“Do you know that song? ‘Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking…’” It’s 9pm in the Bahamas and Hailey Bieber’s ocean-blue bikini is still clinging to her body as she spills the lyrics of the Frank Sinatra rendition of The Girl From Ipanema. I’m not surprised by her choice of outfit at all, even if it’s for a cover interview. As one of her 28 million Instagram followers (at the time of going to press), I’m hyper aware that given a chance, this 23-year-old part Brazilian model and youth icon will always find her way down a sandy path to a beach.
“I’ve always wondered, you know, who is this girl from Ipanema? What does she embody?” Frankly, from where I sit, it could look something just like this—sun-kissed, self-assured and zero-cares-given.
This is a rare interview for many reasons. First, we are in conversation from the square-inch screens of a phone (hers) and a laptop (mine) due to a pandemic-induced worldwide lockdown. Second, although Bieber is in calmer climes in the Caribbean (she left Los Angeles with her family in a “safe escape with temperature checks and plenty of protective personal equipment”), her social feed is still deep in American politics and social injustice. Her posts provoke citizens to vote and her IGTV streams are open, vulnerable conversations about race and inequality.
We tiptoe around the topic, but then she jumps right in: it’s clear that Bieber harbours a healthy amount of anger for the current state of affairs. One confessional Instagram caption reads: “As a white woman, I know I am privileged… I will never understand what it’s like to be racially profiled and targeted and wake up uncertain that I could lose my life because of the colour of my skin.” With over 28 million views on that IGTV video alone, and a series of positive comments transcribed in emojis and affirmations, she followed it up with five similar conversations with industry peers and experts.
“It was time to look inside and reflect: what do I not know, what do I need to ask, how can I step up and do the best that I can to be an ally in the Black Lives Matter movement?” she asks, adamant that her future children will have it differently. “They will be raised knowing how to treat people, why we don’t say certain things, and why we respect and acknowledge and give credit where credit is due.”
AGE OF INFLUENCE
Being vocal comes easy to the Gen-Z model, TV host, star child (her father is Stephen Baldwin and her uncle is Alec), and now star wife to singer and pop culture royalty Justin Bieber, whom she married last September. “To be honest, I don’t really think I was ever famous.” She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where homeschooling and professional ballet dancing filled her days, before a foot injury led her to fashion. “Of course, I knew my father was an actor and he was famous to an extent, but if I was to compare how I grew up to how Justin did, he’s had a way crazier ‘famous’ experience really young. Whereas I got to grow up and get my driver’s licence and really be normal until the past three years of my life.”
A STITCH IN TIME
Of all her contemporaries, Bieber’s style is perhaps the most aesthetically capricious, casually category-busting and impossibly cool. She can do a cosy high-low clash with a pair of sweats and stilettos (more ath than leisure), but immediately follow it up with a sexy, snug dress. And just when you thought she had served it all, she’ll come out in a swirling tie-dye sweatshirt that you could swear you had seen on her husband the week before. “I’ve never really been someone who finds an item in the men’s section and says, ‘Oh I’m not going to buy this because it’s menswear.’ I wear a lot of men’s suiting and love mixing men’s silhouettes like big, boxy jackets and baggy pants into my style,” she says, rattling off Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Jacquemus, Balenciaga and Phoebe Philo’s Celine as her closet fundamentals.
It’s easy to pin down Bieber’s life in style because, in many ways, she grew up on the red carpet. There are carousels of paparazzi pictures online, from awkward pre-teen in ruffled frocks at her father’s film premieres to more recently, a butt-skimming pink gown by Alexander Wang at the Met Gala. One item of clothing, however, seems to have become a part of her, a proverbial limb: the leather jacket. In quarantine, she revived a vintage number while Marie Kondo-ing her closet. “I don’t know the brand, but I wore it to Coachella one year and I’ve kept it ever since. It’s just a good, solid leather jacket, very ’90s, cropped and boxy,” her fine-line tattooed hands drawing the shape as she explains. “It’s the kind of jacket I would pass on to my child,” she adds as her final seal of approval.
When not moonlighting as a skin expert in quarantine, the model also taps into her Brazilian heritage in a big way. “My mother is Brazilian and I grew up in a house where she and my grandmother only used organic products, from hair dyes to cleaning products. I’ve been surrounded by natural and clean beauty my whole life.” Brazilian beauty is something that comes up often in our conversation. Bieber refers to fellow Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen as her all-time icon. The common touches are clearly there to see: golden skin and hair, as if stroked by the sun, long emotive limbs and a warm vibe that oscillates between calm and unencumbered. Bündchen is a successful supermodel, but without making modelling her milieu. Similarly, Bieber’s ethos as a model and It-girl, is based more on the freedom of fashion than the aspiration of it and could perhaps find electric articulation in a design house of her own one day.
There’s a knock at the door. She apologises, answers it, and takes a quick sip of water to hydrate. I’m reminded to do the same, and within moments we’re right back to Brazil, Bieber’s one-stop for infinite inspiration. “There are these images online, photographs of Ipanema beach in the 1970s, where beautiful and carefree Brazilian women in colourful bathing suits are enjoying the sun. I look at them and I see sporty, healthy, fit and fun women, and it’s all I ever want to be.”