We’ve grown to love Ilfenesh Hadera through our screens from projects, including She’s Gotta Have It, Baywatch, and most recently, Godfather of Harlem. But when the 34-year-old actress, who is a Harlem native, is not acting she is working with a non-governmental organization that helps African immigrants, diving into fitness, and drooling over style finds.
There’s much more that goes on BTS of a celebrity and Hadera is proof that a healthy work-life balance can allow you to enjoy your hobbies. For her, her passion just happens to be fashion. From Bottega Veneta heels to Paco Rabanne gowns to her favorite fashion moments in her career, ESSENCE chatted with actress about her style obsessions.
ESSENCE: The fashion from the 1960s, which is the time period in which Godfather of Harlem is set, is much different than now. What do you think is the biggest shift when it comes to your character’s style?
Ilfenesh Hadera: There’s definitely in 2020, a lean towards activewear. I personally spend half my day in Nike running pants. But in the show, everything in fashion is so intentional. So head to toe, you don’t leave your house without your hat, earrings that match your broach, and your necklace that goes with your handbag.
What are some of your favorite pieces or fashion moments from the show?
There’s a scene, where [my character Mayme Johnson] and [co-star] Forest [Whitaker] are driving through Harlem together, and he’s just come back from prison. She’s wearing this blue hat with these amazing gold earrings that were actually from ZARA. Our costume designer is a really young guy, so he’s got his finger on the pulse. I got to have fun. We had a scene [in] episode four where we’re at this boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Doug Jones. I got to put my fur on. In real life, I have feelings about fur.
“Style is like body language. So it’s how you express yourself without words. ”
Faux or real fur?
If you wear real fur, that’s your crusade, I’m not here to dictate how anyone else lives their life. On set I’ll agree to wear vintage fur but in my own life I don’t wear any.
What are some of your favorite style trends right now?
It’s going to sound really obnoxious. For me, whatever’s not trendy is what I love. Style is like body language. So it’s how you express yourself without words. So it’s a reflection of mood and attitude, and I don’t know how you feel authentic in yourself, if you’re walking down the street and everybody looks just like you. But if wearing your fanny pack around your neck actually speaks to you and makes you feel like you’re being yourself, that’s great.
What’s something in your closet you’re obsessed with?
[My] Bottega Veneta stretch sandals with the square toe. I’m spending all of my money on all of their shoes. They’re so good and functional. The heel is a perfect height. You can actually walk around in them. They’re chic and different because they have the square toe.
What are some of your favorite red carpet moments?
In September, I wore this Paco Rabanne silver number. It was a mini-dress with cap sleeves, so fun.
Now that you have a break from filming, what’s the biggest misconception behind the glitz and glam?
It looks all so exciting and it is, but they’re really long days on set. You’ve got to stay healthy and sharp. But if it’s specific to being an actress, “I think that there is a great misconception that things must be competitive, especially among women, when they’re not.”
This interview was edited for clarity.