tailor to steer clear of the hemline from now on. “I think it all started with a new obsession with Betty Draper-esque 60s tea dresses…” decides Harley.
No doubt some of the short dresses will end up in the donation bag she’s been compiling. She buys regularly but says she’s also constantly getting rid of clothes. “Mostly because I have such little space,” she admits. “If I don’t wear something within a year it often gets axed. I sell a few things on Ebay, but my favorite thing to do is to slowly accumulate a huge giveaway bag and then have a bunch of my friends come over to go through it and take stuff. It’s always so hard to part with pieces you’ve earned, worn, and loved, but sharing them with friends makes it a joy. The clothes have a longer lifespan that way! I always bump into my girlfriends wearing my old dresses and I love it.”
Or maybe the 5-inch hemline drop is simply a way to keep her fashion sense in tune with her growing accomplishments as a DJ. Not a week goes by without seeing the name Harley Viera-Newton boldfaced on a flyer or invitation for a big name fashion party. She can count herself in the top 5 female fashion DJs in New York and rightfully so because her music is in her blood. Most defining is the fact that her father is the President of Columbia Records. “I was always immersed in all sorts of music,” she remembers. “My dad’s playlists at home would run the gamut from Neil Young to Janet Jackson to Massive Attack”. She played in a band with her girlfriend during high school in Los Angeles. She learned how to DJ after she moved to New York for college – she graduated with a double major in Egyptology and Social Science – and started a weekly party in the Lower East Side. Then she became a resident at the Beatrice Inn, and later hosted a weekly party at Lit. “It was during this time I was fortunate enough to meet people at Dior Beauty. We started a really great partnership. I DJ their events and also put together seasonal playlists to complement different make-up series.” For the past two years she’s been managed by Jay Z’s Roc Nation, who have skyrocketed her career to the highest ranks.
What you might not know though – and here is where all similarities dramatically end – is that Harley Viera-Newton is an expert fly fisher. Yes, you read it, Fly, Fishing! She’s been going on annual father-daughter fly fishing trips since she was a little girl. Her apartment looks like Steve Zissou’s wet dream; it’s filled with nautical trinkets and souvenirs like fish hooks, model boats, pictures of sea shells, books on oceanography, old yachting equipment and one giant flue fin fish. “We take a tiny plane out to Great Falls (MT),” begins Harley, “and then drive a few hours out to a remote little motel. The owner is our fishing guide for the week. We set out every morning at 5 AM and hike to the most stunning rivers in the middle of nowhere. We don’t see another human all day and just spend hours surrounded by wild life. I’m actually pretty good at it now! I think my dad is scared I’m getting better than him! But really it’s more about enjoying the serenity of the river and the beauty of the big sky country.”
Marmite is upset because we displaced her food bowl. She may actually be sulking. She photo bombs each shot for lack of Harley’s attention. “Don’t mind her. I’ll feed her when we’re finished,” dismisses Harley. “Which shoes?” she asks when we decide to venture outside. I point at a pair of black sandals perched on the top shelf. “I love those!” she cheers. “Did I mention Charlotte Dellal is my cousin?” That would explain all the fascinating footwear at our disposal. And what about the Tom Binns jewelry? “That’s my mom’s company.” Ah, what a gloriously creative family! If we could just get Marmite to like me too. Alas, when I leave she is back on the bed, on the other side of the room, her head turned to face the wall, in dismay.