Bella Hadid

The Sprite

"The best part about my job is being able to be different characters for people"

The 2023 Pirelli Calendar celebrates the muses who have inspired photographer Emma Summerton and, more broadly, the remarkable power, passion and talent of women

When Bella Hadid was a child, she loved to play dress-up with her older sister Gigi and younger brother Anwar.

“I'm pretty sure my mom somewhere has a picture of me and my sister dressed as fairies,” the supermodel recalled, revealing that she and Gigi would also dress their brother up as Captain Underpants with “underwear on his head and some cool glasses”.

As one of the world’s most in-demand models, inhabiting different personas is key to Hadid’s professional life. It’s also something she treasures: in Emma Summerton’s 2023 Pirelli Calendar titled Love Letters to the Muse, Hadid embodies The Muse Sprite, or fairy queen, a forest-dwelling “muse for all muses” with horns and a tail and a mesmerising presence both alluring and fierce.

Playing the part

“Honestly, I think the best part about my job is being able to be different characters for people,” said Hadid at the shoot which she described as “amazing”. “And so, for me, this specific day actually is the reason why I do what I do.”

“The best part about my job is being able to be different characters for people”

For the magical realism-infused shoot, Hadid’s character is part-mythical creature, part girl next door, “a female-Pan of sorts, sexy, sweet, tough and sometimes a little naughty, sometimes haughty” according to Summerton, whose Calendar celebrates female empowerment and the women who have inspired her.

“We found that the Sprite had more of a masculine king of the forest kind of energy, than that of a whimsical fairy looking for her prince,” explained Hadid. “She felt more like, ‘I run the show here’. She's badass and I think represents all of us, including the women on set today. My hope is that women everywhere are able to see themselves in this imagery.”

Artistic impulses

Hadid never set out to become a model. The younger daughter of Yolanda, a Dutch former model and television personality, and Mohamed, a Nazareth-born real estate developer, she grew up in Santa Barbara with her mother and siblings after her parents’ divorce. She developed a passion for horse-riding at a young age, was artistic and loved music, writing and poetry. “I thought I was going to go to school and have a career in photography and film,” she said. “I made a short film to get into Parsons [School of Design] and I just love directing. I love being able to make art.”

Shortly after arriving in New York in 2014 to study at Parsons, Hadid’s modelling career took off and she was soon in such demand that she stepped away from her studies, walking in shows for Tom Ford, Diane von Furstenberg, Balmain, Marc Jacobs and Chanel. In 2016, she was voted “model of the year” by industry professionals at the awards

Despite enjoying the profession, her sudden success forced her to put her artistic pursuits to one side. She said she often felt “put in a box” and started “to become other people’s versions of me”.

Finding strength

“It is very vulnerable to put yourself out there. I think that's the most difficult part for me,” she said. “But I really have grown into a different kind of strength that I didn't know I had.”

“I really have grown into a different kind of strength that I didn't know I had”

Hadid, who has spoken candidly about her struggles with anxiety and depression, as well as chronic Lyme disease, said she is now “able to tune into who I really am”.

It’s clearly an exciting time for the supermodel, who radiates warmth and energy the moment she steps into the studio for the shoot, greeting and embracing every person in the room.

Hadid said she has long wanted to appear in the Calendar, which she sees as ”something that has always brought strong women up and made them feel stronger” adding that her supermodel sister Gigi, who appeared in the 2019 Cal, has “taught me so much about this industry”.

Right timing

“I'm really grateful that this is my first experience [of the Calendar], because I feel it's so me. And I truly believe everything happens for a reason, because maybe a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have been ready and now we're here and I'm a fairy. So I couldn't ask for anything more.”

Hadid has always associated beauty with a passion for life, the arts and adventure. “And for me now, it's what I crave. I feel like my true self when I have a balance between my work and my passions. For so many years, my life was just about work but now that I have come back to myself and come back to my hobbies and who I really am, I can look in the mirror and be proud of what I see.”