On an early Monday morning, Venice Beach in Los Angeles is buzzing. The sun is out and the cool air is forgiving, making way for warmth that requires sunglasses and a sweater. A girl zips by on Rollerblades, a woman is singing jazz on the boardwalk, a guy walks along wearing his Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey, and I’m waiting for Hailey Bieber to meet me at a café not too far from where the sidewalk ends and the beach begins.
She arrives dressed like the Bieber we’ve seen captured by the paparazzi (not her favorite people) in an oversize Balenciaga leather jacket, a black skirt, and Prada loafers with thick white socks. She smiles, shyly shrugs as she waves, and sits down. We greet each other with slight familiarity. I already know that she is someone with an interesting point of view and an easy manner from our initial Zoom conversation a few days earlier.
We had talked about our love for the HBO comedy show Insecure and thoughts on the finale. “I love Issa Rae,” Bieber said at that time, “and I think she’s just an incredible writer. I’ve loved the show since I started it. I felt like they gave us what they needed to give. They showed us where everybody ended up.” We had also talked about our love for New York City, but also loving Los Angeles as the city we call home. “L.A. is a really cool space of creative people,” she said, “but…there’s a lot of shady people here too.”
Bieber is like the girl you meet at a friend’s get-together and hit it off with because you both like that new restaurant downtown or want to try that yoga class. You exchange Instagram handles and never talk again, but you keep up with her stories and posts of her outfits and latest meals. Except Bieber has close to 42 million Instagram followers watching her every move. It’s clear to me that even if other people don’t relate to her — you know, the supermodel seen on billboards around the world, whose face is pasted on the wall in a Hugo Boss campaign a few blocks from where we sit — Bieber knows how to relate to other people. And seems to yearn to do just that.
Burberry top. Photographed by Zoey Grossman. Fashion stylist: Coco Cassibba. Hair: Bryce Scarlett. Makeup: Kali Kennedy. Set design: Danielle von Braun. Set assistant: Rebecca Morrison. Production: Crawford & Co. To create a similar makeup look: Pop Lip Colour + Primer in Sweet Pop, Cheek Pop Blush in Nude Pop, and Wear Everywhere Neutrals All About Shadow 8-Pan Palette by Clinique.
Bieber is unfazed by the slight commotion of the Venice scene (and her security guard is not far away). “What’s good here?” She looks up from the menu and squints at me with curiosity. We are here to finish talking about her new beauty brand, Rhode, set to launch in June, but breakfast must be ordered first. In a few hours, Bieber will fly to San Jose to see her husband, Justin, perform at the second stop on his Justice tour. In a few days she’ll fly to Paris for work. When she first started doing runway shows, it felt like an accomplishment for a five-foot-seven-inch model. But then she realized she’d rather cheer in the front row, as she does now. “I had a really bad experience with a casting director who was very important,” she recalls. “He said something to my agent that just shook my confidence when it came to the runway. I don’t want to feel bad about myself in this space because I feel really good about the other work that I do. So why would I even put myself in a position to feel small?”
Hailey Rhode Baldwin Bieber is the daughter of actor Stephen Baldwin and Kennya Baldwin. She was home-schooled in the New York suburbs, attended youth dance classes in New York City, and later moved there for her modeling career. Now, she’s in demand as one of the most recognizable faces in fashion and pop culture. Being a brown-haired, chisel-jawed, 25-year-old model who comfortably fits within longstanding beauty standards helps. The blogs went crazy when she “debuted” her brown hair, a pandemic grow-out from her previous dyed blonde. “I don’t color my hair anymore,” she says. “I don’t bleach it or anything, but I might do a gloss or a toner.”
Chest-up portrait of Hailey Bieber for Allure Magazine. She wears an off-white fishnet-style top with silver ball bearings attached. Her hair is straight and brown; she wears minimal pink makeup. She’s looking into the camera with a relaxed expression.
In March 2021, Bieber started her YouTube channel, something she never thought she’d do, in an effort to create a space where she felt more in control of her own narrative: “I understand that there’s a lot about my life that people can’t relate to and I try not to be naive about that.” Among the things people don’t always understand is her faith. She’s had conversations with other Christians, like comedian Yvonne Orji, about navigating the fraught entertainment industry. Bieber attended Hillsong as a teen, but now attends Churchome, where Judah and Chelsea Smith are pastors. Those moments when someone tells her they did, in fact, relate to one of her YouTube videos makes her feel like she’s on the right track. Even if that means an interview series in which she prepares food in her bathroom simply because she loves her bathroom. (Over 15 million people watched her make mac and cheese there with Kendall Jenner.) Her “Get Ready With Me” videos, some shot in her home glam room, are also massively popular.
In November 2021, Bieber confirmed on that YouTube channel that she’d be launching her own skin-care line, joining a legion of celebrities who have done the same. “I just could always remember my mom, as a child, getting [me] out of the bath, drenching me head to toe, just hydration, hydration, hydration, very focused on keeping the skin healthy,” she says, speaking of being lathered with lotion by her mother. Bieber was born in the bone-dry state of Arizona. Her maternal grandmother was a makeup artist, so beauty was a generational lesson. “It started with my grandmother, she taught my mom, my mom taught me.”
This authenticity might be the coolest thing about Bieber. Amid the rumors, paparazzi waiting outside her house, marrying someone exponentially more famous than she is, the media writing about her every T-shirt (which results in the restarting of a new Insta-fashion mini-trend cycle), she’s found ways to actually be cool, not only look cool. Coolness really lies in the routines, rituals, and decisions that work for you: the way we act, the designers we choose, the beauty brands we find and vouch for. It is the byproduct of that process that the public ultimately sees and latches onto. But the internal work to figure out your compass is much harder.
