The Little Mermaid‘s Halle Bailey on Her Casting Controversy, Style Evolution, and Lessons from Beyoncé
Reinventing Ariel for a new generation, The Little Mermaid star Halle Bailey reflects on her casting controversy, style evolution, and life lessons from Beyoncé.
She’s the teen music star who’s pivoted into a movie starlet, having wrapped two major remakes within the last 18 months. Halle Bailey is the 23-year-old actress and singer making a splash with her portrayal of Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid reboot, alongside acting titans Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy in the roles of King Triton and Ursula. Director Rob Marshall had auditioned the crème de la crème of young Hollywood for the role, and even Zendaya was rumored to have read for the part. But it was movie newcomer Bailey who won the coveted lead. The moment she heard the news will stay with her forever. “I was at home with the family celebrating my sister Chloe’s birthday, so when I got the call, it was even more of a celebration,” she shares from her Los Angeles home over a Zoom call.
Like generations of children before her, Bailey grew up on Disney classics, with Ariel having a special place in her heart. “I remember watching The Little Mermaid for the first time when I was around five years old,” Bailey says. “My older sisters Chloe [now 24] and Ski would pretend to be mermaids whenever we were in the swimming pool; it’s cool how it’s all come full circle.” Bailey didn’t take on the esteemed role lightly, either. “I felt an immense responsibility just because of how much Ariel meant to me. It’s crazy how you think it’s just a movie. But Disney means so much to so many people. Films are like the footprint of some of these adults now, so I did feel a duty to just do it justice.” Bailey pushed herself to the limit, often spending up to 13-hour days in the water – filming in both the UK’s Pinewood Studios and Sardinia. “It was like superhero training as it was very physically intense on my body, but I’ve always loved swimming and the water,” she enthuses. “And I was in the best shape of my life!”
Bailey was given poetic license to develop Ariel beyond the Hans Christian Andersen book it was originally based on. “I was really happy that Rob Marshall allowed me to have creative freedom and bring myself to Ariel and who she is. It was his vision to keep her with locs and his only request was that they were red. I really appreciated that because being a young Black girl, it’s so important for all the babies to be able to see themselves represented on screen.” The response to the trailer – from celebrity reactions to those from young girls of color around the world – left Bailey overwhelmed. “When I saw Nicki Minaj’s tweet I freaked out,” she says. “I’m such a fan of so many artists, so to have their stamp of approval is huge.” Minaj wrote, “When this come out no one speak to me. Even papa bear betta not get on mama nerves that day.” Bailey continues, “It’s moments like that when you just pinch yourself. But it means so much to me to see the reaction of all the beautiful children.”
The actress says the racist backlash against a woman of color being cast as the fictional mermaid was a shock, though not entirely surprising – however, she chooses to focus on the positives. “This is such a blessing, and the movie is bigger than me. I initially expected everyone to be as excited as I was, but the reality of it all hit me later as I realized the world that we live in. I just hope that people who aren’t sure about it, go and watch the film and realize we did the original justice.”
The live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1989 The Little Mermaid may have caused a sea of controversy, but Marshall insists that Bailey won the role on merit. As one half of the sibling duo Chloe x Halle, it was their 2019 Grammy performance of Where is the Love that caught Marshall’s attention. He was instantly blown away by Bailey’s angelic voice. The musical sisters who write, produce, and sing their material became internet sensations at the ages of 11 and 13 when they launched a YouTube channel uploading covers from their favorite artists. Their interpretation of Beyoncé’s classic Pretty Hurts went viral, and the rest is history. TV appearances on The Ellen Show followed. Chloe x Halle eventually caught the attention of Beyoncé, who signed them to her label, Parkwood Entertainment, releasing their professional EP debut with Sugar Symphony. As their music stormed the charts, the duo also won acting and cameo roles on Disney series and hit US TV shows.
