Photography by Steve Parke
Location: Casa Apicii, New York Hair: Marque Washington MUA: Karim Orange Styling & clothing: Bridgett Artise of Born Again Vintage Cashmere: Kincross Cashmere
Long, lanky, and wise well beyond her years, twenty-nine-year-old Damaris Lewis walks through life illuminating the world with her radiant spirit, beautiful smile, and positive energy. Lewis is an actor, model, philanthropist, and entrepreneur who appeared in Spike Lee’s Academy Award–winning BlacKkKlansman and starred alongside Hilary Swank in the upcoming thriller Fatale. Lewis has modeled for countless brands and fashion magazines, including the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, Garnier, Benetton, French Vogue, and Yves Saint Laurent. And she was Prince’s principal dancer on worldwide tours from 2011 to 2016.
In spite of her high-profile career choices—or perhaps because of them—she is a living, breathing, walking, talking embodiment of the Danish concept of hygge.
Hygge can be best described as enjoying life’s simple pleasures, “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture),” according to a classic dictionary definition. The main idea of hygge, in terms of decor, is to create a peaceful, serene space that is free of clutter.
When Lewis travels, which is much of the time—we caught up with her after she finished filming a new project in Canada—she takes time to carve out a cozy space wherever she goes. “Everywhere is home,” she says. “I make everywhere home. Whenever I get into a hotel, I put an essential oil everywhere,” she says. “I create the scent I want for my stay. Hotel cleaning products are strong chemicals,” she continues. “I bring candles or tea-size LED lights with me. And I also create a spa-like atmosphere at home.”
For Lewis, embracing simplicity, serenity and self-acceptance is the key to a successful life, even though those values are quite unusual for someone in the entertainment industry. But even when she talks about her work, the conversation is tied to personal growth, a journey of self-care and a strong connection to nature. “Most of my acting preparation is learning about myself,” Lewis says. “For example, taking in the fire of summer and using it to ignite something in myself.”
No matter how busy she is, Lewis makes sure to factor in some time for relaxation every day. She takes time out to savor a cup of tea—Brooklyn Tea’s ginger and moringa are favorites—and loves taking baths, inspired by the Japanese art of the onsen. Lewis is a devotee of body treatments like Reiki, Ayurvedic self-massage, and acupuncture. She adheres to a simplified beauty regimen and doesn’t like to “cover up” with products. Her food choices are healthy and organic where possible, and she loves to be out in nature, “moving with the seasons,” she says. “I’m really focused on being outdoors instead of staring at the blue light from my computer.”
But hygge also refers to creating a calm, uncluttered inner space. Reflective, self-aware and wellness-focused, at our cover shoot in Manhattan’s West Village, Lewis went around dispensing wellness tips like some people dispense candy. “I really enjoy helping people,” she says, “especially helping them to slow down.”
That’s why she started Siram Wellness (siramwellness.com), a blog geared toward shifting the prevailing focus of wellness—now a $4.2 trillion global market—from a means to looking good to one that focuses on feeling good. For example, enjoy that green juice because it makes you feel strong and healthy, not because it looks good on an Instagram post!
“Siram is an experience that began out of the realization that wellness was beginning to look like something instead of feeling like something,” she says. The word siram itself means “to pour or flush out water” in the Malay language, and Lewis chose it because it also literally feels good to pronounce.
The Siram blog is the place where Lewis chronicles her travels and shares lessons learned on the road. She shares wellness wisdom in posts like “The Fall: Find Your Balance,” and “Five Minute Siram Meditation.” She does much of writing and photography herself. After reading the book Slow Beauty by Shel Pink at the beginning of 2019, it struck her that so many people spend time healing other people but they don’t take time to heal themselves. She encourages those she meets to streamline and simplify their lives, to embrace mindfulness practices and be present in the moment. The idea is that we all need to learn to slow down, appreciate ourselves, and savor life, which can be fleeting, as she well knows from personal experience.
Lewis had a deep and abiding friendship with Prince. She was his muse and his friend. They went to hear music together and hung out together at Paisley Park, his home. And when he died, it was a great loss that sent her searching for ways to cope with the grief of losing a mentor and friend.
“I’ve been on the self-journey since 2013,” she says. “When he passed away, the biggest thing was allowing myself to cry and release and let go. First you have to accept, and then you have to work on you. And you need to take time to heal.” Her prevailing self-wisdom is to always get to the source of an issue, listen to yourself and your body. Then, “learn to let it go,” she says.
Born and raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn, Lewis studied dance at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music, Art, and the Performing Arts in Manhattan. When she was in her teens, while performing at Chelsea Piers, she was scouted by a modeling agent. Lewis hesitated at first, but then the agent began to book her—on school holidays, for example, Thanksgiving or winter break—for campaigns like Yves Saint Laurent Beauty. That led to work with Sports Illustrated and dancing for Prince. One day, she got a random phone call and thought it was fake. The caller said that Prince wanted her to be in a music video. She didn’t pay attention, but when Prince himself called, that got her attention. Lewis ended up touring with him in Australia, and that was the beginning. “It’s a beautiful thing to be connected to someone who was connected to millions of people,” she says. “You’ll always hear his voice, and his stories. ”
Still based in Brooklyn, Lewis works out regularly and, a basketball fan, goes to a lot of Knicks games when she’s in town. Also a philanthropist and entrepreneur, she is the CEO of Gorudo Candles, a company that designs custom soy wax candles for homes, businesses, and events. She is co-creator of Flo, a candle made specifically to honor and balance the menstrual cycle and inspire self-care rituals. Aware of her strong appeal and influence as a role model, she sits on the advisory board of the Garden of Dreams Foundation, where she has played an important role as chairwoman of their annual prom, creating unforgettable experiences for teens in and around New York City. And she is a member of the Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame in recognition of her longtime support for the organization, of which she is a proud alumnus. Mentoring young people, building their confidence, and helping them rise like she has is a deep motivator and helps keep her centered, grounded, and inspired. “We all need to take the journey toward understanding why we do the things we do, figure out what works, and mold your own formula. Sometimes it takes an uncomfortable feeling for us to question things, but that’s when we get to our best life,” she says. “Nobody looks at the trees or flowers in the gardens and nitpicks them. And learning to do that with ourselves more often is key.
“Everything is energy,” she says, “and none of our bodies like negative energy. It won’t add anything to our lives or make us healthier. Wellness shouldn’t be a trend—it’s a way of life. And when you make it your lifestyle, then you start vibrating in a different way.” r
Follow Damaris Lewis on Instagram @damarislewis.
Follow Rona Berg on Instagram @ronaberg.
See more of Steve Parke’s work at stevepark.com.