Gigi Hadid is one of America’s top models. At 23, she’s fronted campaigns for a staggering number of fashion brands, including Marc Jacobs, Prada, Chanel and Maybelline. She’s chronicled her adventures on the runway — and off — with her social media account, where 47 million fans follow her on Instagram. She’s branched out as a designer for Tommy Hilfiger and FAO Schwarz (where she engineered the costumes for the human toy soldiers standing outside the chain’s flagship Manhattan store). And for this week’s Power of Women New York issue, Hadid talked to Variety about volunteering with Unicef to shed light on the plight of children refugees in Bangladesh.
As part of her cover story, Hadid spoke about her career and why it’s not always so easy grappling with the fame in the social media age.
What was a big business decision you had to make?
A huge thing was finding the right manager. As a young model at 17, I had to go to my agency and say, “This person’s not working for me. I need someone who is a mentor and a guide and has a vision.”
What were you not getting?
When I moved to New York, I was going to school and I never felt like I was supported as a person as well as a model. I felt like I had to be like, “Can I go to any castings? Can I have a test shoot?” My new agent has pushed me, taught me, explained to me why we make a yes or no decision. The choice has always mine, but he will try to teach me in the process.
How has your career changed?
In the beginning of my career, I knew I came from privilege [her parents are real estate developer Mohamed Hadid and model Yolanda Hadid]. And I knew that I needed to be here and prove myself. I think after saying “yes” for so many years, it got to a point where I was a bit run down. I could say, “Let’s find a way I can feel whole every time I go to work.” We have created a space and way that I can schedule my work. And how we do that is that I have time to go to my farm and feel balanced.
When did you feel the most drained?
Probably two years ago. I bought the farm around the same time.
Where is the farm?
We don’t say.
Oh, sorry. I wasn’t trying to trick you.
It’s fine! I got to a place where I had to say, “It’s okay to not be okay all the time, and it doesn’t make you less professional. It doesn’t make you a bitch.”
When did you first feel successful as a model?
I started to feel successful in situations that the rest of the world did not experience with me. The world saw the covers and the followers and whatever. But when I feel successful is when someone that I genuinely respect looks at me and says, “You’re good at your job. You’re fun to work with. You’re nice to be around.”
When did you decide to be a designer?
I’ve been creative my whole life. Art has been in my life longer than fashion. The designing side of things is something that makes it not feel like work. Those are my favorite days — the days where I can sit at a table and draw and talk to people and be in a creative space is something that has always come naturally to me. I’m only going to be modelling for so long, and I think I’ll end up somewhere in the creative part of the industry.
What’s your favorite thing that you’ve designed so far?
Oh, they’re all my children.
If you could design anything, what would it be?
I’d love to design a public workspace or a theme park.
A theme park!
I always have strange ideas.
Are you a theme park fan?
Yes, I love theme parks. When I was on the Tommy Hilfiger tour, we went almost to a theme park in every country. I love rollercoasters. I love Disney. I like when people create worlds.
How do you see your brand?
I think about that all the time. I think my brand is fully recognized and realized when people sit down with me and when people take the time with me as a human. My brand is me. It’s fashion in a way of loving creativity. It’s being an outdoors person in terms of connecting with the Earth and feeling grounded and spiritual and going back to a place where you have an open mind to be creative and build things. Sometimes I think my creativity is private because it feels nice that way.
What are your thoughts on fame? Do you get tired of it? Do you resent it? How do you navigate it? Those are a bunch of questions, but take whichever one you want.
I always wanted success for myself. I wanted to support myself. I wanted to get to a place where I could have creative freedom and start to have more power to shape my life. Fame is something that I deal with and learn about every day. [She starts to tear up.] I’ve had my ups and downs with it for sure, because overall, it’s definitely a learning process. I’ve learned a lot about myself because of it. I’ve learned to be honest with myself and celebrate myself, protect myself, be assertive when I need to. I always want to be kind, but that doesn’t mean I need to let people take advantage of me. I’ve learned my connection with the Earth, going to places where I can be myself and not worry about being photographed. Although in moments I’ve resented it, I think that overall, I wouldn’t be as developed within myself without it. [She wipes her cheek.] Sorry.
Why is this making you emotional?
It makes me emotional because at times, fame makes you feel out of control of your life. I think it’s tough. Obviously, people judge you. People can create a headline or an opinion about someone based on a small moment or a mistake. I’ve always been someone that feels heavily because I’m a projector. I take people’s energy. I think that I’ve always tried to learn and improve any time I’ve made a mistake or did something that I wasn’t proud of. The more opportunity that I have to meet people and share my genuine self or sit with them or talk to them, that gives me so much empowerment, because I feel like I can control that moment. I don’t know if anything I just said made sense.
It did. What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
When I wanted to start modeling in high school, my mom always said, “I want you to focus on the other things that you love — volleyball, horseback riding, cooking and school.” And I love learning, and becoming great at those things gave me so much value in myself that had nothing to do with my looks. I didn’t want to be known as the pretty girl. I wanted to be known as the smart girl, the best hitter on the volleyball team.
There’s been a lot of discussion about pay disparity in Hollywood. But in the modeling industry, women are actually paid more than men.
I think women are empowered. I think that women are very much celebrated in fashion. From the outside world, there’s misconceptions about the creative directions that are given to models. Obviously, I’m not pushing aside any negative thing that’s happened. I know that is very real. But so much of the time is about friendship and community and creative partners. Backstage at shows, it’s really such a beautiful feeling. It’s a sisterhood. When one friend is opening a show, we’re all back there, excited for that person. I feel so supported and a beautiful energy.
Have you always been a feminist?
Yes, because I saw my mom take so much control over her life. And even through my parents got divorced, they never showed me the negative sides. My parents were always supportive of each other, always spoke positively about each other, and that showed me so much strength in my mom. I understood from a young age that I wanted to be a bridge, not only between my family. I wanted to be a bridge between people as someone who helps people accept each other. I think that’s how I want be a feminist, as someone who helps women celebrate one another.
You saw your friend Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” tour 10 different times. Did you have to buy all those tickets?
I would totally buy them, but Taylor is very generous. I would go lie on her couch while she starts hair and makeup, and then I’d be in the crowd. I was like, “How are we both just chilling, and now I’m a little tipsy, dancing at your concert, and you’re up there in a glittery suit?” It’s an interesting duality to experience in a friendship, because I love her and cherish her as a friend. But I’m also her biggest fan.