Now, the five-time Grammy-nominated pair regularly tour with R&B royalty Jay-Z and Beyoncé, have performed at the Super Bowl, and Bailey was part of Beyoncé’s VVIP entourage when she made her much-anticipated stage comeback in Dubai a few months ago. Having Queen Bey on speed dial may be a perk of the job, but Bailey gleans the most from observing her mentor live her best life. “The advice she’s given me over the years is so special, but it’s also watching her navigate life that’s so inspiring. She’s a wife and a mom, and still killing it in her career. I admire her ability to balance and focus on the things that make her happy,” she buzzes.
They are life lessons she holds closely, and Bailey also credits her tight-knit family for keeping her grounded, which is just as well as the fame juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down. Hot on the heels of The Little Mermaid, Bailey’s also wrapped filming The Color Purple reboot due out later this year. It is produced by media tycoon Oprah Winfrey who predicts it will change the lives of the cast – just as it did hers when she starred in the 1985 Steven Spielberg film. Bailey couldn’t agree more. “It feels incredible to be working on such big, important films, especially as it’s all relatively new to me as I consider myself a singer first,” she says. “I’m just glad that we get to remake these movies so that new generations can see what the hype is all about and experience these wonderful stories first-hand.”
“My dream is to learn something from every strong, female role I take on. Ariel taught me a lot about myself, being independent to have courage and passion and strive for what I want in life. I want to play characters who teach me about myself because I’m 23 so I feel like I’m still learning who I am, every single day.”
As Bailey’s confidence evolves, so too has her style over the years. Channeling timeless glamour during her shoot with Vogue Arabia in the Hollywood Hills, Bailey was in her element. “I had so much fun,” her honey-toned voice goes up a few notches. “I didn’t have to think about my style before and now it’s a moment in time for me to find out what I like to wear. I love beautiful, classic structured outfits as they make me feel good about myself and my body.”
Bailey’s joy is palpable. “I’m loving it all, and it’s exciting having designers dress me for all these shoots, red carpets, and premieres. It’s like a real fairy tale.” Bailey is living proof that fairy tales do come true as she’s well on her way to bonafide stardom.
Originally published in the May 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Video director: Danielle Gruberger
Style: Julia Müller
Makeup: Christiana Cassell
Hair: Tinisha Meeks
Photography assistant: Andrew Harless/ Jesse Belvin
Digitech: James Goethals
Photo producer: Rafa Farias
Style assistant: Mascia Remie, Thao Vy Huynh
Props stylist: Marianne Lu
Movement director: Liam Lunnis
Local production: Lita Monclus for Seduko Productions
Meet the Palestinian Baker Bringing Nablus to NYC, One Kanafa Cup at a Time
When you bite into a hot, sweet kanafa cup, you’re not just indulging in one of the most iconic (and addictive) desserts from the Arab world, you’re tasting a piece of Palestine. Shadin Hamdan, a 25-year-old Palestinian-American baker, started her Kanafa Cups business as a hobby over Ramadan during Covid. “It was intended for my friends and family only and then I decided to start an Instagram page. I didn’t think I would be launching a business because I was studying for my Master’s in education. I thought it would just be a ‘Ramadan thing.’ Alhamdulillah with all the support I got from the community it just grew bigger and bigger,” she recounts. Post-pandemic, her pop-ups in New York City saw her sweet treats become an instant hit beyond the Arab and Muslim community. “We would make 1 300 cups a night, with lines of people waiting outside stretching around the block, and we would always sell out.”
Kanafa is the most famous of Palestinian desserts, originating in the city of Nablus. It traditionally takes the form of a large tray of spun, angel-hair dough stuffed with a sweet cheese like mozzarella and baked to crunchy, golden perfection. It’s then doused with a fragrant orange-blossom syrup, sprinkled with ground pistachios, and enjoyed as soon as it comes off the flame. “Growing up, we would always go to Sitti’s (my grandmother’s) house, and she would make kanafa for us. We couldn’t wait to have it. My cousins and I would help her in the kitchen; at the time, I never imagined that I would be making it for the rest of my life. Sitti helped me to perfect the recipe, with a secret ingredient that makes it unique.”
