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When I meet Lori Harvey for the first time, it's after 11 p.m. in a sleek hotel near the Empire State Building in NYC. It’s a long story how we got here and I won’t bore anyone with the details, but the point is, it’s late. Our shoot is the next day and I’m afraid this unplanned late night rendezvous will taint the atmosphere. She drifts down from her room (literally, I didn’t even hear her coming) in a matching white sweatsuit and Fendi sneakers, topknot in perfect position and her angelic face makeup free. She flashes me an uber-white smile and offers a firm handshake. It seems like it, maybe, as Olivia Pope would say, “it’s handled.” When I get to know her more over the next 36 hours, it becomes apparent that the 20-year-old daughter of Marjorie Harvey and stepdaughter of Steve Harvey is not your run of the mill celebrity brat. No, Lori Harvey might have had an upbringing decidedly different from you and me, but she’s hardly a diva. In fact, she tells me with an easy smile that her favorite restaurant is Benihana. “That’s definitely me. I’m a Benihana girl.” Yea, that’s not what I expected either.
The next day she arrives in Brooklyn to our set where a rack full of the latest Dolce and Gabbana and corresponding accessories are lined up like chic soldiers. Harvey, who scored her first (and so far only) modeling gig with the famed and somewhat controversial fashion house, is an unlikely runway star. At 5 foot, 3 inches, she is almost 7 inches shorter than the average catwalk queens that dominate the industry. As a champion equestrian for most of her life, her athletic build is also a departure from her would be peers but that cherub face I mentioned? Well, it’s like no other. And that, as they say, is the moneymaker. Harvey is not delusional about her unique position. In fact, she refers to her unusual stature several times to me throughout the day. In spite of these circumstances, she marched down several of the Dolce & Gabbana runways this year, including a couture show where her entire family was either also walking or a member of the audience. When I ask her how exactly she became a model, she, herself, emphasizes that it baffles her every day. “It literally just happened to me. To this day, I’m like, ‘I need to take a modeling class, like all these different classes.'"
OK, so being plucked from virtual obscurity is pretty much part and parcel of the charmed life of descendants of famous parents, but as the baby girl of a family like the Harveys and in this celebrity-driven culture, it is not so far-fetched that she would find success in this realm. For me, it’s a relief that Harvey is “making it” as a model among the Gigi Hadids and Kendall Jenners of the world. It would seem that a famous moniker is a prerequisite to a modeling career in a post-Instagram world. But when every other advertisement features someone tall, lanky and white, Lori brings a welcome change. She understands this precarious position she has been given, as well, as a role model of sorts to let other vertically challenged Black girls know that they can fit in in this world, too. “Being that I’m not a traditional model, it’s kind of cool because I feel like it’s opening up a door for a new generation of models that look more like me versus being 5-foot-10 and super skinny [with a] super flat stomach and super skinny legs like everything looks so perfect. So, it’s cool that I don’t have to be a size 00. I can literally just be me and that’s OK. Especially being that I wasn’t made to walk on a runway — and a high fashion runway at that — that’s insane. And the fact that [Dolce & Gabbana] keeps asking me to come back is insane because I think it’s really changing the fashion industry. It’s like a lot of people are taking interest and it’s gotten a lot of positive feedback because there’s more so people that look like me versus being super tall and super skinny. So, when they see somebody like me in the clothes, they can see themselves more. Even my sister, she loves fashion shows, but she’s like, 'Well I can’t get into it because I don’t look like a model, so I can’t picture myself walking down the runway.’”
And while she insists that this was not the chosen career path, she knows that this position she has is both fortunate and important. For any girl that loves clothing, being a model is an optimal career path. What doesn’t sound fun about trying on different clothes every day and getting photographed in them? But Lori says she always received the message that she could not make it. Her height and body type are at the forefront of the rejection reasons but fashion, in general, is not the friendliest industry for anyone that falls outside of the very typical, very white standard of beauty. In recent years, social communities like Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram have launched the careers of several “other” types of models. Girls like Winnie Harlow and Precious Lee owe the support of the online public to a lot of their success. Lori understands that she is part of this cultural shift. She says, earnestly, “I feel like you don’t see a lot of color in the fashion industry in general. You just don’t. I think I was one of five girls backstage at the show that was African-American. Of course it was an honor, but it also shows girls that look like me that you can do this too, you can break into this industry and play a huge role in it. It’s very achievable, it’s very possible. So, I think it’s very important to hold open the door for the next person and the next generation of girls that see me and are like, OK, I can do that. For the longest I was told that I couldn’t, but look at me now. Also I think that it’s very important to kind of not be swayed by other people’s opinions and not let other people’s judgments on what you can and can’t do. You can’t let someone tell you [that] you can’t do something, especially if that person hasn’t done it before. You know, it’s like, 'How are you going to tell me I can’t do something if you’ve never even done it.'”
