What if there was a different Gigi Hadid, an alternate one? Where this one veered right—signing to IMG while still at Malibu High, then closing fashion shows and fronting ad campaigns—the other might have turned to the left. “I could have played volleyball in college and been a coach,” she says. Or a lifetime love of art could have turned into a theme park career: “I have this fantasy of working for Disney Imagineering.” What would have remained the same? She’d still obsess over documentaries. She’d have the same intense work ethic, quiet goofy side, deep love of family, and desire to learn. The qualities that are evident in our intimate conversation, the ones that those who know her love most. Really, isn’t that where the true Gigi lies?
This year has given Hadid the chance to find ways of working that help her feel whole—and the ability to show the world elements of herself that haven’t made it into the photos. Last fall, Hadid, 27, launched Guest In Residence, a line of cashmere classics with a spin, built around the idea that key staples meant to be kept and worn for years are inherently sustainable. The business allows her to build on what she’s learned collaborating with design legends and mentors like Tommy Hilfiger and Donatella Versace (a fellow Taurus, she notes). It also offers her a routine and consistency, something she didn’t have before but realized she needed. The lockdown and the birth of her daughter Khai, now two, gave her time to seriously consider how a career reset could improve her life. “I got pregnant and I really started to think about what I wanted after, when the world opened back up. It kept coming back to just a more stabilized schedule where I’m not in a different country every week. This is very stabilizing. I have an office that I come to. I know everyone here. I don’t have to look a certain way to show up. It’s a different experience for me, and it was the right time because I was ready for that,” she says, seated in her downtown Manhattan office, wearing a loose Guest In Residence top with jeans and Ugg boots. (One day earlier, she was dressed in a sequined top, poised on a construction beam high over Manhattan in a photo shoot for Maybelline New York.)
“I always loved being in creative group environments,” she says. She points to a long, tall table and explains that she specifically asked for that style in her office, “because I wanted that to feel like my high school art class tables.” She lives nearby and stops in even without meetings on the slate. The rest of her team will tell her to scram, she jokes.
Guest In Residence consists of a set of core pieces that sit alongside seasonal capsules. The line includes pants and underpinnings, along with cardigans and pullovers, and echoes Hadid’s own laid-back style. “They all have a sense of simplicity to them that I want always to be able to mix with the lifestyles and styles and personalities of different people of different ages. I think that what all of those people would have in common is a desire to express themselves. I think and hope that different people can find themselves in different pieces,” she says.
As a founder and creative director, Hadid considers Versace a role model for her ability to be “a boss without being rude, ever.” In turn, Versace calls her family. “She has incredible presence as a woman, an inner strength that shines within her,” she says. “She is also one of the kindest women I know, and family is so important to her—like it is to me.” Hilfiger, who worked with Hadid on a series of Tommy x Gigi capsule collections, has similar praise: “Throughout her career, she’s had so many fantastic achievements, but it’s her kind personality and down-to-earth energy that have made her stand out from the rest.” He adds that he’s not surprised to see her leading her own brand.
On March 3, Hadid will begin her first extended on-camera experience when she joins the second season of Next in Fashion, which she’ll host alongside Tan France. She’s a reality competition completist (she’s watched everything from Blown Away to Lego Masters, and she won a celebrity edition of MasterChef), and France is a friend, so “it felt like a safe place for me to take the plunge,” she says. “But Netflix was not easy on me. They really put me through an audition process. I respected that, and it made me feel good when I got the job. I felt like I had earned it in their eyes, and so that gave me the confidence to go for it. You get a sense of impostor syndrome and you’re like, ‘Okay, are they just giving me this show because I have a lot of followers?’ The fact that they really questioned my intentions for being on the show helped me jump into it headfirst. If they think that I can do it, then that gives me more confidence than maybe I would’ve had otherwise.” The show has helped draw out seemingly hidden traits in Hadid as well: “People say I’m funny. I don’t know, but I think that the more time I’m given, then the more I’m able to be goofy.”