I definitely had my fears because the market is so saturated.”
Relinquishing control over what other people think has stabilized Bieber to some degree and provided a way for her to refocus her life. “It would be exhausting for me to try to control everything,” she says. “There’s just no way I can do that. It’s very hard to control a media narrative, so I try to just do my best to be myself and accept that.”
People may gawk over Bieber’s fashion, but she says that skin care is what they ask her about directly. After all, she’s been a working model, spending long hours in the makeup chair, since she was 17 years old. She’s had the best aestheticians and dermatologists at her fingertips to ensure great skin.
Bieber certainly does know a thing or two about products and procedures, but still — what qualifies her, and other celebrities, to start a beauty brand? Her reply is refreshingly self-effacing: “I think the biggest thing for me is I do understand that there are certain things that I don’t know how to do and I try to be really open about that.” Turns out that knowing what you don’t know, rather than rashly pushing forward, is a key tenet of entrepreneurial success.
Givenchy top and skirt. Tiffany & Co. necklace. To create a similar makeup look: Born to Glow Liquid Illuminator in Gleam and Glitter Goals Liquid Lipstick in Reflector by Nyx Professional Makeup. Nail lacquer in Pompeii Purple by OPI.
Skin-care influencer Hyram Yarbro, whose own brand was developed with the Inkey List, is one of the people Bieber called for advice after she became a fan of his content on TikTok. She also talked to Dieux Skin cofounder and aesthetician Charlotte Palermino, known for her educational videos on TikTok, Kim Kardashian (known for everything), and hairstylist and Ouai hair-care founder Jen Atkin. Each lent insight on how they went about establishing their brands. “And then I was able to say, ‘Okay, well, [Kim] did it that way. Jen Atkin did it this way.’ And then from taking all the information, you start to find the way that works for you,” Bieber says.
Today, more celebrities have found themselves not only being the faces of a new brand but also becoming beauty founders, CEOs, and executives in a field where they often have no experience. But what they do have is access to the funds needed to realize their dream. It’s almost as if the sheer ability to do it, to have the resources and the social media followers, is enough motivation to get started in an industry as resilient as global beauty. The pandemic amplified that reputation for resiliency — and left consumers fatigued by the number of new brand launches. This all makes it harder to know whether a celebrity is launching a brand because it “makes sense” or because it’s a true passion they’ve been sitting on.
There are incubators that may specialize, to a degree, in shaping beauty brands driven by public faces. The celebrity’s strength, their established followers, is what these companies are banking on. Bieber has built an audience of millions across social media platforms. As a model for some of today’s buzziest brands, she is already adept at turning followers into potential consumers.
“I talked to different investment firms,” Bieber says. “I talked to different brand-incubation teams, and at the end of it, I realized that I’ve lent my name and my face to a lot of different people and a lot of different brands.” So she decided to go the start-up route, compiling her own team based on the insight she had gained. Rhode is funded by a small pool of investors, including One Luxury Group.
“I think that as a team, we are going into it knowing that people are tired of seeing brand after brand after brand from different people and faces and celebrities,” Bieber says. “I definitely have had my fears, for sure, because the market is so busy and so saturated. And I’ve had to, obviously, have the confidence in myself and in our brand to really feel it’s going to be something refreshing and different.”
Through her own research, Bieber formed a notion of what people were mostly looking for: hydration. “I was ordering crazy amounts of skin care, trying everything that was expensive to inexpensive to mid-range. And I found that the most tried-and-true stuff were the solidly formulated products that were affordable, where I could tell people kept on going back to, and that’s what I kept going back to as well.” (All of the Rhode products are under $30.) The initial launch focuses on maintaining the skin’s moisture barrier. “I’ve given it to a lot of different makeup artists to try on their clients and I’ve gotten really good feedback on it.”
Bieber began working on Rhode two and a half years ago. She took dermatology courses online as an entryway to exploration, but becoming a skin-care expert overnight wasn’t on her agenda. “I think that [taking the courses] was just something I wanted to do for myself, honestly,” she says. “It wasn’t for me to be able to just sound smart or know what I’m talking about. I was just genuinely interested.” She knew that she would need to build a team, and with that realization, she’s given herself permission to work on her strong suit: the creative of the brand.
Bieber is aiming for an aesthetic where natural beauty is prioritized and that makes the products feel “cool and attainable,” she says. “I was really intentional about creating images that felt like they were drawing you in, in a way that felt like it looks healthy, it looks real, it looks inviting.”
Will all of this be enough to ensure success? “I’m really happy with everything,” says Bieber. “I feel proud of the products that are going to come out. I feel excited for what is going to come even after that and what I can continue to develop. I’m hoping that people get their hands on it and they absolutely love it. But if they have feedback, I want to accept that as well.”
Bieber’s biggest hope for Rhode is that someone might pick it up and not know it’s her brand. “That would be my dream, for it to actually surprise people.” She laughs slightly and looks off because she knows: Creating a reputable line that can step outside the celebrity brand bubble will take time.
Fashion stylist: Coco Cassibba
Hair: Bryce Scarlett
Makeup: Kali Kennedy
Nails: Zola Ganzorigt
Set design: Danielle von Braun
Set assistant: Rebecca Morrison
Production: Crawford & Co.