Since starting her business, Hamdan has seen firsthand the role that food plays in building bridges across cultures and religions. “We’re all human and we all love food. What better way to share our own cultures than through our food? My best friend is Italian and had never heard of kanafa. Then she tried it and loved it; her family too. She’s a teacher now and she knows about Ramadan. She had one student fasting and she asked her if she was celebrating Eid. That student’s face lit up because her teacher wasn’t Arab or Muslim, but she understood what Eid was. Growing up I didn’t have that. I said to her, ‘Do you know what you just did? That kid is going to go home and tell her parents that her teacher understood what Eid was. That’s going to mean the world to them because it’s still not spoken about here.’ Even though the Arab and Muslim community in New York is huge, Ramadan and Eid are still not known.” Being an openly Palestinian entrepreneur in New York is not easy, but Hamdan is determined to break down barriers. “With my business, I try to emphasize that we are Palestinian-owned, because we are often afraid of hate and backlash. Palestine doesn’t get talked about in conversations. You often feel like you’re not seen, and your feelings are invalid.”
Hamdan’s burgeoning fan base includes Palestinian-American supermodel Bella Hadid, who was gifted one of her custom-made kanafa birthday cakes. “That was just huge on its own. When I first started, I said that my dream was to open a café and to have Bella Hadid try my kanafa. I couldn’t believe it when Bella’s make-up artist Nadia reached out to order a birthday cake for her. Nadia was already a customer, so when I saw the DM from her, I went crazy. I was overwhelmed with joy! To see something that came from my house in Staten Island reach Bella Hadid, and to see her post about it was surreal. I cried happy tears for two weeks straight because I couldn’t believe it. It meant so much because Bella and the Hadids are such a powerful voice for Palestinians.”
Hamdan traveled to Palestine for the first time with her family, who are refugees, in the summer of 2022, visiting her parent’s hometown of Beit Hanina. “It was a powerful experience because for the first time we saw what our parents were talking about all these years, about our land and our homes that we lost as they were taken over. It was overwhelmingly emotional, and there were tears shed as we drove through Palestine. I grew up in Florida and New York, and to be surrounded by our people in Palestine was so beautiful. For the first time, we felt this was home.”
The baker explains that Kanafa Cups has since become a family affair. “My dad brings me the ingredients from his supermarket, and my mom, my sister, and my cousins often help me fulfill orders. It’s not just my accomplishment; it’s my whole family’s. I have days when I feel discouraged and run down, but they keep me going.” As her business grows, Hamdan has started shipping kanafa cups all over the United States, especially when she gets special orders from the likes of social media stars such as Mai and Max Maxwell. She still dreams of opening her own café, knowing she has her community behind her.
Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Makeup: Islam Allan
Halima Aden on Her Three-Year Hiatus from the Industry, Inhumane Working Conditions of Models, and Muslim Representation
After an abrupt departure from the world of fashion in 2020, Halima Aden is back on the cover of Vogue. But this time, on her own terms, and never forgetting where she comes from.
There are not many places in the world like Chefchaouen, a tiny village stacked between the mountains of the northwest of Morocco where blue is the reigning color. Dating back to 1471, every little alley is coated with paint and layers of history, immediately transporting you to a real-life postcard, where a serene but powerful energy takes over. As a guide explains, blue was painted on the walls, floors, and steps to represent the color of the sky and to connect the city to heaven and God. It is exactly in that pathway between physical and ethereal that we felt awash in otherworldliness.
It is not a coincidence that this small but unforgettable village in Africa was selected as the backdrop for Halima Aden’s first cover shoot after she unexpectedly exited the fashion industry in 2020. Like the location that surrounds us, when I meet Aden, she is serene and warm, but there’s definitely a sense of power behind both her gaze and her inviting smile.
