In just two years, Nora Lum — better known as Awkwafina — has transformed from YouTube rapper to Golden Globe-winning actress. But what we really need to talk about is her pantsuits.
From her pale pink Dsquared2 sequined pantsuit at last year’s Academy Awards, to the Christian Dior gown she paired with a black blazer at the 2020 Golden Globes, her daring fashion game has led the InStyle staff to anoint her the "Diane Keaton of Millennials."
“Oh, that's too much!” Awkwafina is quick to swat away the compliment, but the proof is in the pictures. Both Keaton, who’s achieved icon level status among a certain circle of capital “F” fashion lovers, and the 29-year-old actress have an affinity for in-your-face shapes (bold shoulders, cinched waists, voluminous skirts that could hide a small dog), trippy patterns (every kind of check print under the sun, preferably all at once), and, of course, the androgynous, almost Victorian-inspired suits.
“The first time I really wore a suit to an event, I remember thinking, ‘I can move so well,’” Awkwafina told InStyle at the TCA Press Tour in Pasadena, where she was promoting Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens. “But then there is [also] something about looking at yourself in a suit that does make you feel a sense of empowerment."
"I like suits because I grew up kind of more of a tomboy," she continued, "so I live in them better. I feel like I could run, you know?”
With the help of stylist Erica Cloud, Awkwafina has seen her sense of style evolve since she first hit the carpet for Crazy Rich Asians in 2018. “I always felt very unsure when it came to fashion, but what I learned from [working with a stylist] is that it is definitely an expression of who you are," she said. "If you don't [feel like] yourself in it, you're not going to feel good in anything that you wear.”
Her fashion choices may be sparkly enough to make Elton John blush, but Awkwafina’s bold looks still start from a place we can all relate to: “I think fittings for me always start with insecurity, like, ‘I hate this part about me,’” she admits, adding she’s had to grow into the idea of wearing a dress. “I love dresses, but I think I had to learn to love myself in a dress. I had to learn to look at myself and be like, ‘Don't slouch; really stand up and feel proud that you're in this beautiful dress.’ I had to teach myself that.”
Though she's grown in to her red carpet presence, her new Comedy Central series is a look back at the old Awkwafina, er, Nora. The show, which premieres tonight, hilariously (and very loosely) depicts Awkwafina’s pre-fame years living with her father and grandmother. And with the series underway, the actress tells InStyle she’s finally settling into success.
“In the very beginning I would have these nightmares that it was all a dream, but yeah, it's less of a constant surprise and a constant panic attack,” she says. “You come into yourself, I think, and you start to understand yourself and accept yourself. I think in the beginning I really didn't know what I was doing and in some ways I really still don't. They say you learn more from your failures than your successes ... I'm just very grateful for and I really hope that continues.”
Awkwafina is Nora from Queens premieres on Jan. 22 on Comedy Central.