It’s late June, 2017, the day of Bella Hadid’s cover shoot for Harper’s Bazaar Arabia. Venice’s Grand Canal provides an ethereal backdrop to couture gowns by Elie Saab, Ralph & Russo and a palm tree-embroidered Schiaparelli suit. It’s also the day that US President Donald Trump’s much-maligned travel ban comes into effect, preventing travellers from six predominantly Muslim countries who do not have a tie to the country from entering the United States for 90 days and similarly banning all refugees to America for 120 days.
“My dad was a refugee,” Bella tells Bazaar once the shoot wraps, the heels are off and she is curled up in her suite in Venice’s Gritti Palace – a seamstress in the corner quietly steaming the Alexandre Vauthier gown the 20-year-old plans to wear to a gala this evening. “He came from Palestine to America when he was a baby,” she explains of her father, the architect Mohamed Hadid, renowned for his lavish multimillion dollar developments in Los Angeles. “Thankfully, he was able to come, but it was very hard and now it’s probably 100 times harder. It makes me sad that power is getting taken from a lot of people and they’re not able to make a new life for their children and their families. It’s crazy to me that one person can tell you whether or not you can have a better life,” she shakes her head.
Photography by Victor Demarchelier
High jewellery Serpenti necklace in white gold with sapphire, rubies and diamonds, Bulgari
Bella’s views on President Trump’s immigration policies are no secret. In January, she and her sister Gigi, 22, took to the streets of New York for the ‘No Ban, No Wall’ protest. Their decision to join the march was made on the spur of the moment with no time to mobilise the security that normally accompanies the two girls. “I just wanted to stand up for what I felt was right and I really didn’t care if I was with 100,000 other people because, with or without security, I wanted to go and stand for something I believe in,” Bella says, shrugging, “Nobody was even looking.”
Her fellow protestors may have been oblivious to having two of the world’s leading models in their ranks, but the press were not. Cognisant of the power of her actions, Bella is unafraid of putting her head above the parapet if it means harnessing the publicity she generates for the greater good. “If I can’t talk about something that I’m passionate about, why even be here? Why even do any of the stuff that I’m doing if I can’t make a better purpose for the world, or make a difference, or try to put light on a situation that is obviously so dark? It’s all really scary,” she says.
Gown, Ralph & Russo. High jewellery Monete Secret watch necklace in pink gold with silver Macedonia Alexander III coin
Having “wanted to ride horses my whole life” – an ambition that was put on hold when her diagnosis with Lyme disease made it too dangerous, but that she has recently reignited – Bella feels the superficiality of modelling acutely. “It’s not very giving, being a model, it doesn’t warm your heart,” she says wryly, adding, “It’s not as rewarding for the soul as most things.” As someone whose soul requires more nourishment than 15 million likes on Instagram can offer, Bella – born Isabella Khair Hadid – is determined to make good use of the platform that modelling has granted her. “Since I was a kid I’ve loved helping people. My mom always said that I would go on the street and hug somebody that was sitting on the corner. It was just because I genuinely loved people, and that’s something that I want to bring forward with me in my career. If I’m able to change something in the world for the better, then I’ll be ecstatic.”
During a time when voicing an opinion on anything more contentious than the latest highlighting technique can unleash the wrath of the internet, she’s not afraid of espousing her beliefs, even if it means courting criticism. “What’s so beautiful about the time that we live in right now is that it’s not all about the face any more. You have to be more than that. You have to have a personality and you have to be able to go out there and have a conversation with somebody and not be a blank face.”
Dress, Alexander McQueen. High jewellery Serpenti earrings in white gold with emeralds and diamonds; Serpenti Forever bag, Bulgari
On the cusp of turning 21, Bella is an intriguing mix of child and woman. She snaps selfies with unselfconscious abandon as a boat ferries us between Bazaar’s shoot location and her hotel, betraying her digitally native roots. Yet earlier in hair and make-up she eschewed typical millennial visual fodder, instead watching a video on her phone of the policeman injured in the June UK terror attack on London Bridge, which brought her to tears. “I’m definitely an empath,” Bella muses, “I’m very emotional but I’m also very strong. I’ll stand up for myself but I cry at everything.”
