The Haim Sisters on Their Crazy Year, Sexism in Music, and Why Women Should Dress Women

On a bright, crisp November day, the Haim sisters were working on procuring pancakes in New York’s Upper East Side. It was the morning of a party before the Guggenheim Museum's annual gala, and Danielle, Este, and Alana were set to be the night's featured entertainment, following in the footsteps of the xx, Grimes, and Banks at the Dior-sponsored fête. Later, they would tear through a selection from their catalogue—including “Want You Back,” the lead single from their second album, July's Something to Tell You—but first, room service.

Surrounding a dining table in a suite at the Carlyle Hotel, the sisters surveyed their spread. Alana sighed audibly as she lifted the lid from a stack of pancakes, and Este took a stab at an omelette. Danielle picked up a couple of slices of toast and a green juice. When someone remarked on the juice, she remarked, faux-defensively, “I’m from L.A.”

It was just past 11 a.m., and the day promised to stretch on: They were fresh out of hair and makeup, and that night, they would swap out their band t-shirts and denim (or, in Este’s case, a polka-dotted wrap minidress) for coordinating, custom-designed Maria Grazia Chiuri looks for the stage.

Earlier in the fall, they had received the initial sketches for the costumes that now hung in the suite with them. They began with a color—red; Este, an avid Frank Lloyd Wright fan, later learned the architect had originally envisioned a museum in red marble—and their preferred silhouettes (Este usually performs in a skirt; Danielle opts for trousers), and they emerged from the process with shimmering cherry ensembles. Iridescent, knee-high combat boots anchored each of the looks: For Este, a mosaic-mirrored dress; for Alana, a similar bodysuit with a pleated mesh skirt over the top; and for Danielle, red leather pants with a sheer chiffon top. When they slid into the looks later in the morning, the glare of the sun caught the mirrored panels, casting red speckles on the hotel walls like a red-dimmed disco ball.

“I honestly feel like I can run a marathon and kick somebody’s ass at the same time,” Este said, feigning a karate move.

Haim have come a long way in the intervening decade since they played their first-ever show, in Los Angeles, and in the four years since they released their debut album, 2013’s Days Are Gone. It was just after that release that they attended their first Paris Fashion Week and began charting the course in the fashion industry that, this week, brought them to the stage of the Guggenheim: While touring Europe in 2014, they received an email from Chloé inviting them to Clare Waight Keller’s Fall 2014 show. Then, to the 2015 Grammys, they wore a combination of Chloé and Stella McCartney; the next year, they attended McCartney’s show in Los Angeles. The following year, they attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala for the exhibition “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” wearing lace column dresses in black and white by Rodarte, walking the red carpet with the designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy. (“We love being surrounded by sisters,” Alana told me earlier this year.) In June, they went to the CFDA Awards with Diane von Furstenberg while wearing looks by Jonathan Saunders, von Furstenberg’s successor at her eponymous label. It seemed, I said to them, that they had worked especially with women designers—which seemed especially salient, given how many women have taken over major fashion houses over the past year.

Yes,” Este said immediately. “It’s also hard to dress a woman, to know a woman’s body, if you’re not a woman—especially for all different types of sizes,” Alana added. The previous day, they had tried on their Dior looks, which included separate ensembles for the red carpet, the party performance, and the following night’s more grown-up gala: “It was like, 'Wow, this was made for my curves. I feel proud to have these curves and this silhouette,'” she said.

But it wasn’t just with Days Are Gone that the sisters took an interest in fashion—rather, their evolving relationships with these labels are the logical culmination of a childhood spent digging through their mom’s vintage leotards and scarves and perusing the pages of glossy magazines in the back of their local Barnes & Noble in the San Fernando Valley. They have long mastered the art of coordinating-without-matching à la, as they cited, Spice Girls or Destiny’s Child, and they’ve mapped that onto the stage. (They also work with stylist Rebecca Grice, whose other clients include Lorde and Leona Lewis.)

“We have amazing women to look up to in our family,” Alana said, pulling up a photo of their maternal grandmother on her phone. In the image, she wore cat-eye sunglasses and held a woven basket bag in one hand; in a wide-lapeled dress or skirt set, she leaned into a flower bush. Their Bulgarian grandmother on their father’s side, Danielle added, was a seamstress who sewed her family’s clothes—and who, apparently, might make them a blood relative of von Furstenberg.