The relationship between Vogue Arabia and Aden is long, dating back to 2017, when, for our fourth edition, we invited the new face to become the first ever veiled personality on the cover of Vogue. The project received unparalleled acclaim, with hijabi women around the world finally feeling represented on the front page of a publication with the impact of Vogue. Unapologetic and fearless since day one, the Somali refugee came onto our radar the year prior, after making a splash at the Miss Minnesota USA competition, where she was the first contestant to participate in the event wearing a burkini and a veil. And while today there might be some more information about modest dressing and the women who wear it – from politician Ilhan Omar to Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad – it was not the case back then.
The following years were filled with incredible success, trips around glitzy red carpets, and glamorous fashion weeks. But, in 2020, something felt terribly wrong – Aden found herself at a crossroads where her faith, her mental health, and her career were no longer compatible. To announce this, the model went straight to Instagram, posting dozens of consecutive, bombastic stories featuring her past fashion shoots, campaigns, and covers, where she felt that her hijab was not respected, nor her identity as a Muslim woman. “Before the pandemic I was too hard on myself. And the truth is that 2019 was the busiest year of my career,” Aden reflects. “To give you insight, in one month I had 45 flights, and not one day to spend with my family. I’m grateful because that was the reason why my platform grew the way it did. But then, when the pandemic happened, everything paused, and I’m someone that likes to always keep busy. During lockdown, there were no distractions, so I had to be at one with my own mind, and that was tough. I thought that I hadn’t done enough when it comes to showcasing the hijab in a proper way; I thought it went off the deep end and I could no longer relate to this identity of wearing a hijab. Towards the end of my career, in my photoshoots, my hijab became more adventurous… It was very experimental, and I confess I also had a part to play in that. Nobody forced me to put jeans on my head instead of a traditional veil, to do a shoot being fully decked out with jewelry, and very sexy even though it was modest…”
Besides the personal and religious beliefs that made her exit the industry, Aden also underlines the importance of discussing the work conditions of models in general, whether they are hijabi or not. “This is not just a discussion around Muslim girls. It’s about how we should treat all models,” she says. “I think that a big part of the reason why I quit was the lack of privacy backstage. I was mortified early on in my career when I realized some shows had just clothing racks to separate the girls from the public, from male photographers, from the people bringing food… For me, as a newbie, I had my own box, literally one box just for myself… It was awkward and just didn’t feel right,” she explains. “When you come from the refugee community I hail from, the one thing I can’t stand is when the perks are not applied to everybody else. When the other models came to me to ask if they could use my small dressing box, I remember thinking, ‘Why can’t they just create a covered space for all of us?’ Even Walmart has changing rooms; one for the girls and one for the guys… Of course, we never complained, because we are too scared to make a fuss and be replaced. If you speak up, you are labeled difficult.”
Although Aden’s decision to call out the fashion industry was received with excitement by the general media, I ask if she regrets the way her message was delivered. After all, the stylists, publications, clients, and editors she singled out on her posts were also the people giving her a platform, helping her to build a career when she was an unknown model. And many of them made an effort to protect Aden the best way they knew or could, trying to navigate the complexities of the hijab, creating special dressing boxes, allowing her to be accompanied by a chaperone, and so on. “My message resonated with people because I was honest, but I was also young. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have delivered it on Instagram. I really wouldn’t have,” she answers. “I do feel bad, and I feel like I could have been gentler. But fashion is a cruel business to be a part of, and sometimes you just have to say it like it is. You can’t be so scared, because other people are not afraid to tell you ‘You’re not good enough, you’re doing this wrong.’ Tell me the last time a model went on Instagram to quit or to call out the industry… That same night, The Guardian, BBC World News, all these major outlets were writing my story.”
Now we see Aden’s story being written again, but on her own terms, and right in front of our eyes. Wearing a delicate, white Chanel lace dress (with an underbody and a classic veil, of course), she is posing next to a beautiful Moroccan door – blue, as everything else around us. If modeling is like riding a bicycle, she clearly hasn’t forgotten how to pose for the camera. To return to this place of confidence and control, Aden tells me that she spent the past years working on her mental health, “unpacking things,” and doing weekly therapy sessions. “I always thought, ‘Oh, I don’t need that’… It turns out that the people who say this are the ones that need it the most. Now, I’m just at a different place in my life, where I feel very protected, I feel very loved and cared for. I’m really going at my pace, which wasn’t the case as a model.”