Barely out of her teens, Bella’s life experience may be very different from that of her peers, but she sympathises with the issues weighing on her enormous fan base. “It’s really tough,” she says of today’s teenagers. “You’re going to get scrutinised for anything that you do. So if you’re skinny and have a sick body and you don’t have a butt, people are going to say, ‘Why do you have no butt?’ And then you go and get a fake butt and they get mad at you because you have a fake butt. And then you don’t have boobs, and it’s just a whole circulating circle.” Having faced an inordinate amount of scrutiny over her own looks, Bella appears to deflect judgement, presumably as a matter of self-preservation. “All of these teenagers need to know that you’re you and that’s the best thing you can be. The hardest part is being judged, and that’s what they talk to me about. It’s really sad because it doesn’t happen just in America or just in Europe, it happens everywhere in the world. Bullying is a crazy thing.”
Dress, Dhs38,675, Oscar de la Renta. High jewellery short Festa necklace in platinum and diamonds with emerald stone; High jewellery Festa necklace in platinum with emeralds and diamonds; Serpenti Viper mini bag, Dhs12,100, all Bulgari
As her career and profile have exploded over the last year, the model explains that she has found solace by tapping into her spiritual side. “I have a whole angel family,” she reveals, only slightly coyly. “I think that there’s a lot of beautiful spiritual beings in the world. They’re just floating, and they’re around if you feel a need for them. I draw strength from that completely. It’s definitely how I’ve gotten through the past year and stayed sane.” Insanity is not by any means uncommon on planet fashion. A photo shoot can entail a crew of up to 30 people. That’s 30 strangers pivoting her every day. “I feel everybody’s energies around me, which is very hard sometimes,” she says of being the fulcrum around which fashion dreams are spun. “You know, it’s a blessing and a curse sometimes, because I just love a lot. I’m a lover.”
It might seem naïve to view Bella’s life as anything other than charmed, yet there are not many 20-year-olds who work seven days a week for months on end. “Everybody has a different opinion of what hard work is. At the end of the day, if you’re exhausted, you worked hard. I’m definitely tired most of the time,” she says. No stranger to the grind, Bella took a job at a juice bar in Santa Barbara when she was just 14. “On the weekends all my friends would be at the beach and I would be working, serving them smoothies and juices. I was making like eight dollars an hour and got tips.” The family might have lived in palatial splendour in California’s Montecito but, “It never felt right to me to ask my parents for money,” Bella says. “I never spent money. It still to this day freaks me out to spend money. It would make me happy to buy a really cute $5 T-shirt instead of a designer piece. I never bought anything designer until I was 18 and could buy it on my own. I bought my first pair of Louboutins and that was a very big moment for me. People always think that my parents would buy us stuff. My mom never bought me anything designer. My dad would buy me little things that are more meaningful than a designer purse. I would rather have riding boots. That was what made me so happy.”
Despite having grown up surrounded by wealth, Bella is intimately aware of the discipline required to succeed. “I always got my work ethic from my Dad. He had to work to make money for his family. They started out with really no money so he built his life to where he is now because he had one thought of what he wanted his adulthood to be, and he never stopped dreaming about it. He worked his ass... he worked so hard,” she corrects herself, “to get to where he is.” Her mother, the Dutch former model Yolanda Hadid, who separated from Bella’s father in 2000, was similarly prudent. “She moved to America by herself when she was 16 with just $20 in her pocket,” Bella explains. “They both taught me about what a dollar is.” Even Yolanda’s second husband, the music producer David Foster, from whom she has recently divorced, played a part in educating Gigi, Bella and their 18-year-old brother Anwar about finances. “My stepdad, David – not my stepdad any more – he also didn’t have a lot of money growing up and he always taught us a lot about spending.”
Today, Bella speaks with pride about achieving financial independence from her parents by the age of 18. “And that’s why I keep working hard, ’cause I think about them and how far they came and how hard they worked to be able to give us the life that they did. If I just went and sat on my butt I don’t think I would be able to live with myself,” she says. “I think that a work ethic is not only one of the most attractive things in a woman, but it’s one of the most humbling things to be a woman and to be completely independent.” It’s a trait she hopes to pass on to her future family. “When I have kids I for sure want them to be able to work hard, but it’s not something that is very teachable. It’s something that I watched and I learned, and I hope I have that effect on my children.”
