On the morning of her ELLE cover shoot, just a few hours before she was due at a photo studio in Brooklyn, New York, Bella Hadid posted a single, plaintive tweet that read, in part, 'Let me sleeep jetlag gods' [sic, of course, throughout], punctuated by an aggrieved-looking emoji best known, according to the internet, as the 'weary face'. She had spent the previous fort- night in Europe, striding Parisian runways for Givenchy, Miu Miu, and Chanel before popping over to Rome via a private jet to see an old friend (and also, yes, to briefly take charge of Fendi's Snap- chat). Some of her 313k (and rising) Twitter followers and 4m Instagram fans offered their support: 'You don't need any beauty sleep,' was the general gist.
The 19-year-old's ability to inspire empathy and affection – despite having a lifestyle that often seems better engineered to engender envy – is a big part of why Bella, who only began modelling in earnest around 18 months ago, has come so far, so fast.
Of course, it's not all adoration online. But Bella, who for the record arrived at the shoot on time and looking far from exhausted, is diplomatic and unflustered even by the haters. 'I think that always being nice is something that makes you stand out,' she offers when asked how she accounts for her dra- matic ascent. 'Having a good personality.'
She's not wrong, but it actually goes a bit deeper than that. The California-raised daughter of a Dutch ex-model and a Palestinian-born real estate mogul, Bella was pretty much destined for a life of beauty and affluence. Less inevitable was that she (or, for that matter, her supermodel sister Gigi, 21) would take the fashion world by storm. After all, the girls' first brush with fame came courtesy of a reality show – not traditionally a fast track to fashion credibility.
Asked whether her mother, Yolanda, had con- sulted her, Gigi, or their little brother Anwar, 16, before signing on to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in 2012, Bella says, 'She talked to us. We were kind of iffy about it at first. But she was an interior designer, so it was kind of a job.' (Bella also has two older half-sisters from her father's first marriage, as well as five older soon-to-be-former stepsisters from her mother's now-ending marriage to legendary composer/producer David Foster.) 'I am definitely the typical middle child,' she says. 'I love making sure everyone around me is happy, peaceful, and satisfied.' Certainly, in their circle, it wasn't a huge leap: their father, Mohamed, had already appeared on the show alongside his old pal Lisa Vanderpump (who on her website provides the eclectic self- definition of 'Restaurateur, Designer, Actress, and Humanitarian'). And Bella has acquitted herself well, coming off as grounded when compared to some of the other stars on the show.
Yolanda kept her kids off the air, for the most part, until they were practically adults. Gigi, already work- ing as a model, was featured on one episode in 2012 and a few more the following season. But Bella, then a nationally ranked equestrian (she dreamed, not unrealistically, of going to the Olympics until she was derailed by Lyme disease in 2013) wasn't intro- duced as a character or, more precisely, a plot point until she was 17. On the verge of moving to New York to study photography at the esteemed Parsons School of Design, she later dropped out after just one term due to her modelling career skyrocketing.
'I think that was my mom protecting us,' Bella says of the lack of exposure. 'But we all lived together, so we probably had to introduce ourselves at some point.' Perhaps. The fact that their house, a 11,620sq ft Mediterranean-style mansion that recent- ly sold for $19m (£13m) may suggest that all three Hadid siblings could have holed up in their moth- er's gigantic walk-in closet indefinitely and still have had more living space than most Londoners. (Their father's place, which viewers saw when Yolanda held Gigi's Arabian Nights-themed high school gradua- tion party there in 2013, is even bigger.)
'I didn't really choose the life I have now,' Bella explains, and then stops herself, perhaps realising how that might sound coming from someone whose dad has his own backyard swan pond. 'I'm obvious- ly very, very blessed,' she continues. 'But being on the show wasn't about me trying to get famous. It was just trying to make my mom happy.'
She's clearly not thrilled to be talking about Real Housewives; she says she's never seen it. But she is comfortable – well, as comfortable as she ever is in an interview (by her own admission: not very) – discuss- ing the huge social media fol- lowing she began to amass shortly after she appeared on the programme. 'I love the peo- ple that follow me,' she says, noting that she prefers to think of them as 'friends rather than fans'. When deciding what to share with them, she explains, 'I like to present the realest "me" possible. If I'm working, I'll post a photo of me work- ing. But if I'm sitting home on a Saturday night watching TV and eating pizza, I'll post that, too.'
