Queen of Everything
You know Ashley Graham as the world's most glorious, body-positive model. Now get ready to meet her as a sexual revolutionary (who gives laugh-out-loud bedroom advice).
“My boyfriend’s really into aliens,” Gigi Hadid tells me in a conference room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida—a hairstylist, a manicurist, and a makeup artist tending to her like blue jays fluttering around a cartoon princess. It’s barely 7 a.m., and she’s running on four hours’ sleep, having flown in from Paris the night before. She’s wearing leather pants and a neon-orange long-sleeved tee emblazoned with lyrics from the latest single by said boyfriend, former One Direction member Zayn Malik. Hadid, 22, is perhaps the most famous model in the world. According to Forbes, she earned $9 million in 2016; she has more than 33 million followers on Instagram; and last year she was named International Model of the Year by the British Fashion Council. Having conquered runways, magazine covers, and print campaigns, Hadid is now designing as well, launching two capsule collections with Tommy Hilfiger and a boot collaboration with Stuart Weitzman.
At five foot 10 with cascading dirty-blonde hair, Hadid, the California-born and -bred daughter of a former model and a real estate developer, seems to have been predestined to become what she is today. Yet, despite all that, her presence off-camera is decidedly low-key. Like any other millennial, she spends a lot of time scrolling blithely on her phone, dipping in and out of various apps and group texts. She’ll also squeal about her favorite Netflix series (Abstract: The Art of Design), tell you what she likes to cook (banana bread, pesto pasta), and casually divulge during a conversation about space that her boyfriend believes in aliens—and that she does too.
After about 90 minutes of “glam,” Hadid is ready for her day of being photographed at different locations around the space center. Before she jumps off the makeup chair, she turns to me and asks, “Have you ever seen me shoot before?” I shake my head no. “I’m, like…different.” Different like Beyoncé’s alter ego, Sasha Fierce? I ask. “I wouldn’t say I’m as major as Beyoncé or Sasha Fierce…but, yeah, I understand what she’s talking about.”
That said, Hadid admits she still gets anxious on the job, especially when she’s walking a runway. “I’ve really been working on trying to get better and to learn from every show, so I take it as a learning experience, because I always want to do my best. But I think it’s always going to be nerve-racking for me,” she continues. “There’s always a little thing, like the shoes [are tight] or the dress is heavy or whatever, so that’s what you’re focused on, to make sure your walk is going to go well.” Earlier in her career, Hadid was criticized for having a less than commanding walk, a weakness she acknowledged in an interview last fall, saying, “Obviously I’m not the best on the runway.” But now she says she has a handle on the situation: “I’m flat-footed, and I pretty much have a forced arch in my foot from playing volleyball my whole life. In the last six months, my walk has really improved because I’ve started to learn how to pad my shoes correctly to support my feet. It’s like you learn little tricks, and you focus on those.”
Hadid says that her siblings are another big source of strength, particularly her sister, Bella, 20, the raven-haired Veronica to Gigi’s Betty. “She’s so understanding of the demands of this job, and it’s really great that I can talk to her about it,” she says. “Because a lot of the time I feel suffocated by my own work ethic and by the expectations I put on myself. It’s really nice when you have people who say, ‘It’s okay to take time for yourself.’”
It’s not surprising that Hadid would sometimes feel suffocated. She is constantly shadowed by the paparazzi, her every Instagram comment or hair-color shift dissected in days’ worth of blog posts. Although she has turned down some gigs—she was once asked to play “a young Fergie” in a Fergie music video but passed—her list of upcoming projects is overwhelming for her to contemplate. “I’m so excited about the jobs when I get them, so grateful, and it’s my dream to be doing this,” she explains. “But I think anyone in this industry will tell you you’re lying if you say that the constant traveling isn’t hard.”
Gigi’s mother, Yolanda Hadid, of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fame, worries about these same sacrifices. “Becoming a successful and financially independent young woman so early on comes with responsibilities, which can take away from life’s innocence,” she says. “But we have so much gratitude for the amazing journey Gigi is on.”
Hadid says she doesn’t believe she’ll ever get used to the paparazzi attention, and claims she is “constantly thinking about it.” She laments, “I understand that it comes with the territory, but it’s also very intense to always have to consider. I don’t think it will ever be normal, and if people ever feel like it’s normal, then that’s weird.” After a long pause, she says: “It’s cool to be in a place like Florida. I appreciate the times when I can just walk down the street for five minutes because people don’t know I’m there yet.”
