Gigi Hadid On The New Age Of Models
I first met Gigi Hadid at Leonardo DiCaprio’s fortieth birthday party in a nightclub on New York’s Ninth Avenue. Despite all the models in the room, something about Gigi stood out. I recognised her from her cameos on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – guilty pleasure, don’t judge! – which starred her mother, former model Yolanda Hadid. But in the flesh Gigi was so much more marvellous. She had the pin-up charm of a bubbly American surfer girl mixed with the exoticism of an Egyptian sphinx. She was bright-eyed and eager, assiduously introducing herself to the supermodels and the other fashion influencers in the room.
Three years later I’m conducting this interview squeezed next to her in the back of a cab, Gigi in head-to-toe Versace (motorcycle jacket and pegged leather trousers), joined by a driver, a security guard and an agent, en route to a cooking class in London. It’s the only sliver of time that her army of managers could carve into her busy schedule, which in the past month included the Victoria’s Secret show in Paris, a trip to Amsterdam to surprise her grandmother, and an international press tour to New York, Dubai, Tokyo and Berlin to promote Tommy x Gigi, a line she designs with Tommy Hilfiger. My first question is about where she’s been the past few weeks. “Honestly, I can’t even friggin’ remember!” she laughs.
“I didn’t know Leo at the time or even how I got invited,” she says of our first being introduced at DiCaprio’s party, though adds they’ve since hung out and “he’s so nice. But I have a funny story from that night. I brought my friend from high school with me and she wore this big fur vest. The tables were low and had millions of candles on them. Do you remember a girl who caught fire? And some guy had to tackle her to the floor to put her out? That was us.”
International Vogue covers, campaigns for Tom Ford, Versace and Max Mara, and walking the runway of every top luxury fashion house, including Chanel, Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana, Gigi’s ascendence has been assured and swift. She scored the holy grail of modelling gigs, a cosmetics contract with Maybelline in 2015, and now has a portfolio that spans high-fashion editorials to presenting the American Music Awards. Not to mention being one half of pop’s most Instagrammable millennial couples. Her boyfriend (if you didn’t know already) is former One Direction bandmate Zayn Malik. She blushes when I mention his name. “He’s the best, he’s great. And he’s an amazing cook.” It was Gigi’s request that we go to a cookery class for this interview, and she plans to take a Yorkshire pudding back home to Zayn – but more on #Zigi, as they’re known on social media, in a bit.
Gigi On Gigi: Baking Yorkshire Pudding With Gigi Hadid
Anwar Hadid, Gigi’s brother, says her success meant her life “changed overnight”. But according to the model, none of it was by coincidence. “My mum always told me if you’re not the nicest, most hard-working girl in the room there’s always going to be someone prettier than you who’s nicer and more hard-working. I intentionally go to work every day and try to be someone people like to work with.” “Ambition sounds desperate, so I don’t mean it in a negative way,” Mario Testino explains of Gigi’s work ethic. “But she’s very ambitious. She makes the most effort possible to make something work. With me, she is like a mirror: I will say do this, and she will do this exactly how I said it, but better. She goes to the highest level she can take it.”
Having pulled up outside the kitchen studio – where Isaac McHale of Shoreditch’s celebrated Clove Club has agreed to be on hand to improve Gigi’s culinary skills – a young girl spots Gigi emerge from the car and shyly approaches for an autograph. Once inside, another sheepishly asks for a selfie to which the 21-year-old happily obliges. Gigi and her friends Karlie Kloss and Kendall Jenner comprise a new breed of model mentality. Their motto is: happy to be here and easy to work with. “She’s not a dumb blonde, she’s a fun blonde,” Testino proclaims. They’re on time and on brief, which is a departure from fashion’s obsession with blasé girls and models who act as if they’re too cool for school. “The first time Gigi ever modelled for me, she sought me out backstage after the show to thank me for using her. Do you know how rare that is?” says Tommy Hilfiger, on the telephone from New York. He’s impressed with the breath of fresh air that Hadid brings to the profession. “A lot of models want so badly to be cool. They walk down the runway with a stone face because they think that’s how to look glamorous. But Gigi has this energy. She has life!”
Gigi grew up in Malibu, California. Her mother and father, Mohamed Hadid, a real-estate developer, divorced in 2000, but forged an amicable relationship raising their three children. In addition to Anwar, Gigi’s younger sister Bella is fast becoming a fashion favourite, with the requisite multimillion social-media following. She recently appeared alongside Gigi in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Gigi calls her siblings her best friends. “Gigi has always been the leader of our pack – organised, motivated and very serious about the things she’s passionate about,” Anwar says. “And at my birthdays, she’d always make the cake.”