After nearly a decade in the public eye, Hadid is still navigating the way the world perceives her. Through sharing snippets of her life, she has created an online following (currently at 76.7 million on Instagram) that, arguably, has helped secure her place in fashion. But that success has also led to outsize fame that’s made her a target for paparazzi and gossip. Her experience co-parenting with Zayn Malik, her former partner and Khai’s father, has been shown via the prism of the media as well as Instagram. Landing the tricky balance between discretion and disclosure that fame requires is a matter of trial and error that she’s been fine-tuning for nearly a decade. “I’ve had early experiences where you learn how the world reacts when you share things in certain ways. Sometimes you just leave something feeling like you were taken out of context. Or just feel like you revealed too much, and it was taken advantage of. Whatever those learning-the-hard-way experiences are, you grow a certain skin,” she says.
She’s reached a degree of understanding that her life generates headlines. What helps her get through the scrutiny and criticism is “realizing that nothing really matters. Serena Williams once told me, ‘Nothing stays in the press longer than three weeks.’ You can feel like your life is ending,” Hadid notes, but “if it’s a mistake, then it will pass. I think it’s about not taking yourself that seriously and being like, ‘When I am on my deathbed, I’m not going to remember that one awkward interview from when I was 19.’”
So, I ask her, what is it that you wouldn’t know about her from the headlines or social media posts? She pauses and, unexpectedly, her eyes well with tears.
“What does the world not know about me? I don’t know. I’m getting emotional [thinking about it]. I think that I’m someone who you have to be in front of to experience. It’s not hard. This isn’t a complaint. It’s more that in my job, you see a lot of snapshots,” she says. She wipes away the tears and kindly excuses my apology for bringing them on. “No, it’s fine. Apparently, I needed to say it. There are a lot of snapshots and really quick moments where, again, there’s not a lot of context given.” She adds that she sees her Next in Fashion gig as a chance to open up in a gradual way and show more of herself than what comes across in paparazzi photos. For the first time in her career, she says, “I went to the same studio for a month, with the same 100-person crew. You really feel that sense of community that I think I’ve been wanting, and that really brings out a [sense of comfort] and the time and space and screen time to show yourself.”
Therapy has helped both Hadid and her sister, Bella, cope with experiences in modeling and in their background that they might not understand in the same way: “There are different things that we probably both deal with on different sides, but there’s always going to be something that comes together.” Hadid has learned that she can set standards for how she expects to be treated. “Setting boundaries, even if that’s with the paparazzi—going over and saying, ‘Hey, what’s up? I know we’ve seen each other from across the street for five years, but when I’m with my kid, please don’t point the camera this way.’ Sometimes you have to be assertive, and that doesn’t mean that it’s rude. It’s setting a boundary.”
She has physical limits as well, and her health has required her to be clear about them. In 2016, Hadid spoke about having Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that impacts the thyroid, causing fatigue and trouble regulating body temperature, and she’s had to make space in her workday to manage it. “I’m usually taking a nap during my lunch breaks, and I will eat my lunch when I’m retouching hair and makeup after. It’s just something that I’ve had to deal with over the years. Sometimes it’s better than other times,” she says. “When it’s a really cold shoot, it takes a lot of time for my body to recover temperature-wise, and it can make me shaky.” Shoots in the heat can also take their toll on her. “One of the boundaries I have is that I have to tell my team when I need rest. They’ve always been understanding and encouraging of that, and then besides that, I think I’ve just learned to make it work for me, and what helps me get through the day and do my best.”
It’s her daughter Khai who can see Hadid from all angles, she insists. “She obviously sees me in every state and way, and whether she knows it or not, I’m going through and learning through life with her. I think that she has a really realistic kind of 24/7, around-the-clock view. We’re up chatting in the middle of the night if she’s up; we’re talking about, I don’t know, random stuff, but it’s fun,” she says. “Having a daughter, although it shifted my life to make me really want to feel more settled, has also really made me appreciate the chaos as well. Being at shows and shoots and just being in the city again; being around friends [after] becoming a mom, with everyone also coming out of COVID—I have an appreciation for both sides of it.”
One last question before a flight to Paris: What does she still want to learn about? She doesn’t skip a beat. “Everything.” Her face is full of light.
Hair by Bob Recine; makeup by Kanako Takase for Addiction Beauty; manicure by Honey at Exposure NY; set design by Peter Klein at Frank Reps; produced by Katie Fash and Layla Néméjanski.
This article appears in the March 2023 issue of ELLE.
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Adrienne Gaffney is an editor at ELLE who previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.