On the topic of mindfulness, Aden expresses regret to recognize that visiting a therapist is a luxury that not everyone has access to, especially the younger generations. Therefore, she is collaborating with Snapchat for the project Club Unity, which encourages Gen Z voices to open up about their own mental health journeys, empowering them to embrace this important aspect of their lives. “Honestly, it is a privilege speaking to a therapist, and it is unfortunate many people can’t afford it. In my case, this was never the option. Under the influence of my mom, the solution was always to run back to God, pray your five daily prayers, fast, wake up at 2am to journal. But at one point, I felt like I needed somebody who could understand everything that I was going through.”
Besides classic therapy, Aden underlines the importance of becoming a more mindful society, something she believes can also be achieved through bonding with family and community. “When I was growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya, I might have been just a child, but I remember the laughter; I remember my mom being so stressed, but at the same time, so full of light and joy, and the bliss on her face. And this is in a refugee camp… I realized that because there was such a strong sense of community, there really wasn’t a need for therapy. Now, in America, we are very isolated, and I feel we don’t do enough of a good job of discussing where we’re at.”
While modeling took a back seat for Aden, this doesn’t mean that she is not busier than ever, working on different projects that make her eyes sparkle. Still very much a part of the fashion world, in 2024 she is all set to release a ready-to-wear collection in collaboration with a Jordanian and Muslim entrepreneur, a project she prefers not to reveal too much of for now. There is also an ongoing partnership with the Turkish modestwear e-tailer Modanisa, where Aden doubles as global ambassador while also designing turbans and headscarves. “They were one of the brands that reached out and really supported me when I decided to quit,” she remembers. “This past year was amazing, as our collection sold out right away. It was exciting to be in the creative seat, fully working on vision boards, casting of models, campaign concepts, packaging, and even the small notes that go with each purchase… It made me appreciate all the work behind a brand even more.”
The two other projects Aden is excited to reveal showcase her range as creative and a humanitarian. In partnership with Vita Coco, she wrote a children’s book targeting communities being supported by the coconut water brand, which recently built 30 classrooms in the Philippines for youngsters with less resources. When Aden visited the locations, she realized she didn’t want to come back empty-handed, and started typing three versions of an inspiring and empowering children’s book. For the big screen, following Aden’s initial cinema experience executive producing the 2019 film I Am You by Afghan director Sonia Nassery Cole, there’s already a movie script registered at the Writers Guild of America. “I will tell my agent to send you a copy, so you see I’m not joking,” she laughs. “I noticed that there are gaps in the movie industry, and there are not many Muslim writers, showcasing what a modern Muslim woman is like. It’s easy for people to have misconceptions of Muslim females when they only see on the news very extreme examples of women in a hijab. We are not oppressed. We have dreams and ambitions, and we make mistakes. We’re human, we’re not perfect, we’re flawed. We are so misunderstood…” she says regretfully. “I’m aware I’m not in Hollywood, but I know what I’ve been able to accomplish in fashion, and the truth is that nothing is impossible. So, you must dream, you have to believe in yourself – and I do believe in myself. I have this newfound confidence in my ability and my story, and film is the perfect medium to share it with the world.”
Perhaps the work that still takes center stage in Aden’s universe is her role in inspiring refugees. Born in the Kakuma camp in Kenya, where she resided until she was relocated to Minnesota at seven years old, the journey of Halima Aden is a success story that inspires millions of people forced to flee their home countries. Just Kakuma counts 185 000 displaced people, from 14 different nations. When I ask what it really means to be a refugee, she takes a couple of seconds to gather her thoughts. “That’s a hard one… But I would say scars and smiles. The reason why I say scars and smiles is there’s a lot of trauma that comes with being a refugee. A lot of the work that I was doing in therapy was unpacking some of those experiences.”