“That night of the CFDA Awards, she came up to us and she’s like, ‘You know, we’re related,’” Este said. Von Furstenberg told them she, too, had family members surnamed Haim in Bulgaria. “Just for it to maybe be true is…” Alana began. “That’s something I’m holding onto,” Este finished. From time to time, speaking with the Haim sisters feels a bit like confronting a Greek chorus: They finish each other’s sentences, and when they’re not completing each other’s thoughts, they are often saying the same thing in unison.

HAIM and Maria Grazia Chiuri at the 2017 Guggenheim International Gala Pre-Party by Dior at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City on Wednesday, November 15th. Photo by Hunter Abrams for W Magazine.

Some of these relationships have come even more into focus since the release of Something to Tell You: In October, they swept through Paris Fashion Week again, stopping by Valentino, Stella McCartney, Chanel, and Givenchy, where, bringing it full circle, they were among the attendees of Keller’s first show since taking over the label from Riccardo Tisci—an appointment that led Chiuri, Dior’s first woman artistic director (who was named Raf Simons’s successor last year) to cheer, “Another one!

Two weeks before the Dior and Guggenheim event, the sisters, had played Equality Now’s “Make Equality Reality” gala in front of an audience that included Chvrches frontwoman Lauren Mayberry—who has been outspoken about misogyny in the music industry—several cast members of Orange Is the New Black, and the event’s co-chair, Gloria Steinem. Being in the same room as Steinem and so many others, Este said, lent them the feeling that “we can do anything; we’re so powerful.”

Such rooms filled with outspoken women serve as something of an antidote to the gender-based inequality they have witnessed in the music industry over the course of their careers. “During our first record,” Danielle explained, “everything was new to us. I don’t think we realized some of the stuff that we were having to go through—if someone was like, ‘You have to get off the stage because the main act, they need more soundcheck time,’ we’d just be like, ‘Oh, okay, sorry,’” she continued, miming their meek response. “Then, we realize, ‘What the f--k? If they were men, would they be f---ing saying that to us?’”

Alana echoed this: “We find out crazy s--t after the fact, like we got paid 10 times less than some other band that’s a dude band.”

“Now, I feel like the conversation is a little bit more open,” Danielle said. (It’s very much the conversation: After all, not only has pay disparity continued to be a prevailing topic of discussion in many industries, but numerous allegations of sexual harassment and abuse have also surfaced, catalyzed in large part by the accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein.) “Is this real?” Este wondered of their own experiences. “It’s 2017. How is this s--t still happening?”

HAIM performing at the 2017 Guggenheim International Gala Pre-Party by Dior at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City on Wednesday, November 15th. Photo by Hunter Abrams for W Magazine.

Alana said their own confidence is reflected in both the sound and the look of Something to Tell You as compared with Days Are Gone. (“Right now, we really feel like strong, empowered women, and I think the record’s just dealing with that,” Danielle told me when we spoke in July.) For example, take the album cover, she told me: On Days Are Gone, the three sisters sit side-by-side, looking just away from the camera’s lens; on Something to Tell You, they look straight into the camera, their eyes shrouded by sunglasses. “We’re just ready to go,” she said. “This is us.”

“I don’t know if you can tell,” Este said, “but we’re a fortress.”

From a certain angle, the interior of the Guggenheim’s rotunda can also look fortress-like; when the trio took the stage for the party that night, observers wound up the spiral ramp and peered down, perhaps more Panopticon than castle keep. Danielle, Alana, and Este joined Chiuri on the red carpet, while Dior-clad attendees like Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, and Michelle Monaghan filed into the museum.

The austere white walls of the gallery glowed red as the girls took the stage, playing a series of five of their own songs, including “The Wire,” off Days Are Gone, and “Found It In Silence” and “Night So Long,” both off Something to Tell You, punctuated by shimmies and coordinated dance moves.

Then, remarking that the crowd seemed like one that would stand their ground, they closed the night with Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”—a fitting climax to the story.