Gigi first began modelling when she was three, starring in a few Baby Guess ads. “I could immediately tell that she loved everything about the experience,” says Yolanda. But she always insisted Gigi put her career on hold so she could have the traditional American high-school life. “I believe it’s extremely important for any child to be given the time to mature. I didn’t want anyone judging her until I knew that she was strong enough to handle the rejection.” Yolanda was a supportive “mumanager” even before Gigi’s career in fashion. “She was the one sending me to the barn at 6am so I knew what dedication looked like,” Gigi says of her childhood equestrian ambitions. On summer break, Yolanda took her to an Olympic sports psychologist to learn how to think like a professional athlete. “With horseback riding, if the first jump would go wrong I’d have to teach myself to move on, not worry about what just happened but focus on what was next. My coaches would yell, ‘Change the channel!’ Same thing in modelling. Now if I need to find a new way to make a shot work, I know not to go back to the same thing over and over.” She has an apartment in New York, though she associates the city with work and unwinds in California, which is where Malik also lives. “When I’m in LA I mostly stay in because it’s my time off and I like being with my boyfriend and doing art and cooking.” She laughs because she fulfils all the clichés of living on the West Coast: she and Malik go on hikes, they drink green juices and take wellness shots. “We like late-night movies and we order from this amazing place that does lattes and gingerbread cookies. I need coffee to stay up. I’m always like, ‘Babe, let’s go to a movie.’ Then I fall asleep halfway through and he’s like, ‘You’ve seen the first half of every movie out there and you have no idea how any of them end.’” Several times during our cooking session, she stops to Facetime Malik, showing off her haute cook’s uniform: a red Fendi crop top and oven mitts.
She proves remarkably adept in the kitchen, getting into the batter-mixing with gusto. Gigi doesn’t diet – her go-to meal is a bacon cheeseburger and she says New York’s JG Melon’s is still the best in the world – and her fitness regime is mainly boxing because she’s “useless” on her own in a gym. “I need the motivation of a class or a coach because I can’t think of anything more depressing than a treadmill,” she says. “And I model, which to most people’s surprise is actually a full body workout. Have you ever had to jump around in high heels for 12 hours?” In 2015, when Gigi was body-shamed in Instagram comments, she decided to respond with an open letter that celebrated diversity. “The response was crazy. From Victoria’s Secret Angels to my friends who are considered plus size, everyone texted me and said they appreciated me saying something. The world puts so much pressure on fashion, then judges models for succumbing to that pressure.”
Gigi’s friend Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of Balmain, admires her ability to stick up for herself. When a so-called prankster grabbed her outside a fashion show in Milan last September, she elbowed him in the face. (“I can be as feisty as fuck when I need to be,” she says about the incident.) “Gigi is a fighter,” adds Rousteing. “When she started out, she did not correspond to the code of fashion and she had to battle for her place.” For a time, the fashion industry turned its nose up at the likes of Kendall and Gigi – two kids of reality television stars who broke into the world of high fashion with their mainstream appeal and gigantic Instagram followings.
Gigi currently has more than 27 million followers. In the past, models built a following within the industry to gain clout. Today, the cone of power is flipped and fashion brands come to girls who have their own networks. Last November, Kendall made headlines when she closed her Instagram account for a few days. Gigi says she understands why and recently announced she was also taking a break for one month. “I need time away. We’re so caught up in how one thing is going to be judged or perceived or written about in a headline – it’s almost suffocating.”
Much talk has been made about the “return of the supermodel”. The difference is that where the big girls of the Nineties wouldn’t get out of bed for less than £10,000, the appeal of today’s supers is the 10,000 likes they can generate. “It reminds me of Linda [Evangelista], Naomi [Campbell] and Claudia [Schiffer],” Testino observes. “You would dress them up for a photograph but they wouldn’t change and put on jeans after the shoot. They would keep the hair and make-up and borrow the dress and go out on the town. They’d live the life! And that’s what’s exciting about girls like Gigi today. They are living that life.”
We’ve finished our Yorkshire puddings. Gigi is so impressed with her crisp, golden offering, she announces she is taking it back to Malik and his mum – which, given that Malik is from Yorkshire, is confidence indeed. She needs to hurry back to the hotel to prepare for the British Fashion Awards at the Royal Albert Hall. Her date is Donatella Versace, and Gigi arrives that night oozing old-school glamour in draped, one-shouldered haute couture, tearfully and graciously accepting her award for International Model of the Year.
Earlier that day, she told me she counts both Versace and Diane von Furstenberg as her godmothers, and that Testino is “like my big brother, or the favourite uncle you always want to have around. I’m inspired by all of them because they still have so much excitement for what they do. I get to work with people who have loved what they do for 30, 40 and 50 years. That’s what I’m going to be like,” she finishes. “I feel like I’ve found my tribe in fashion.”
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