It is in this context that Aden has been collaborating with the platform RefuSHE, “a community for refugee girls by refugee girls.” And while she describes the project, I notice she mentions the word hope more than once in the same sentence. But how do you feed this “hope” when you have barely anything physical to eat, I wonder. “I think that when people have lost it all, they cling tight to hope. They cling tight to that one day. Maybe, if I pray hard enough, I will have that one opportunity that’s going to change our lives,” she says. “Only 1% of refugees get to leave the camps and go to a developed country like America. Only 1%. But if there is that 1% chance people are going to have hope, they will continue to pray, and to daydream about a better future. The reality is that no parent would put their child on a boat, to cross an ocean, if it wasn’t an extreme situation. Sometimes, when people have experienced the worst that life has to offer, they become grateful and appreciative for the tiniest win of everyday life. The way that we, in America, don’t necessarily always appreciate.”
Originally published in the May 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Amine Jreissati
Makeup: Karima Maruan
On-ground production: Nashta Production and Sarah Nadjar
Photography assistant: Malak Housni
Producer: Sam Allison
Special thanks: Moroccan National Provincial Tourist Office
Cindy Crawford on Her New Documentary Series, and Modeling at 57: “I Don’t Believe in a Season of Invisibility”
With a new documentary series announced alongside her fellow supers, Cindy Crawford reflects on why she’s still in the game, 40 years into her exceptional career.
When Cindy Crawford’s Zoom shot pops up on my screen, she is wearing a pretty, powder blue sweater and no discernible makeup. It’s 11am in Malibu, where she lives, and she is right on time. “The only advice I gave my kids when they started modeling was be on time, stay off your phone, and be prepared,” she tells me. Crawford’s face, especially for people of a certain generation, has been an integral part of the cultural landscape for almost four decades. The famous beauty mark, the Pepsi commercial, the George Michael Freedom! ‘90 video, the hundreds of magazine covers: Cindy Crawford is more than a model – she’s earned a spot in the pantheon of instantly recognizable icons; what a marketing executive might call a “powerhouse brand.”
Achieving supermodel status along with the likes of Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, and only a handful of others is one thing, but maintaining the same level of fame 40 years into the business is another. “Everything came together in a way that was bigger than anyone individually. It was a time when one plus one plus one equals 1 000,” she says about why being a fashion model, once a quieter and more fleeting job, gave that particular group of women their lasting superstar status. Later in her career, Crawford made a deliberate choice to build her brand by taking daring professional risks, especially for her time. Her flair for business and an understanding of how to appeal to a wider fanbase transcended the world of modeling. Suddenly, star models like her were using their voices, quite literally. She made an exercise video, hosted the MTV show House of Style, and wrote a make-up book. “Then I started a skincare line with Dr Sebagh and slowly took more ownership of my career, and I had more of a say in how I was being portrayed.”
Crawford’s desire to be in control of her professional destiny comes up often during our conversation. In an industry where women are objectified, and there is concern over how some younger girls can be exploited, Crawford says she took the reins very early in her career. “I was doing Vogue and Revlon and then I did Playboy, and people couldn’t understand why I would risk that. It wasn’t about the money because I barely got paid for the first time,” she tells me, running her hand through her famously thick mane of hair. “I gave up getting paid in order to have control, so that I have approval of every image.”
The result was an atmospheric, multi-page, black-and-white spread shot by famed photographer Herb Ritts. “Because I took a chance there, it opened me up to a much broader audience, male and female, which Vogue didn’t have. And that’s why I got MTV and that’s why I got Pepsi.” Those projects earned Crawford a place in the collective consciousness that endures to this day.
Crawford was a supermodel before the age of social media, but it’s social media that may have played a role in bringing back the glam of the Cindy-Naomi-Linda-Christy era, introducing it to a younger generation. There is a nostalgia about that time, as well, right before the internet and smartphones took over our lives, when everything seemed simpler and the pressures of maintaining a public image were less acute.
