When Hailey Bieber was 18 years old and finding her footing in the modeling world, she would sometimes let slip that she was really into Greek mythology. In 2015, she recommended the Iliad and the Odyssey (the sorts of texts a recent high schooler, as Hailey was then, might be primed to name in a magazine interview) as good travel reads. As she told W later that year, “Homer is fascinating.”
Hailey, now 26, laughs when I bring this up. “It was my favorite thing I learned in school,” she confirms. “I was just so obsessed with the ideas and the stories of these gods and goddesses.”
Some years later, Hailey discovered that her middle name, Rhode—which would ultimately serve as the name of the blockbuster skin care brand she launched in 2022—descends from one such ancient deity: Rhode, the protectress and personification of the Dodecanese island of Rhodes. She was the sea-nymph daughter of Poseidon, mighty god of the ocean, and a wife of Helios, incandescent god of the sun; as some myths claim, the island itself was born of their union.
“If you go back, back, back and look,” Hailey says of the family name, which was passed down on her mother’s side, “it comes from that.”
It’s just before dusk when Hailey and I meet on one of the red-velvet couches of Bambi’s, a private speakeasy bar at the Palm Heights resort on Grand Cayman. We have the space to ourselves, and it’s quiet in here with just the two of us. Outside, unsuspecting vacationers are catching the final rays of the day—prime time for a post-beach shower or pre-supper nap. Earlier that afternoon, Hailey and her pals, relatively inconspicuous despite being surrounded by other guests, waded in the translucent turquoise water sipping frozen drinks, their frosty hurricane glasses balanced on a floating surfboard. “The Caribbean is a whole other level of thick,” she says. “I like the humidity because it makes my skin feel so yummy.”
As the fates would have it, Hailey Bieber would become a modern-day goddess, hailing not from the shores of the Aegean Sea but of the Hudson River. She is mythical among the Gen Z and millennial women who flock to buy her namesake peptide serums and berry-glazed Erewhon smoothies; who idolize her sexy-tomboyish style, her flawless beauty regimen, and her star-studded life.
Today, her brunette bob swept back, she’s wearing a taupe minidress and white leather flip-flops by The Row. She has delicate tattoos on her hands, gold rings stacked on her fingers, her nails painted with tiny strawberries. Her skin is clearer than an Instagram filter come to life—a front-facing reminder of why she is her own beauty brand’s best figurehead. Around her neck is a thin-chain pendant necklace with a diamond-crusted bubble-letter “B.”
Before she was Hailey Bieber, she was Hailey Baldwin, the youngest daughter of actor Stephen Baldwin (himself the youngest of the four Baldwin brothers) and Kennya Baldwin, a Brazilian-born graphic designer, who raised their two girls in Nyack, New York. Nowadays, she primarily lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Justin Bieber, who is, at this moment, around the premises somewhere. (Over the course of their multiday Palm Heights stay, Justin does a good job of going unseen.)
In person, Hailey is friendly and grounded if also, understandably, guarded. Growing up in a quiet enclave an hour north of Manhattan, she was raised in the Christian faith and homeschooled beginning in eighth grade. She moved out at 17. “I couldn’t wait to just adult,” she says, sipping a lemonade. “I was young, eyes wide open, super independent, couldn’t wait to move out, couldn’t wait to make my own money.”
After high school, her world was an arcade. “You move into New York City and you’re out at Up & Down at 17,” she cracks, referring to the now-shuttered West Village nightclub. She racked up fashion campaigns and brand-endorsement deals while she and her friends, among them the Jenner and Hadid sisters, formed social media’s first wave of megawatt model-influencers.
When she was still a gawky middle schooler, she was briefly introduced to a 15-year-old Canadian singer named Justin Bieber before his 2009 performance on the Today show—an opportunity hooked up by her uncle Alec. “I actually met him when I was 12,” she reminds me at one point, “so I’ve known him for a really long time.” After reconnecting at a church service in New York years later, they became close friends, then dated, broke up, got back together, and ultimately wed at a Manhattan courthouse in 2018, followed by a big The Notebook–inspired wedding in South Carolina a year later. Her life instantly became huge, a high-profile odyssey of new experiences, treacheries, and triumphs.