Being first and being best is actually possibly Lori Harvey’s most natural disposition. In fact, Lori Harvey had a very different life path up until about two years ago. As a competitive horseback rider, she was on the fast track to the Olympics, gaining acceptance to every college she applied to and moving from Atlanta to Florida to pursue her education and her riding. Harvey and her siblings were homeschooled at her mother’s request, being pulled out of traditional school in seventh grade. “Honestly, I was like, ‘I want to stay in school.' Best decision that [my mom] ever made for me. I’m so glad she did it. She got us some tutors and we just did it like that. I honestly think I learned a lot faster that way too. So, I technically could have graduated when I was 16, but my mom didn’t want me to go to college that early, so I just dragged the last two years out until I finished.” Harvey was accepted to a school that was conducive to supporting her riding career in Florida and lived life as a relatively normal college student for about a year and half. Then fate struck and Lori sustained a devastating injury, falling from her horse in a show jumping competition, breaking her back and tearing her MCL. After that, she aimlessly hung around Florida, not able to ride and quickly losing interest in school, bored to death conforming to an education model that was unfamiliar to her. She begged her mom to be able to come home and, eventually, she switched to online classes. She went home to Atlanta, her future changed and — little did she know — her future husband waiting in the wings to shoot his shot.
When I ask Lori about her fiancé, it’s hard to describe her reaction as any other way but “lit up.” She’s someone with a pretty natural glow, but her entire demeanor changes as soon as I ask her to tell me their love story. The news of her engagement was splashed across multiple celebrity news sites and I have to say, when I see the (by my estimation) eight-to-nine-carat stunner on her finger on that fateful evening in the hotel lobby, she has to be coerced into removing her hand from her pocket. She’s that low-key about it. And while she is bashful about the spectacle of her diamond, she’s not shy about sharing her story. Her words tumble out quickly, like she still has a crush on him after all this time. “It’s like he just fell out of nowhere. He is just so perfect. Everything just happened so perfect. I honestly, genuinely feel like he was made for me. That’s my other half. I love him so much. Like, he could not be more perfect for me. We are literally just the same.” Their story goes something like this: boy spots girl on the beach. Boy approaches girl and requests her number. Girl reluctantly acquiesces but ignores boy’s calls for a year. Boy never gives up. Eventually, girl answers one phone call from boy and the rest is history. Of course, this would be typical if anything about Lori’s life was in any way typical, but the boy in question is Dutch professional soccer player Memphis Depay. Depay, at 23, is only three years Lori’s senior and currently lives in France, but he was focused. In fact, in that initial surfside meeting, he told Lori that she was his future wife. Turns out, he was right. Lori says, “He called me for like a year straight and I would not answer the phone. He would send me flowers and I would be like, 'Thank you,' and that was it. I gave him no play and he did not understand. So then, one day, I don’t even know why, I picked up the phone and was like, ‘Fine what do you want?’ and we just talked for hours, like all night. And then we started talking everyday.” After their romance progressed, Depay asked Lori to visit him in Manchester. On her behalf, her parents refused the invitation, but in perhaps her only rebellious move ever, Lori went anyway.
I grill her about what it was like to be Steve Harvey’s daughter and dating. Harvey, who famously wrote the book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, regularly doles out battle of the sexes relationship advice on his talk show. The movie adaptation of his book is a modern classic. After Depay asked Lori to visit England, the drama ensued. “My dad cussed him out and everything before I went and was like, ‘If you do anything, I swear to God I’ll kill you.’ And he was like, ‘Nope, I won’t hurt her I promise I got her. I love her.’ And [my dad] was like, ‘Yeah, OK, you don’t love her like I love her. And I was like, ‘Boy, you better not make me look stupid because I just really went against my parents for you.’ And he didn’t. From day one, he was like, ‘You’re going to be my wife.’ He was so serious.”