The four women are working on a documentary series for Apple TV + on the supermodel era due out later this year, Crawford tells me, reuniting for the first time in person in many years. “Two weeks ago, we were all on set, shooting together. It’s been a long time since the four of us were together in front of the camera and it was amazing. In a weird way, it was like no time had passed and, in another way, we also were fully our adult selves.”
When Crawford and I connect, it is the day after her birthday. “My first day of being officially 57,” she tells me as we discuss aging and the inevitability of our faces and bodies changing with time. Does she feel as much pressure as the rest of us to continue to look youthful? “The only way I think about that is, look, I don’t look the same way that I did when I was 25. I’m very aware of that. And thank you to all the trolls on Instagram who love to point that out,” she says laughing. “What I don’t want to do is be part of that message that’s telling women of a certain age, ‘You got to hang it up now.’ Like, why? Again, I’m not trying to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I do understand that there’s a season for everything, but I don’t believe in a season of invisibility. So, that’s maybe where I feel a little bit of responsibility to, like, just show up.”
Born Cynthia Ann Crawford in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1966, Cindy Crawford started her modeling career while she was still in high school. She was a gifted student, earning a scholarship to study engineering at Northwestern University, but dropped out after one semester to pursue modeling. She quickly went from working with photographers in her native Illinois to New York, to the international runways and covers that made her a household name all over the world. Along the way, after a high-profile marriage to actor Richard Gere, Crawford married businessman and former model Rande Gerber in 1998. They share two children, Presley and Kaia. Both have chosen to pursue modeling careers and 21-year-old Kaia, who’s fast become one of the most in-demand models in the world, is also trying her hand at acting. Does knowing the pressures of the industry change how much she worries about her kids? “Every mother worries about her children’s physical safety, their mental health, their relationships, their self-esteem. I think the one thing that was different for me is I didn’t grow up in a well-known family, and I didn’t have as much public pressure on me.”
Public pressure for the kids of established celebrities comes in many forms, most recently with the debate over so-called “nepo babies,” the offspring of stars sometimes accused of having unfair advantages in the entertainment industry thanks to the connections of their famous parents. Crawford’s daughter Kaia herself acknowledged in a recent interview that having a supermodel mother certainly did not hurt her career. Crawford tells me she doesn’t disagree with her daughter, but says that even though celebrity children get a head start, they are still expected to perform. “They come out of a gate and everyone’s eyes are on them,” she says. “Maybe they are given the opportunity over someone who doesn’t have the same advantages, but if they don’t have the goods… If she wasn’t selling or wasn’t creating excitement around collaborations or brands – she does that – she wouldn’t still be working.”
The wonderful thing about the longevity of the 90s supermodels is that women now have a real-life example of middle-aged bombshells who are still paid to be the faces of cosmetics brands and appear on magazine covers. We may not have their bodies or their looks, but hey, we tell ourselves, we can still be considered desirable as we age. I tell Crawford that this type of representation matters and that perhaps she has become an inspiration to a whole new generation of women. “Do you feel like a role model in that way?” I ask her. “I think if I thought about that, it would actually probably limit me because I would put too much pressure on myself,” she says. “I think more about how do I keep growing and learning and evolving for myself?”