Of course, her life isn't all photo shoots and quiet evenings on the couch. The 'real' Bella Hadid, as seen on her various feeds, also gets to go on holiday to the Caribbean's St Barts, to the Grammys with her chart-topping pop star boyfriend Abęl Makkonen Tesfaye AKA The Weeknd (more on him later), and to hang out with a rotating cast of attractive BFFs, including Miley Cyrus, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and (most often) her sister, with whom she's very close. But even with all of that, her social media, like everyone's, often catalogues the banal. What keeps it interesting to her fans (sorry, 'friends') is the imme- diacy of it, the chance to see what she's doing right at that moment, not to mention her incredible pul- chritude, which seems to be increasing before our eyes. Long term, Bella says, she'd like to use her 'plat- form to make a change in the world'. For now, she's focused on her soaring career: recent campaigns have included Balmain x H&M, Marc Jacobs, and Topshop. 'I definitely can't say social media hasn't helped me,' she admits.
Indeed, it's pretty clear it has. Bella, her sister Gigi and Kendall Jenner came to fashion as outsiders, as opposed to unknowns – not usually a plus in the noto- riously insular industry – but their 24/7 connections to the same young women so many brands would love to attract as buyers has made them impossible to ignore. As the influential casting director James Scully, who gave Bella her first crack at a catwalk when he hired her for Tom Ford's AW15 show, explains, 'These girls could never walk into an agen- cy and get a fair shot if they hadn't made it happen for themselves.' They're not, as he says, 'the skinni- est, plainest, nameless, faceless girls' that one so often sees on runways. 'They're like the old-school girls, like Cindy Crawford. They've brought person- ality back into the business.' Stylist Katie Grand agrees: 'They're game changers. Together, along with Cara [Delevingne], Joan [Smalls], Karlie [Kloss] and others, they've given models their power back.'
That isn't to say just anyone with an Instagram following could make the same leap; Bella, Kendall and Gigi all have a unique beauty and incredible bod- ies. And it's also probably helped the younger Hadid, in particular, that she doesn't especially resemble her superstar sister; they're different enough that neither takes anything away from the other and lots of designers seem to enjoy working with both. Jere- my Scott, who gave Bella the all-important closing spot in his SS16 presentation, describes Gigi, who opened the same show, as having a 'beautiful doll face', while he says Bella is striking, unique, and 'chis- elled from perfection'. ('When you know them as people,' he adds, 'that's when you see the similari- ties. They're both so well-behaved, personable, sweet and kind.')
Scott, like Scully, doesn't hesitate to evoke the supermodels of the early Nineties, a comparison that would please Bella who looks up to what she calls 'the whole old generation. They're so beautiful, they were radiating, their faces were so beautiful, their bodies were perfect, and they were confident.' As Scott explains, 'We mythologise people like Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford because of things beyond the runway. There's this extra "X factor" that makes these girls superstars, that makes us fall in love with them, and Bella has that. She also has the beauty, the pedigree and the rock-star boyfriend.'
That would be the Oscar-nominated, Grammy- winning singer-songwriter better known as The Weeknd. He and Bella began dating more than a year ago, right around the time the Canadian 26-year- old was transitioning from cult and critical favourite to global music sensation. They met when he asked
Bella rode and kept her horses Bubba, Night Cap and Lego, says that even as a young teen- ager, 'she came out every day. She was a beautiful rider, but she really worked at it.' (Winn also recalls her as 'just the loveliest, sweetest girl; a very down-to-earth person.') Of Bel- la's eventual modelling career, Winn says, 'I think she wanted it really badly, but she was a little hesitant. Maybe she wasn't sure she could accomplish it.'
Back at the ELLE shoot, despite her jet lag and the chronic Lyme disease (which Bella says she still needs to treat nearly every day, either with IV medication or pills), she shows no hesitation. She works without complaint for 11 hours straight. It's kind of remarkable. 'She photographs amazingly,' Scul- ly says. 'In real life, you can see that she's a pretty girl, but you look at the pictures and you can't believe what comes out. And that is the hallmark of a model. She's more beautiful when you take a picture of her.'
Asked how she does it, Bella says, 'My mom always taught me to think about something happy when I'm working, because it kind of shows through your face.' But when pressed for details, she demurs. 'I used to think about my horses,' she offers. 'But now I think about other things.' I wonder what was going through her head during the shot when she was stand- ing outside in the freezing rain, wearing just a high-cut red swimsuit and leather jacket? 'Well, that's more of an aggressive look. It depends on what the vibe is.' She concludes, 'I was probably thinking, "Get me the hell out of this bathing suit.'"
This interview appears in the July 2016 issue of ELLE. Bella Hadid is with IMG Models. Photographs TERRY TSIOLIS, Styling Samira Nasr. Hair by Esther Langham at Art + Commerce; makeup by Romy Soleimani at Tim Howard Management for Beauty.com; manicure by Gina Edwards at Kate Ryan Inc. for Dior; set design by Nicholas Des Jardins for Mary Howard Studio; fashion assistant: Yashua Simmons