Julia Haart on Filming Netflix’s ‘My Unorthodox Life’

Fitness

Warning: This article features a discussion about suicide. Reader discretion is advised.

In seven years, with no formal training, Julia Haart has executed the rebrand of a lifetime: The fashion mogul launched her own line of high heels, became the creative director of the luxury lingerie brand La Perla, and took over as chief executive of Elite World Group, an international network of modeling and talent agencies representing the likes of Kendall Jenner and Adut Akech. From the outside, her notoriety seemed meteoric. But what most people didn’t know was that Haart worked for years to leave her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and strike out on her own. Now, in the new Netflix reality show My Unorthodox Life, which premiered July 14, she’s finally ready to share it all.

Throughout the nine-episode series, Haart (who also serves as an executive producer) describes snippets of her past life, where she says she was expected to dress modestly and conform to restrictive gender roles, focusing solely on becoming a wife and mother. Over the course of eight years, she prepared to leave by educating herself through books and selling life insurance to build up a nest egg. A large part of the show focuses on her relationships with her four children, all of whom operate from varying degrees of religiosity, including her youngest son who still splits his time between Haart’s old world and her new one. She’s also set to share even more in her upcoming memoir, Brazen: My Unorthodox Journey from Long Sleeves to Lingerie, which receives a significant storyline in the series.

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My Unorthodox Life is filled with the trappings of a sudsy reality show. There are expensive clothes, trips to Paris Fashion Week, helicopters to the Hamptons, and a mini flashmob for her daughter’s TikTok. But there are also layered conversations about religion and observance, and the show’s already received pointed criticism for its depictions of Orthodox Jews, especially during a time of rising anti-Semitism—including in the town where Haart once lived.

Below, Haart opens up what she learned filming the show, how she navigates talking about her community, and why choosing her own fashion is “the ultimate freedom.”

What was the moment you decided you had to make this huge change, to leave behind your old life and start a new one?

Honestly, it was a very, very long process. It took around eight years before I actually walked out the door. The quick answer would be that first, I gave myself permission to acknowledge that something wasn’t right in the world I was in. That is the most difficult thing—because it’s you against thousands of years of tradition and God and people who claim to speak for God. It’s not a fair fight.

My whole life, I thought it was my fault that I wasn’t happy. I thought something was wrong with me. Then I had to educate myself, and [with] everything set up, still walking out that door, walking away from everyone and everything you’ve ever known and becoming a time-traveler. If you watch shows on Netflix like Bridgerton, where women go from their father’s home to their husband’s home, and their sole job is to be good mothers and wives, that’s the world I lived in. I literally had to time-travel a couple of hundred years. And I would never have done that without my daughter, Miriam. She’s the most similar of my kids to me. She had the most difficult time in that community because she’s also a nonconformist by nature. Here’s this free-spirit in a world where free spirit’s not a thing. I watched them trying to mold her and bend her into that obedient woman, and I just couldn’t let it happen. That’s when I walked out the door.

my unorthodox life

Haart’s daughters Miriam and Batsheva.

Netflix

When you were growing up, did you ever consider other dreams for your life beyond what you were experiencing at the time?

No, because it’s like a woman in the 1800s dreaming of being a CEO. It would have been inconceivable. I even realized that the books that I read—I read thousands of books—were Euripides and Voltaire and Descartes and Cicero and Spinoza and Walt Whitman. They were all in the past. I think, subconsciously, [the modern] world was so far removed from my own that I couldn’t even relate to it, so I didn’t read about it.

Brazen: My Unorthodox Journey from Long Sleeves to Lingerie

When did your relationship to fashion begin, and how did that evolve?

The first time I can remember thinking about fashion, I was 3 years old. My family had been victims of intense anti-Semitism in Russia, and we were in this internment camp in Rome on our way to America. In this camp, this little 5-year-old boy gave me my first handbag. That was the beginning of everything.

I loved fashion my entire life. I taught myself to sew when I was around 16 years old. I was drawing my entire life and buying fashion magazines and hiding them because fashion is not an acceptable career in my world. Clothes were meant to conceal and make invisible, to make you as non-attention-seeking as possible. Because if someone will see you, they may have a bad thought about you. To me, fashion is self-expression through beauty and art. Choosing what to put on my body is the ultimate freedom.

julia haart my unorthodox life

Haart is the creative director of Elite World Group’s first fashion collection, e1972.

Netflix

How did your background influence your approach to running your company?

Today’s industry can be incredibly powerful in helping people transform their lives and become financially independent. In this industry, if there wasn’t a casting agent who liked you, or a creative director or photographer, you weren’t making it. Now with the advent of social media, you can talk directly to people.

They get to know you as a person, what you’re passionate about, what’s unique about you. We’re giving as many people as we can that ability to help transform themselves into brands and networks, so the day they’re no longer spinning a racket or walking a runway, they can monetize their access and their connection to people. It puts that control and longevity in their hands. That entire mission, the way we move forward, the fact that I work 20-hour days, the fact that I am so driven and focused, it is all based on the fact that I know what it’s like not to have financial independence. I know what it’s like not to be your own person, to have to ask permission for everything.

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A huge part of My Unorthodox Life is the family dynamics. Through filming, was there anything you learned about your family that you didn’t notice before?

In my head, I’m so used to us all getting along and being united, even though we all think differently, and we’re all in different places in our life. That’s the normal to me. And a lot of the comments I’ve been getting are people saying, “Wow, it’s so unusual how you all get along.” It hit me that’s actually something we really need to be thankful for, because it really is unusual. We all have very different opinions. We see things differently. But so what? You can love people who don’t agree with you. You can be family with people who weren’t born to you. It’s about unity and love and appreciation and listening and taking care of one another.

my unorthodox life

Haart’s children, Miriam, Shlomo, and Aron.

Netflix

You do say on the show that your problem is not with religion, but rather fundamentalism. You’re purposeful in how you talk about your community. How do you navigate those conversations, especially during a time when so many people are speaking about anti-Semitism?

I really hope that comes through—because I love being a Jewish woman. My family, we’re all proud Jews. I’ve got religious children. I have no issue with that at all whatsoever. And by the way, we have all been victims of anti-Semitism. People have, when they found out I was Jewish, stood up and moved their seat so as not to sit next to me.

My issue is a global issue that is not unique to my society; it’s with fundamentalism. When they say that a woman should cover herself or be less than so, that a man shouldn’t have to control himself, then you’re going to have an issue with me. When people tell me that women, their only purpose in life is to be mothers and have babies, then you’re going to have an issue with me.

I love being a mother. I love having children. My issue is that no man, no country, no philosophy, and no religion should tell women who they are supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing, otherwise they’re sinners and bad. This isn’t about God. This certainly isn’t about Judaism. This is solely and utterly about fundamentalism.

julia haart my unorthodox life

Haart and her daughter Batsheva.

Netflix

You’re also extremely open about your mental health on the show. How were you taught to consider your mental health, and how do you think about it now?

Honestly, had it not been for my children, I think the way I would have left my community would have been to kill myself. The year before I left, I wrote in my journal almost every day: What is the best method where I can hurt my children the least? I decided I would starve myself to death because then people wouldn’t realize I had committed suicide, and they would think I just had an eating disorder, which is not as bad of a stigma in my world.

Again, it’s about giving yourself permission to acknowledge that something is so wrong in your life that life doesn’t seem worth living. As women, we are always told to be polite, to be quiet, to be obedient, to be respectful. We have been almost accustomed to being miserable and making peace with it, because we’ve been told to be obedient. And I’m sorry, no more. It’s our turn. I don’t want to be obedient.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

Watch My Unorthodox Life on Netflix

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