And now, Lori is prepping for a move to Leon, France, a small city in the southwestern part of the country, where Depay currently lives while playing for the Lyon club. This is going to be hard on her for many reasons; the biggest one, though, is that she will have to be away from her family. “All of my siblings live in Atlanta except for one of my older brothers. He lives in LA now because he works for my dad. So, wherever my dad goes, he goes. But everyone else is in Atlanta.” Sure, it’s only a plane ride away, technically, but Lori and her family are extremely close and, as the youngest girl, it's going to be a particular strain on her relationship with her mother, who I catch her Facetiming with during our shoot to get her approval on the rack of clothes I pulled. Lori is Marjorie’s biological daughter but her father’s identity is a mystery. Her mother and stepfather married when she was 10 and blended their two families together. She took the last name Harvey and the other details are suspiciously fuzzy. Attempts at research lead me down a rabbit hole, but not to the truth so I, respectfully, decide not to ask her about it. Instead, I ask her what her relationship with her mom is like. “She calls me like 20 times a day. But you know, its just cause I’m the baby, that’s what all my siblings say. But she calls everybody a lot. She knows I’ll answer the phone. I’ll be like, ‘Hey mom. What are you doing? [I’m doing the] same thing I was doing five minutes ago. What’s up?’’ So aside from a few subtle ear piercings, a recent haircut and that trip to visit her now-fiancé in Manchester, Lori has never been the bad girl type. She plays by the rules and knows her boundaries, especially with her family. She would never bring anyone into the fold that wasn’t the real deal. She tells me, “I was never in love with anybody, ever. It’s one of those things where it takes a lot to get my full attention and really get me invested. So, he went through it, it was not easy. And I have a big family and they’re not even just my family, but also all the people around us that are like family, so he had to go through all those people. I was scared for him.” But everyone got on board quickly. A full year before his proposal, Depay asked Lori’s mom, the resident purveyor of impeccable taste in the family, for ring advice and her stepdad for permission to propose. And then, of course, that went off magically as well.
So, if you don’t believe your life can change in a minute, take this 20-year-old’s biographical arc as a blueprint for just how left things can go before they start going right. Lori, who thought that she would be on the U.S. Equestrian team, is about to become a French citizen. And in the meantime, she is flourishing in her career as an accidental model. Living and modeling in Europe will actually be more difficult than here in the States, with the other models primarily fitting the descriptions previously mentioned, and the hair and makeup people even less equipped to handle anyone that falls outside of that norm. In particular, I am curious about how she does her hair for the runway. “It’s so funny because most of the time for the shows I will do my hair prior to going and that way they can just touch it up. The last show, I cut my hair a lot because I’m trying to get my curl pattern back, so I was like please don’t straighten my hair. And they were like, 'OK.' But they couldn’t figure out how to diffuse it. So I was like, 'Can I do it?' And she was like, 'No, it’s OK I got it.' And I was like, 'No really, please, I’ve got it.'” Sadly, this scenario is all too common in the fashion industry, but its magnified in Europe, where truly anyone Black or brown is in the small and selective minority. But Lori’s place in fashion is pretty singular, as she’s been attending shows in Paris since she was 11 years old and first fell in love. Her mom, who has also graced the Dolce & Gabbana runway, is a legendary shopper. Her blog, The Lady Loves Couture, is an accurate name. Lori, who is a beneficiary of her mom’s sartorial prowess, says that her mom’s closet is still awesome to her, even now. “It’s like living in a mall. Oh my God, it’s not real. It’s not. It’s a fantasy world. Like, every time I walk in there, I’m, like, just looking around even though I see it all the time.” For a little while, Lori was embarrassed by the attention that the clothes her mom brought for her garnered. She rejected them but eventually homeschooling opened her up to being able to develop her own look. Now, her style is part of the package that you get when you hire her as a model. To set, she arrives in an oversized Givenchy t-shirt, sweatpants, Yeezy sneakers and a 25cm Birkin bag. Yea, she’s a Gen Z dream girl but, like with her megawatt engagement ring, she’s extremely sensible about it all. She pulls an extra look I had called in from Oscar de la Renta and fingers the embroidery. She tells me she wants to wear it. I get the feeling that she doesn’t hear no a ton, so she wears it. She tells me she likes it so much that she’s thinking about buying it. I tell her the price will be upwards of $6,000, she changes her mind. “I don’t need it then. I’ll just wear it now,’ she says. She’s come a long way, though, in terms of confidence in how she puts herself together. She tells me, “I felt like I always needed validation and was nervous about everything really. Like, ‘Is this OK? Is this cool?’ You know? My mom would be like, ‘Lori just do it. If you like it, just do it.’ But I would always be so nervous.”
