Gigi Hadid in Dubai. Image Credit: Tommy Hilfiger

Gigi Hadid speaks with a little tremble in her voice. But it’s not nerves, I can assure you. After all, she’s been on the cover of every major fashion magazine, walked the ramp for some of the world’s biggest brands and, as of August, is the  fifth highest paid model in the world according to Forbes, with an estimated $9 million (Dh33 million) pay cheque.

What nerves?

It’s because, at just 21, travelling the world and meeting screaming — and crying — fans who fill up shopping malls just to see her, and who hang on to every single one of her Instagram posts, things can sometimes get a bit overwhelming.

“I still don’t really get it,” she says, dressed in an all-black ensemble — leather trousers and an oversized jumper — from a collection she designed with Tommy Hilfiger, for which she’s travelled to Dubai to promote. “Like, things still really shock me when a certain amount of people show up just to see me. And sometimes I’m like ‘Why?’. Obviously I am so grateful for everything, but people ask me a lot if I understand the extent of all of this and I’m like, ‘Not really, if I’m honest’. But I guess that’s a good thing ...”

Hadid returned to UAE on Monday as part of her global #TogetherTour to promote the TommyXGigi capsule collection. Her itinerary included media interviews, interactions with so-called UAE ‘influencers’ and a meet-and-greet with fans at The Dubai Mall.

While her overcautious handlers had strict guidelines on things we could not ask — no questions about her Arab heritage, her concerns about security, following a prank on her and Kim Kardashian’s roberry during Paris Fashion Week, her friendship with Kendall Jenner and her 23 million Instagram followers — Hadid is far more receptive.

Travelling to the Middle East always feels like a homecoming, she says.

“I love it here and I love going to places that remind me of my dad’s side of the family.” Hadid’s father, Mohammad Hadid, was born in Palestine and immigrated to the US with his parents when he was 14.

“I especially love it when you meet other Arabs,” she says, perking up with the topic. “There’s such a sense of family regardless of whether you are blood related or not anywhere in the world. When someone comes up to me and they tell me, ‘I’m Palestinian’ and we make a connection, it’s beautiful.

“My boyfriend is also half Middle Eastern. It’s just a connection that you make that’s really cool. It’s hard to explain but you feel like you’re amongst [your] people.”

The parents of Hadid's boyfriend, Zayn Malik, come from the UK and Pakistan, which is included in some broad definitions of the Middle East. The pair share a love for the predominant language of the region, Arabic, with Malik sporting Arabic tattoos and using Arabic script in his merchandise, which Hadid often wears. 

She also loves coming to the UAE, “because you can do everything here.”

“In one day you can go skydiving, skiing and then go deep into the desert. Also my aunt and all my cousins and second cousins live here,” she says.

On Monday, designer Tommy Hilfiger revealed 50 per cent of the apparels in the Gigi Hadid collection had already sold out. The collection, featuring women’s sportswear, footwear and accessories, including watches, sunglasses and fragrance, was first showcased during New York Fashion Week last month.

Hadid, who was already appearing in campaigns for the brand, says it was Hilfiger’s idea to do a capsule collection.

“It was August of last year, I was talking to the Tommy team about shooting a campaign. As I got to work with Tommy, he saw that I was a creative person and liked my attention to detail. As he got to know me, he realised we could do something more fun and creative,” she recalls.

“[Tommy Hilfiger] is a brand that I genuinely and easily fit into by style. I love the clothes and I thought I could bring a more street feel to it. Also they had a really great plan with the whole collaboration, with the tour and the meeting the fans. It was really thought out.”

Contractually, Hadid was required to sit in each design meeting for an hour.

“I stayed at one for more than eight hours,” she says, laughing. “I just didn’t want to leave. But that’s just what I am. I am not going to leave until every detail was done, until I knew it was perfect.

“Tommy’s collection in the previous season was all nautical. So we wanted to go with a similar theme but I wanted a lot of vintage stuff. I looked through a lot of the archives and brought back a lot of shapes, patches, buttons and ropes. There was a lot of levels to it, but they gave me a lot of space and really listened to my ideas and more than anything made me feel like they want to execute it for me.”

Travelling around the world for shows can take its toll, but Hadid says she’s blessed to have the right team to take care of her.

“I’m thankful I have a team that is aware of how important it is to take time off when you need it. If I worked the entire fashion week month, I’m going to take a few days off and then I can go for another three weeks,” she says.

“Days off are so important, not just for energy but also to stay excited about things. It’s good to work hard but if you always do, you can lose the steam. And if you don’t have a team that will not listen to you or treat you like a human being, then it’s not cool.”

Hadid, who started modelling when she was just two years old, went on to study criminal psychology. “My mum wanted me to do it so when I got older and I changed my mind about modelling or didn’t make it, I had something to fall back on.”

Hadid’s mother, Yolanda Hadid, is a former model and interior designer, best known for her appearance in the reality series The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

By the time Hadid was 18, she decided modelling was her career of choice. Soon, her younger sister, Bella, followed.

“Everyone always asks us if there is rivalry,” she says, “We got the best situation because we look completely different. I’m competing, if ever, with other blondes in the industry. I am happy that she is doing so amazing. I always find it comforting at fashion weeks to see her and have her there. So many girls are alone, but to have a family there, is amazing.”

She hasn’t thought about legacies or such, but she knows how she wants to work.

“I’ve always said when I go to work my goals are: be nice, work hard and make a friend. From day one, that has been my philosophy,” she says. “If you go to work and touch someone or multiple people, those are the relationships you make that will take you places.

“You could be the most beautiful person in the world, but if you’re hard to work with at the end of the day, it’s not going to last. I want to be someone when they go home, at the dinner table they say, ‘She really surprised me with her niceness’. And maybe the next day, they will push for me or vouch for me in a campaign. And I think that’s how you create opportunity.”