Everyone wants a piece of Bella Hadid. Now, thanks to a new NFT (non-fungible token) platform called CY-B3LLA, they’ll be able to grab one, albeit in a modern, somewhat strange way. In collaboration with reBASE, a social metaverse site, Hadid is releasing a massive range—11,111 unique works, to be exact—of shoppable online art pieces based on her own image. These NFTs are digital assets, essentially cybernetic souvenirs or collectibles. It’s also more than just having the JPEG saved on your desktop: You receive a digital record (essentially a serial number or certificate of authenticity) that proves that you and only you purchased this specific asset. Hadid asked 10 different creatives to make art out of 3D scans of her own body, including portraits where she’s done up like an animated cyborg queen. She’s had a waiting list open for weeks, with over half a million people signing up online, and finally, now that CY-B3LLA is dropping, they’ll be able to get their own slice of supermodel right in their own inbox.
Hadid first had a kernel of the idea thanks to a lifelong interest in gaming. Growing up, her younger brother Anwar loved World of Warcraft, but Hadid herself was always attracted to the poppy universe of Mario. “My alias when I was 18, when I started traveling for work, was Princess Peach,” she says with glee over Zoom. When the world locked down due to COVID, her fascination with online life went into overdrive. “Over quarantine, my dream was to be a full gamer girl and play other people,” she says. “When the NFT craze came, I was genuinely curious about what that community looked like. It went from gaming—me wanting to create this cool avatar and be in that universe and connect with people—to this.”
Naturally, Hadid was excited by the aesthetic possibilities of creating art out of her own image. She submitted to a 3D scan that the artists would then be able to use to create the NFTs. “There were probably 200 cameras surrounding me and I stood in the middle and changed my shape so it got all these different parts of my body, different versions of my facial expressions, fingers, toes. We wanted it to be very realistic,” she says. But beyond the look and feel of the NFTs, she built this new platform to have a community aspect. Though some of the details still sound hazy, purchasing one of Hadid’s NFTs will eventually grant you access to online and real life meet-and-greets with the model. “We’re gonna set up different events. Tokyo—I hope that’s one of our first launch spaces. It’d be an airdrop essentially: If you’re in Tokyo having coffee and all of a sudden I’m right next door to you, you’d get a ping,” she says. “Just going to different places I love and seeing the people who support me and giving them a real hug.”
Hadid certainly knows a thing or two about capturing audience attention online. She has already proven herself as World Wide Web gold. For a recent run of red carpet looks at Cannes Film Festival, for instance, she caused a small internet fashion brushfire by teaming up with stylist Law Roach for an incredible string of archival dresses, including pieces from Chanel, Tom Ford’s Gucci era, and a vintage black Versace dress from 1987 with an epic voluminous bow around the waist. “Who is the one person who could make me feel confident enough to go for my dream of doing all these archival moments? That for me is Law [Roach]. Him and I have very similar minds when it comes to fashion. I told him I wanted it to be classic old festival looks,” she says. “Donatella was nice enough to open up Gianni’s whole archive for us, which is unheard of, and I was so honored. She really had in mind exactly what she wanted for me.”
Regarding CY-B3LLA, Hadid understands that there’s some well-deserved mistrust out there about the celebrity-NFT-industrial complex. “Where that skepticism comes from is the people who just want to have a money grab,” she says. “To me, it’s so much bigger than that. I want it to be a collective. It’s not a one-stop shop—this is a real passion. I want to be used as a vessel for communication and respect and love. ”
Hadid, who has discussed her struggles with anxiety in the past, feels like these yet-uncharted metaverse spaces have potential to be healthier and happier than the online world we are all currently living in. “The whole Instagram and Twitter world, it’s out for me—I just can’t look at notifications anymore,” she says. “Once we start to be so aware of what every single person thinks of us, you start to lose track of what you need and what you want. These horrible anxieties we all have—I feel like that’s what’s circulating on the internet.” There will be a dedicated group for CY-B3LLA-ites on the Discord chat app, and she imagines popping in a couple times a week just to chat with her friends and fans in a low-impact environment made up of like minded people. Eventually, as the metaverse develops into a more fully-realized space, she hopes to find even more ways for her people to inhabit, congregate, exchange ideas, and feel at home. “There’s a scary part of the internet but there’s a really beautiful part of the internet,” she says, “and that’s people being able to find a space where they can belong.”
All in all, she’s aware of how weird this NFT and metaverse talk can sound to people not yet on board with the burgeoning movement, but she’s ready to give herself over to it all the same, one token at a time. “It’s just a beautiful way that we can have a community. I don’t know if I feel like a community leader—it’s not just about connecting me to people, but about connecting people to other people,” she says. “I just want to be an instrument.”
Originally published in Vogue.co.uk