mona lisa
Photo: Pari Dukovic


A controversial new book, Mona Lisa: The People and the Painting, claims that history’s most infamous half-smile may have belonged to the wife of an Italian slave trader. Understandably, this bit of breaking news has prompted Winnie Harlow—the 23-year-old Canadian model of Jamaican descent who has helped demystify the skin pigmentation condition vitiligo—to reexamine Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece with a critical eye. Her take on the new theory is pure millennial: “How can we ever really know what Lisa the person was like? That was a time before there were selfies!” Harlow too knows what it’s like to have strangers make assumptions about her based solely on her appearance. “People come up to me all the time, like, ‘Oh, you know there’s a treatment, right?’ But why would I want to be any other way?” At a young age, she fell hard for another pop-culture disruptor— especially after she saw him discuss his own experience with vitiligo on Oprah. “I wanted to marry Michael Jackson growing up,” Harlow says. “Just the fact that he was massive and yet so different was really inspiring.”

Mona Lisa
From left: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, 1503-6; On Winnie: Denis Colomb stoles (worn as a headdress, top and sleeves). Photo: PARI DUKOVIC

Candice Huffine in The Birth of Venus

As a top plus-size model, Huffine was an obvious choice to re-create The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli’s paean to curvy femininity. What we didn’t know is that the 33-year-old stunner has felt a special connection to the painting’s depiction of the Roman goddess of love since she first set eyes on it as a teenager. The painting spoke to her. Literally. “I was like, ‘Oh, hey, girl.’ I didn’t know at the time why I was seeking her out, but maybe I was looking for someone I felt a connection to,” she says. It would take Huffine more than a decade in the business to walk her first runway, but she stole the show at Prabal Gurung, Christian Siriano, and Tome during the Fall 2017 season. For Huffine, the fashion world’s expanding parameters are merely a return to form. “I have a body like Venus, and people wanted to use her as their muse,” she says. “It’s well past time we acknowledge this is a body type that’s always been beautiful.”

Birth of venus
From left: Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, circa 1485; On Candice Effy Jewelry necklaces (worn in hair) $450,; Tiffany & Co. necklaces (worn in hair) $13,500-$19,500, Photo: PARI DUKOVIC

“When I saw The Birth of Venus, I was like, ‘Oh, hey, girl.’” —Candice Hiffine

Hari Nef as Madame X

Transgender model and actress Hari Nef has skyrocketed to fame as an emblem of contradiction. At once exposed and recalcitrant, freewheeling and brooding, the 25-year-old face of Gucci Bloom is a modern Madame X. So it comes as no surprise that in high school she wrote a paper on John Singer Sargent’s famed woman in black and made one of her first trips to New York just to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see her. “She had a reputation and a free spirit; she was a haver of affairs and an attender of parties,” Nef says of the 19th-century Parisian socialite, whose real name was Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. But Nef is perhaps most drawn to Gautreau’s apparent disinterest: “You can be in a beautiful dress with your skin exposed and be very sensual, but it doesn’t mean you have to lock eyes with the first Tom, Dick, or Harry you see. Maybe you just want to stare at the wall.”

madame x
From left: John Singer Sargent’s Madame X, 1883-84; On Hari: Oscar de la Renta jumpsuit $2,990, and scarf, $3,990,; David Webb necklaces (worn as straps), price upon request,; David Yurman hairpins (on strap), $6,200 or two,; Lulu Frost hair comb, $88, Photo: PARI DUKOVIC

Halima Aden in Girl With a Pearl Earring

The young woman in Dutch master Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring appears seductive precisely because of her restraint—she offers the viewer only a coy glance and a single exposed earlobe. For the first hijab- wearing Muslim model ever signed to a major agency, who typically covers her head and neck with a scarf, showing even that little sliver of skin was something new. “I have both my ears pierced,” says the 20-year-old Somali-American beauty, “but I’d never shown them before. It was just for me.” For Aden, modesty isn’t just about strict adherence to tradition. It’s a matter of intent: “It’s very physical. But it has to be mental too—you have to live a humble life,” she says. And while Aden’s career has required her to adapt her beliefs to new environments, she’s always up for a challenge. “I’ve worn so many different things as a hijab at this point,” she says of her Delft blue head scarf. “Nothing fazes me.”

Girl With a Pearl Earring
From left: Johannes Vermeer, Girl With a Pearl Earring, circa 1665-66; On Halima: Bottega Veneta jacket $4,250, and shirt, $550,; Ellen Christine Couture turban, $350-$1,200, Cartier earring, price upon request, Photo: PARI DUKOVIC

“I have both my ears pierced, but I’ve never shown them before. It was just for me.” —Halima Aden


Austrian painter Egon Schiele has been enshrined as a modern master, but it’s the raw, androgynous sexuality of his self-portraits that has cemented his legacy. Fortunately, androgynous sexuality is pretty much 27-year-old Swedish model Erika Linder’s whole thing—which is why she was our pick to reinterpret Schiele’s Self-Portrait With Peacock Waistcoat, Standing. Linder has been playing with gender since her very first photo shoot, for which she was cast as a young Leonardo DiCaprio. “I remember my agents were like, ‘You can’t do that!’ ” says Linder, who continued to build her career as a menswear model, even starring in an ad campaign for Tom Ford. If anything, it’s performing femininity that comes less easily to her. “I’ve never really been comfortable wearing a dress except in a photo shoot.”

Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Peacock Waistcoat, Standing, 1911, gouache, watercolor, and black crayon on paper, mounted on board. Ernst Ploil, Vienna, courtesy of Neue Galerie New York; On Erika: Gucci jacket $2,800, shirt, $1,400, and pants, $1,800,; Céline top, $1,800, Photo: Pari Dukovic

Hair: Dennis Gots; Makeup: Daniel Sallstrom for Chanel; Manicures: Naomi Yasuda for Chanel Le Vernis; Prop Styling: Theresa Rivera for Mary Howard Studio.

From: Harper’s BAZAAR US