Now, at 20 (and engaged), she’s got a serene confidence in how she looks that it personally took me another 10 years to get a handle on. “I’ve honestly done a style change now. I’m all about if it’s comfortable. If it’s comfortable, I’m honestly not even kidding. If I went out, I would wear this, like no shame,” she says, pulling at the t-shirt hanging loosely on her petite frame. What I admire most about her is that this self-assurance is still not shaken by her otherness in the modeling world. I’m curious, though, how she stays immune to the pressure because even the aforementioned Gigi Hadid famously dropped around 25 pounds to secure her legitimacy as a model. She explains that, for her, it’s about balance and forgiving yourself. “I love all the food. I’m such a foodie. I love a good meal. I recently just went pescatarian. Even though I had some Chipotle yesterday, but we’re not gonna talk about it. Mainly, I try to just eat really healthy, really clean. A lot of fruits, veggies. I love sushi, like I could live off sushi. I couldn’t cut that out. I tried to go straight vegan like my sister did but, first of all, she’s a chef, so I’m like, 'You can cook some vegan foods and it tastes good' and I’d just be sitting here eating lettuce and be sad.” She doesn’t want to be sad because Lori really genuinely loves life. It comes across in how she is with people. She continues, “But, that’s also why I work out so hard. I work out everyday. I keep a balance, I don’t starve myself and I’m not super strict, like, you can only eat lettuce or fruits. I’ll still have a cookie here and there.” Spoken like a true pro already.
So, besides the big trans-Atlantic move, what’s next on the horizon for the soon to be Mrs. Depay? Well, wedding planning, naturally. It’s no surprise that Marjorie Harvey has a heavy hand in that too. “Honestly, I might just show up and it will already be planned. Like, she’ll already have everything planned out. I really wouldn’t be surprised. I’m like, ‘Mom we should start looking for a wedding planner.’ and she’s like, ‘Oh, I already have one.’ and I’m like, ‘As far as flowers go…’ and she’s like, ‘Oh I already have your florist.’ I was like, ‘Oh OK.’ I was like, ‘Let’s think about the venue.’ And she was like, ‘Oh I already have that too.’” But Marjorie’s touch might not be that noticeable in the final product as Lori actually wants a small affair. Being the youngest does have its advantages. She already knows the stress factors of a giant wedding. “My sisters, they had big weddings. So I remember what that was like. I had a great time, though. But, for my own, I think that would stress me out. If I haven’t talked to you in the last three months, you don’t need to come. Really last month, because everybody that I’m really close to I talk to regularly. Especially now with social media, its so easy to keep in contact with people, but honestly, if I can’t think of you off the top of my head, then I’m like, ‘It’s OK, you don’t need to be there.’ I know Memphis’s list is super small. I know he might have 15 people on his list, so it’s going to be small for sure.” Having gotten to know her over 48 hours, I can totally understand that this would be reflective of who she is. A big blowout affair wouldn’t appeal to her and, though she hasn’t done much of the planning yet, I can’t imagine that it will be far off from what she just described. She gets to live out her fashion fantasies on a runway and it’s not likely this will be her last opportunity to wear something spectacular. Lori might be American royalty, but she’s not the type to wear a crown outside of the studio and maybe that’s the true sign of her class. No, this wedding, which we are all anxiously awaiting, will be exactly as she says. Small and sincere, just like Lori herself.