Dress, Dhs38,675, Oscar de la Renta. High jewellery short Festa necklace in platinum and diamonds with emerald stone; High jewellery Festa necklace in platinum with emeralds and diamonds, both Bulgari
With the work comes sacrifice and Bella admits that she can’t remember the last time she did not miss out on a family gathering or birthday party. “I always say to my mom, ‘I miss everything. Like I literally miss everything’,” she faux-whines. The absences are amplified for New York-based Bella, whose sultry brunette style is catnip for the high-fashion European arena where she has contracts with the likes of Bulgari, Fendi and Dior Make Up, while her sister Gigi’s blonde all-Americana generates work closer to home with US giants such as Tommy Hilfiger and Maybelline. “Most of the time our markets are completely different,” Bella agrees, “and if we get booked on a job and she gets it or I get it, we’re both happy for each other. There are enough jobs in the world for both of us. There’s no reason for us to be mad at each other or competitive. So if she gets it, then good for her. We’re in the family so she can buy me a pair of shoes,” she laughs.
Her contract as accessories ambassador for Roman jewellery house Bulgari, and the face of its fragrance Goldea, The Roman Night, means that Bella is now rarely seen unadorned by fabulous jewels. How does she feel about big rocks? “Besides the security that has to follow me around everywhere?” she laughs. “Up until this year I never wore jewellery like that. It’s such an honour. And I love Bulgari, so it’s perfect.” Of course, high jewellery brings its own challenges, such as when Bazaar’s photographer Victor Demarchelier shouts, “Out, out!” indicating to the boat driver to move further away from the jetty, momentarily causing Bella to panic that the necklace she is wearing – ‘The Green Liz’, a Dhs13.6 million 59-carat emerald reproduction of a Bulgari sautoir that Richard Burton gave to Elizabeth Taylor on her 40th birthday – has fallen out of the boat. Once it’s established that the stones are safely round her neck and not at the bottom of the Grand Canal, the shoot resumes; the only glitch in an otherwise fairy tale day. “Everybody on set was so amazing and it’s so nice to be able to work with people you actually enjoy working with because sometimes it’s draining,” Bella confides. “I mean we’re shooting in Venice, come on. It’s like the most beautiful place. Couture, diamonds, Venice and Victor. I’m good!”
Dress, Elie Saab Haute Couture. Gloves, Dhs1,750, Elisabetta Franchi. High jewellery Festa necklace in platinum with sapphire and diamonds; Serpenti Viper mini bag, Dhs8,400, both Bulgari
While Bella admits that her travel schedule is intense, she agrees that it is impossible not to be seduced by a destination such as these islands in the Adriatic. A recent trip to the Gulf had a similarly spiritual impact. “That was the best day of my life, when I went and saw the mosque in Abu Dhabi,” Bella recalls of visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque back in April. “I was talking to all of these Arab women and men, and finally understanding the culture a lot more than I ever really have.” Bella explains of growing up with her father’s adherence to Islam: “He would teach us about it and we would go and do Eid with my family and we would do Ramadan – I did that since I was a kid. Once I got older I was working and going to school so I couldn’t fast for as long. My dad, he’s so passionate about it, and that’s what kept me very passionate and excited about my roots.” In the UAE, she particularly loved meeting women with similar Palestinian heritage. “They’re all kind of like my sisters. We all just clicked. You have a bond I guess,” she says, enthusing of Dubai’s socialistas, “And they’re all so beautiful; incredible make-up, crazy good style. It’s like LA but 10 times chicer and more intense.”
Bella – often perceived as the more enigmatic Hadid sister – comes into sharper contrast when you place her within the context of an extended Arab family. Her work ethic, that laser-like focus on independence, the close-knit family, her celebratory embrace of style; all traits woven throughout the Arab diaspora. “I love Arab women. They’re so strong and incredible. That’s how my teta was and all of my aunts on my dad’s side,” she says. “They’re all very strong women and I think that’s what’s so beautiful about an Arab woman.”
Family aside, it is Bella’s choice of her ultimate role model that reveals most what she values in a woman. “I met Michelle Obama recently,” she smiles, “she is one of the strongest women ever and so inspirational, educated, beautiful. A good wife, a good woman, a good person. I think she’s the epitome of an incredible woman.” Like the former first lady, Bella opts for a hefty dose of substance with her style. It’s apt, then, that her surname means ‘iron’ in Arabic. Bella by name, steely by nature.