The constant movement has made her a nimble traveler: “Home to me feels like I can be anywhere. As long as I’m with my dogs and my husband, I’m good. I can make home out of that anywhere.” When I ask what her family thinks of her life, she says, “My dad sometimes is just like, ‘I’m not surprised. I feel like this kind of fast-paced life comes natural to you.’”
According to Hailey’s longtime friend Kelia Moniz, this is how Hailey has always been: a cool chick, steady in her pursuits, who also happens to be beautiful with great taste. “The girl knows what she likes,” says Moniz, who first met Hailey not long after she left Nyack, back when they “were both just little teenyboppers frolicking around the world.”
Moniz, a professional surfer from Honolulu, knows an off-duty version of Hailey few get to witness. “The life that she lives, it’s very big, it’s very full of things that are out of your control,” she explains. “She’s always had passion about everything she does, from being a model to becoming a wife, now obviously a very successful businesswoman. Each little chapter that she’s been in, it’s not an accident.”
Back at Palm Heights, it’s evening in Bambi’s umber-walled barroom. “I kinda want to look through the sex book right here,” says Hailey, glancing at a nearby shelf.
Next to us is a credenza stacked with cheesy erotica coffee-table books, with titles like The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook and The Visual Dictionary of Sex. She doesn’t pick up the book (bummer), but not unrelatedly, she shares that she’s been watching Sex and the City for the first time. As of last night, she’s just started season two—Carrie just asked out the new Yankee. She likes to watch it when she’s falling asleep, periodically pausing when someone wears a great outfit to take a photo of the screen. “It’s way raunchier than I thought,” she says. “There’s titties out all the time.”
I ask Hailey the requisite question: Which Sex and the City gal are you?
“I identify with each of them for different reasons,” she says—the quintessential response. Considering for a moment, she elaborates.
“Shucks, sometimes I think Charlotte’s wide-eyed innocentness in some ways reminds me of me when I was a little bit younger. Just kind of everything is like, ‘Well, why don’t you just try this?’” she says, giving a convincing Kristin Davis impression. She relates to Carrie’s city-girl grit, her love of fashion. She connects with how Samantha “absolutely doesn’t give a fuck, but underneath it all, she actually does really care a lot.” (Samantha, we agree, would’ve flipped through the sex book.)
“And then, who’s the last one? Miranda. I feel like she is just the super-brains, analytical one in the situation. I’m also very analytical, so I kind of identify with that. I was watching an episode, I think it was last night, and she’s like, ‘Let me know when you guys are done talking just about boys. We’re not in seventh grade anymore. Let’s talk about something that matters.’”
Most often when Hailey dons her Miranda hat (which, per SATC season two, episode 14, is a bucket hat worn over the hood of a track jacket), it’s when she’s running Rhode. As the company’s founder and creative director, she grew the thriving venture from seed. Today, she tests out products until they are perfect. She has a keen sense of what’s sticky, what fans of the brand might gravitate toward—like, say, partnering with Krispy Kreme to highlight Rhode’s commitment to providing a “glazed donut” complexion.
From her modeling career, Hailey brought in a Rolodex of industry talent—photographers, makeup artists, stylists—to shape the brand’s identity. And in the realm of celebrity-helmed businesses, Rhode’s ad campaigns are especially artful. For the release of a limited edition tropical-flavored lip balm, Hailey posed in minimal makeup on the beach in Anguilla, scooping the pulp out of a bisected passion fruit with her index finger. When Rhode launched a hydrating product called Glazing Milk this summer, head of brand Lauren Ratner recalls Hailey saying, “I want to be photographed in the desert in a clear bathtub, in a milk bath,” to juxtapose the dry, cracked desert against the product’s promise of milky, quenched skin.
“The vision really comes from her brain,” says Ratner, who formerly ran marketing at the kicky womenswear brand Reformation. (She and Hailey met through her husband, Michael D. Ratner, the founder and CEO of production company OBB Media and director of the 2020 YouTube docuseries Justin Bieber: Seasons.) “She is able to connect with her audience in an organic, authentic way because she can already anticipate what people want and give that to them.”
But what Ratner’s most proud of about Hailey’s building Rhode is that “she decided to bet on herself.”
For Hailey’s part, the brand has been a grounding presence, one she says “has only grown my confidence and security.” She and Justin celebrated their five-year anniversary this summer; now, half a decade in, “my identity as an individual feels even more solid.”
