Depending on how you look at the situation, it's either easy or very difficult to be Bella Hadid, the model.
On one hand, the 19-year-old has genetics on her side (her mom, Yolanda Hadid of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" fame, was a Ford model for over a decade) and has received the sort of career kickstart that can only come from having a social media-savvy supermodel as a big sister and a reality television star as a mother. On the flip side, she's certainly fallen victim to the dreaded industry "N" word (nepotism), with naysayers quick to assume that she's only booked her blue-chip jobs — runway spots at Chanel, Givenchy, Tom Ford, and Miu Miu; campaigns for Balmain, Marc Jacobs and Versace — on account of her last name. There's also the fact that Hadid's boyfriend Abel Tesfaye — a.k.a. The Weeknd — is one of pop music's most exciting, sought-after talents, cementing her status as a paparazzi magnet; and due to her celebrity status, the public is well-informed about her personal life, including her battle with Lyme Disease that effectively squashed her dream of becoming an Olympic equestrian.
No matter which camp your opinion of Hadid falls into, you can't deny that over the past few months, she's matured immensely, style-wise. From the moment she stepped onto the Grammys red carpet with her beau back in February, wearing a black Alexandre Vauthier couture gown with a deep-V neckline, side cutouts and a thigh-high slit, she's been a consistent contender for best dressed lists, opting for head-turning, memorable ensembles that are definitely not for the sartorial faint of heart. No longer is Hadid making headlines as "Gigi's younger sibling," the brunette foil to America's bubbly, baby-faced sweetheart; now she's commanding them on her own, and from enthusiastic Twitter users to top-tier magazine editors, people are taking notice — us included.
While Hadid likely won the favor of designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Riccardo Tisci on her own, stylist Elizabeth Sulcer, who regularly works with Número Paris, several international editions of Vogue and Victoria's Secret, can be credited with the evolution of the model's look. "Bella and I met in Paris at a private dinner for Self Service magazine, we joke that it was love at first sight," Sulcer told Fashionista over email following the amfAR Gala in Cannes last week. They've only been working together since March, but the partnership is already an organic and collaborative one. "[She] is daring and has fantastic taste — she trusts me implicitly, one hundred percent," Sulcer said.
From Hadid's recent '90s-inspired, denim-on-denim street style looks to the form-fitting formalwear she's grown increasingly fond of, hints of Sulcer's sexy aesthetic — and loyalty to labels like Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Balmain and Versace — shine through. The most high-profile results of the duo's professional relationship thus far appeared on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, where Hadid's stellar getups earned a deluge of praise on social media, starting with the Roberto Cavalli couture gown she chose for the opening gala. The nude, intricately embroidered dress with crisscross straps and crystal accents was the perfect complement to her De Grisogono diamonds — particularly the blinding choker that was the outfit's centerpiece. Speaking of chokers, Sulcer and Hadid don't plan on shying away from the über-trendy accessory now that it's gone mainstream, either. "Fashion isn't just about following trends, it's about breaking them and creating them," Sulcer asserted.
As Cannes rolled along, Hadid was consistently the center of attention. Instead of playing it safe with one black-tie gown after another, she and Sulcer switched it up, first with a striped pantsuit paired with a chainmail crop top by Givenchy. "Riccardo [Tisci] played a big role in this look — he is a genius," Sulcer said, adding that it wasn't a hard sell to get the model to try menswear-inspired suiting on the red carpet. Hadid also played muse to Dior for the first time during the festival, both at a dinner for the French house's collection of perfumes, and at the amFAR Gala, where she and Sulcer opted for a "simple and chic" black dress, accented with De Grisogono jewels made from emeralds, rubies, amethysts and white diamonds.
However, none of the aforementioned outfits quite compare to Hadid's cherry red, custom Alexandre Vauthier gown, which boasted a slit so precarious that it seems miraculous no wardrobe malfunctions occurred. Sulcer did not expect the dress to cause such a ruckus, and despite the high probability of flashing a little too much skin — undergarments built into the dress and plenty of top stick (a.k.a. fashion tape) prevented this — she says Hadid wasn't the least bit nervous to wear it onto the carpet. To really cement this as a milestone style moment, Hadid debuted some brand new bangs by hairstylist Jen Atkin, inspired by industry icons Brigitte Bardot and Carla Bruni. Considering the reaction this look received on the Internet and beyond, we wouldn't be surprised if it goes down in history as one of the most memorable Cannes looks of all time. Not bad for a woman who walked her first runway less than two years ago.
It's clear that Hadid is in the midst of a career turning point: In addition to her clean sartorial sweep at Cannes, she's covered Allure, Elle, Vogue Turkey, W Korea, Glamour Germany and Harper's Bazaar Spain in the past two months alone, and reportedly earned six figures for her exclusive runway appearance at the Misha Collection resort show in Sydney last week. With an Instagram fanbase that's 4.5 million strong, she has the social currency that brands would kill for, but unlike many of the so-called "Instagirls," Hadid still seems to be selective with her projects, instead of trying to be everything to everyone.
I'll admit, I wasn't convinced that the younger Hadid actually wanted to model at the beginning — instead it seemed like something she was pressured into, either by her family and its industry connections, or a desire on some level to emulate Gigi, her role model, best friend and big sister. In some ways, she's already succeeded at this: In March, she was named "Model of the Year" at Daily Front Row's Fashion Los Angeles Awards, an honor bestowed on her sibling the year prior. But now it's evident that she's all-in. She's always on set, she's toned up and she's clearly feeling very #blessed about her accomplishments. (At least if her Instagram captions are any indication.)
But aside from the occasional joint editorial or ad campaign, we're betting that Bella's career will begin to veer even further away from Gigi's in the months ahead. Instead of ticking all of the modeling boxes — a cosmetics contract, a clothing collaboration, a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show casting — Bella could own that indie "It" factor she has, posing for niche titles like Exit, Twin and Self Service, while remaining a muse to cult favorite designers like Tisci. With her vampy mystique, inherent cool factor and, yes, her flawless figure, it's safe to say that she's successfully emerged from her sister's shadow and proved that she's an industry force to be reckoned with, both on and off the red carpet. We're looking forward to seeing what she does next — and how she tops her Cannes style coup.