It’s something Crawford has thought about more since the Covid lockdowns, that period during which the entire world seemed to be going through an existential recalibration. Perhaps this triggered some sort of desire to take stock for Crawford, who has worked since the age of 17. “I read a book called Bending Reality and I really liked the author, who is a coach,” she tells me. “The work that I’ve done with her is more like, let’s get back to your 16-year-old self. Like what dreams did you have? Because we kind of figure out what we’re good at, but maybe it’s not necessarily what lights me up the most. I still feel good, I still have a lot of energy. I still feel like I have a lot to offer. So, I want to be doing things that really turn me on.” She says the break that the pandemic forced everyone to take made her want to explore parts of the world that are still on her “bucket list,” including some in the Middle East. “The only place I’ve really been is Dubai, and I’ve been there a couple of times, but I would love to go to Petra. That is on my bucket list. 100%.” Crawford seems to have experienced some sort of experiential shift, post-lockdown. She says she is now finally comfortable not packing her schedule with work and activities or hopping on planes every few days. Instead, she tells me, she is trying to appreciate what this period of reflection has taught her. “I was afraid of being bored. Like, what am I going to do when this is over? Then I thought, actually, I’m pretty good at keeping myself entertained. So, I feel like I came out of that less afraid of not being busy.” Whatever Crawford decides to do next, she won’t be giving up on modeling, something she calls “creating a character,” anytime soon. “I have confidence because I know I’m good at it. But also, you have these connections with people like the hairdresser, the makeup artist, the stylist, the photographer. Sometimes they’re old relationships. So, it’s like visiting with an old friend.”
She has likened the physical demands placed on a model’s body as similar to those required of athletes. “It’s a skill and something that you get better at. I still enjoy it.” The job doesn’t come without daily maintenance. She tells me she works out at least four times a week and says that her love for bread is very much requited. “It loves me so much that it sticks around. So, I don’t eat a lot of bread.” At 57, it shows: she still fits in the cut-off jeans she wore in the classic 1992 Pepsi commercial.
It’s difficult to imagine that a model of her stature, a woman who literally embodies the aesthetic ideals of beauty, can feel anything other than complete confidence in her appearance. But if speaking to great beauties and celebrities has taught me anything, it is that no one is immune to self-doubt. This is made worse, Crawford says, because of a culture of ageism and the added pressures of scrolling through other people’s (very curated) lives on our phones.
“We feel pressure because we’re seeing everyone’s highlights reels, especially on social media,” she says. “I have two sisters that I’m very close to and I have two separate groups of women friends. When I see them, I’m like, wow, your hair looks great, or I love your sweater, or you look amazing. I don’t think we look at ourselves through the same lens, and that, I think, is the work we need to do. To try to look at ourselves with the same love.”
Originally published in the March 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Video director: Danielle Gruberger
Style: Patrick Mackie
Fashion director: Amine Jreissati
Makeup: Kate Lee
Hair: Rob Talty
Nails: Yoko Sakakura
Style assistants: Jasmine Morales and Chance Davis
Producer: Sam Allison
On set producer: Helena Martel Seward
Designer Rawdha Thani Discusses Emirati Crafts and the Future of UAE Women With a Guardian of Heritage in Abu Dhabi
Every year, December 2 marks a special occasion in the UAE, but come 2021, National Day celebrations were a little brighter, a little bigger, and a lot more cheerful, as the nation completed 50 successful years. For the Golden Jubilee celebration, we at Vogue Arabia worked well in advance to present our readers with a collector’s edition brimming with insightful stories and inspiring moments that highlight the very best of the United Arab Emirates and its journey thus far.
No nation’s narrative is complete without a look at its rich past, and this month, we take a deep dive into the legacy of the UAE by sitting down with the women who work day after day to preserve its traditions via exquisite craftsmanship. Dressed in brilliant shades of vermillion, emerald green and canary yellow, the Emirati craftswomen, supported by the General Women’s Union as part of the late HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s vision, invited us into their world, full of age-old techniques like Al-Talli crafting, sadu and sewing, with immense pride.
In the midst of it all, generations collided when Rawdha Thani, the young designer behind illi, a brand that gives traditional abayas a contemporary spin, sat down for an intimate chat in Abu Dhabi with one of our shoot subjects, Atika bint Ali bin Taresh Al Mehairbi. What began as a timid conversation quickly unfolded into a bonding between two women who may come from different eras, but share the same heritage, and the very same love towards creating beautiful pieces. Watch as the duo discuss crafts (“I have been learning this craft since I was seven years old. The palm tree is like our mother and relatives,” the heritage protector reveals), jewelry, and their thoughts about the progress women in the UAE have made.