Julia Haart on the set of Netflix’s “My Unorthodox Life”


Disclaimer: This article presents a discussion of suicide. The reader’s discretion is advised.

In seven years, without any formal training, Julia Haart executed the rebranding of her life: the fashion mogul launched her own line of high heels, became creative director of luxury lingerie brand La Perla and took over the general management of Elite. World Group, an international network of modeling and talent agencies representing Kendall Jenner and Adut Akech. From the outside, his notoriety seemed dazzling. But what most people didn’t know was that Haart worked for years to leave her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and go out on her own. Now in the new Netflix reality show My unorthodox life, which premiered on July 14, she’s finally ready to share it all.

Throughout the nine-episode series, Haart (who is also an executive producer) describes clips from her past life, where she says she had to dress modestly and conform to restrictive gender roles, focusing on only on becoming a wife and a mother. For eight years, she prepared to leave by learning from books and selling life insurance to build up a nest egg. Much of the show focuses on his relationships with his four children, who all operate to varying degrees of religiosity, including his youngest son who still divides his time between the old world of Haart and his new one. She is also ready to share some more in her next memoir, Brazen: My unorthodox journey from long sleeves to lingerie, which receives an important screenplay in the series.

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My unorthodox life is filled with the traps of a soapy reality TV show. There’s expensive clothes, trips to Paris Fashion Week, helicopters for the Hamptons, and a mini flashmob for her daughter’s TikTok. But there are also overlapping conversations about religion and observance, and the show has already received scathing reviews for its portrayals of Orthodox Jews, especially in an era of growing anti-Semitism, including in the town where Haart lived.

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

When did you decide to make this huge change, to leave your old life behind and start a new one?

Honestly, it was a very, very long process. It took me about eight years to get through the door. The quick answer would be that first I gave myself permission to admit that something was wrong with the world I was in. This is the hardest thing – because it’s you against thousands of years of tradition and God and the people who claim to speak for God. It is not a fair fight.

All my 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] it all fell into place, still walking through that door, moving 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 house to their husband’s house, and their only job is to be good mothers and wives, this is the world I have lived in. I literally must have traveled back in time a few hundred years. And I never would have done this without my daughter, Miriam. She is the most similar of my children to me. She has had the most difficult times in this community because she is also a nonconformist by nature. Here is that free spirit in a world where free spirit is not a thing. I watched them try to mold her and bend her into this obedient woman, and I just couldn’t let that happen. It was then that I walked through the door.

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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 living at the time?

No, because it’s like a woman from the 1800s dreaming of being a CEO. It would have been inconceivable. I even realized that the books I read – I read thousands of them – 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 mine 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 with fashion begin and how has it evolved?

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

I have loved fashion all my life. I learned to sew myself when I was 16 years old. I have drawn all my life and bought fashion magazines and hid them because fashion is not an acceptable career in my world. The clothes were meant to conceal and make invisible, so that you didn’t want as much attention as possible. Because if someone sees you, they might think badly about you. For 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 has your background influenced your approach to managing your business?

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 loved you, or a creative director or a photographer, you weren’t doing it. Now, with the advent of social media, you can talk to people directly.

They get to know you as a person, what excites you, what is unique about you. We give as many people as possible this ability to transform into brands and networks, so that the day they don’t snowshoe or parade anymore, they can monetize their access and connection to people. It puts that control and longevity in their hands. This whole mission, the way we go, the fact that I’m working 20 hours a day, the fact that I’m so motivated and focused, it’s all based on the fact that I know what it’s like to not have to ‘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 family dynamics. While filming, did you learn anything about your family that you hadn’t noticed before?

In my head, I’m so used to all of us getting along and being one, even though we all think differently and are all in different places in our lives. This is normal for me. And a lot of the comments I’ve gotten are from people saying, “Wow, it’s so unusual how you all get along. It struck me, it’s actually something we really have to be thankful for, because it’s so unusual. We all have very different opinions. We see it differently. But then what? You can like people who disagree with you. You can be a family with people who are not born to you. It is about unity, love, appreciation, listening and caring for one another.

my unorthodox life

The children of Haart, Miriam, Shlomo and Aron.

Netflix

You say on the show that your problem is not with religion, but rather with fundamentalism. You are determined in the way you talk about your community. How do you navigate these conversations, especially at a time when so many people are talking about anti-Semitism?

I really hope this will pass, because I love being a Jewish woman. My family, we are all proud Jews. I have religious children. I have no problem with that at all. And by the way, we have all been victims of anti-Semitism. The people, when they found out that I was Jewish, got up and moved their seats so they wouldn’t sit next to me.

My problem is a global problem that is not unique to my company; it is with fundamentalism. When they say a woman should or shouldn’t cover up, a man shouldn’t have to control himself, then you’re going to have a problem 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 a problem with me.

I like being a mother. I like to have children. My problem is that no man, country, philosophy and religion should tell women who they are meant to be and what they are meant to do, otherwise they are sinful and evil. It is not about God. It is certainly not about Judaism. It is all about fundamentalism.

julia haart my unorthodox life

Haart and his daughter Batsheva.

Netflix

You are also extremely open about your sanity on the show. How were you taught to view your sanity, and how do you think about it now?

Honestly, without my kids I think the way I would have left my community would have been to kill myself. The year before I left, I wrote almost every day in my journal: What is the best way where I can hurt my children the least? I decided that I would starve myself because then people wouldn’t realize that I committed suicide, and they would think I just had an eating disorder, which is not a such a serious stigma in my world.

Again, this is about giving yourself permission to recognize that something is wrong with your life that life doesn’t seem worth living. As women, we are always told to be polite, calm, obedient, respectful. We almost got used to being miserable and making our peace with it, because we were 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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