The mythology around the Biebers is perpetually swampy, if not even a tenth as dishy as the goings-on of ancient muses. Sometimes it’s as innocuous as the ongoing visual gag of Hailey and J.B. getting dressed to go out together like they’re attending events on two separate planets. “It’s so funny because I see so many people talk about this,” Hailey says. First of all, she insists, Justin’s usually dressed before her. But also, “he may want to wear baggy sweats to dinner, and I might want to wear a tiny little dress just because that’s how I’m feeling. We can’t sit there and be like, ‘So I’m going to wear this and you’re going to wear this.’”
There was one viral instance, not long after our sit-down, when Hailey wore a red-hot dress and heels to a Rhode event in Times Square; paparazzi photos showed Justin trailing her in goofy gray sweat shorts and yellow Crocs, which summoned TikTok’s armchair relationship experts. (For Moniz, as Hailey’s friend, this commentary really grinds her gears: “It’s like, it wasn’t Justin’s day. It was Hailey’s day. He’s there to support his wife, period. But also, he still looks cool, so you can’t hate the guy.”) Few famous couples have as much fun with style as the Biebers do, even if Hailey won’t exactly fess up to messing with the media with their clashing outfits. Sometimes, in marriage and otherwise, the best compromise is no compromise at all.
But other times, the gossip is more intimate: “Recently, everybody was like, ‘Oh, my God, she’s pregnant,’ and that’s happened to me multiple times before,” says Hailey, beating me to my own question about a rumor that had been making the rounds online. “There is something that’s disheartening about, Damn, I can’t be bloated one time and not be pregnant? It would be a lie if I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I don’t give a shit.’”
“When there comes a day that that is true, you—” she fans her hands in the air, gesturing toward the world at large, “you, as in the internet, will be the last to know.” In early interviews, Hailey spoke about wanting to raise her own future family out of the spotlight, as her parents did. Now, she concedes, that spotlight is “probably totally unavoidable. That was before I was married. Didn’t know who I was going to be married to at the time, I’m sure.”
“Maybe I liked the idea at 18 of not raising kids around certain things, but my life is so different now than it was when I was 18,” she says. “It’s so hard to say what I’m going to do or not do when there isn’t even a child here yet. I don’t even know what it feels like to be a parent other than a dog parent yet. And that’s not the same thing, by any means.”
Motherhood, she notes, “is something that I look forward to. It’s also such a private, intimate thing. It’s something that’s going to come when it comes. And it’s just, honestly, at the end of the day, so hilarious how much people fucking care. Let me do what I want to do with my body and you guys can do what you want to do with your body—and let’s just let it be that.”
Hailey knows that someday her kids will grow up with a famous last name, just like she did. This, she can glean from experience, will be “awesome for them and be challenging for them at the same time.” Earlier this year, when the big children-of-nepotism discourse was circulating the internet, Hailey and Justin’s stylist, Karla Welch, dreamed up a “Nepo Baby” T-shirt that Hailey wore, in front of a show of paparazzi, on her way to a doctor’s appointment. At Palm Heights, we joke about matching “Nepo Baby” onesies for any future Baldwin-Bieber offspring. “Yeah, for my baby!” she squeals. “That would be genius.”
Before being whisked off to the beach and a private dinner table obscured by palm fronds, she reflects momentarily on the distance she’s traveled in less than a decade. “Sometimes I miss the crazy spontaneity of being 18 and running around New York City,” she says. “It’s like, that’s never going to be my life again. There was also maybe more of a sense of anonymity at the time that I don’t think I’ll ever get back, so maybe I should have appreciated it a little bit more.”
Despite the enduring attention on her increasingly public life, Hailey’s course seems remarkably steady. “I very much feel like this is where I’m meant to be,” she says. “I’ve had times where I didn’t feel so connected to myself or my body for different reasons. Right now in my life, I feel very clear, very solid, very happy. I’m just focused on what’s in front of me.”
Eileen Cartter is a GQ staff writer.
A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of GQ with the title “The Odyssey of Hailey Bieber”
Photographs by Tyrell Hampton
Styled by Stella Greenspan
Hair by Amanda Lee for Mane Addicts
Makeup by Leah Darcy
Location: Palm Heights