She is cognizant of the crowds of onlookers at the space center trying to snap covert photos of her as they pass by the set. At one point during the shoot, she twists around and gestures toward a selfie stick peeking out from behind a partition: there. Generally, Hadid says she would prefer that a fan speak to her than wordlessly snap a selfie. “I’d rather have a conversation with a person and have it feel normal for both of us,” she explains. “It’s stressful for me too if, like, it’s awkward—you know what I mean?”
Many famous people can come off as distant, guarded, and even impenetrable in person, and Hadid has a bit of that about her as well. It is in her looser moments, though—riffing on Paris Jackson, casually dismissing a fellow model with a tossed-off “she’s…fine,” or gushing that Victoria’s Secret Angel Candice Swanepoel was her “favorite model in high school” and is her current “mega girl crush”—that Hadid appears the most vivid. During a few breaks on set, she FaceTimed with Malik, and she never seemed more animated than when engaging with him, showing him her low-cut shimmering silver dress (“look, sparkles!”) as Rihanna’s “Sex With Me” blasted on set, or simply asking him about flight times.
She reflects on her guardedness when discussing that she has had to cut certain people out of her life, due primarily to their failure to grasp the fundamentals of her career. When you become more high-profile, she says, “a lot of interesting things in friends come out. So in a way it’s good because you learn that it’s better to have a few really good friends than tons of friends you aren’t really sure about.” She continues: “There are people who understand that I love them and who know that when I get back to town I’m going to call them, but sometimes I can’t call every day because I’m in weird places. I’ve lost a lot of friends because I’ll get busy for a short period of time, and they’re not reaching out, but if I don’t reach out, then it’s like I’ve changed.”
So at this point in her life, Hadid—whose It-girl coterie includes the likes of Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner—says she is not particularly interested in expanding her inner circle. “The time I do have off, it’s not even enough to give everyone I love attention. I’m good with [the friends] I’ve got.”
For her part, Swift says that Hadid is about as solid as friends come, always approaching matters from a place of warmth. “As a friend, Gigi is one of the first people I go to for advice,” Swift writes in an e-mail. “She has this incredible ability to see all sides of a situation and simplify it for you, to see the complexity of people…Gigi’s #1 rule is to treat people the way she’d want to be treated, so she’s on time (or early) to work, says hello to everyone on set, asks them how they are, and actually listens to their response. She is an innately kind and inclusive person who has managed to become a huge power player and businesswoman without ever compromising that.”
Toward the end of the day of shooting, I get the best sense of what it must feel like to actually be Gigi Hadid. We’re power-walking on the main concourse of the space center, cutting through the throngs of visitors, many of whom are quickly realizing that there’s a supermodel in their midst.
As Hadid and I chat about how our day at the center has made us nostalgic for grade-school field trips—replete with yellow buses and group leaders—a young woman, positioned to our right, essentially starts convulsing. “Oh, my God, that’s Gigi Hadid.” She clutches her friend and just points, clearly so starstruck that she’s unsure of what to do with her body. Hadid doesn’t even flinch, strutting onward, not missing a beat in the conversation.
I recall how earlier in the day her manicurist had told me, “I think people are used to seeing her [in pictures] looking so focused, so ‘street style.’ But they don’t know that she’s a teddy bear.” Hadid’s makeup artist had added, “I remember doing her makeup for the first time and seeing the transformation of this baby-faced girl into this sexy vibe.”
A few minutes later, on a bus to a different location, Hadid FaceTimes with Malik, giddily showing him pictures from the shoot. She jumps up and accidentally bangs her head on a TV monitor. Later she bemoans the lack of a Starbucks at an airport terminal she’d been to recently.
As a culture, we like to place our stars in boxes. But classifying Hadid proves surprisingly tricky. She’s a teddy bear, and she’s a steely-eyed glamazon. She’s a Disney standard, and she’s a Rihanna track. She’s your college roommate, and she’s an alien. She’s Gigi Hadid, and she’s Gigi Hadid.
Hair: Bryce Scarlett for Moroccanoil; makeup: Erin Parsons for Maybelline New York; manicure: Mar y Soul; production: Joey Battaglia for Rosco Production. Special thanks to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.