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Budding young model Bella Hadid has started 2017 with a handful of lucrative contracts, elevating her star status to the level of her sister, Gigi.
On Jan. 27, the fashion brand DKNY announced a new spring campaign featuring Bella, to praise from media and fans alike. The campaign was also part contest, where fans could embark on their own Bella-themed scavenger hunt around New York City.
DKNY released addresses of six destinations on Instagram early Sunday. If contestants visited each one and posted pictures with the corresponding hashtag, they would qualify for a chance to win $4,500 DKNY gift card and meet Bella (!!!!!) at a store event on Feb. 1 (not during the contest itself.)
I was skeptical about just how many fans would spend their precious weekend navigating downtown Manhattan’s spotty subway system on the Hadid hunt. Was the faint promise of meeting a famous 20-year-old motivation enough? And could it possibly even eclipse the chance of winning all that merch?
Like any self-respecting journalist, I decided to investigate (since, as a member of the press, I couldn’t technically “win”). And so, a bit past noon on that brisk, sunny Sunday, I left my Brooklyn apartment to #FindBellaDKNY.
My first stop was the Chelsea High Line Hotel, where an Intelligentsia Coffee truck was parked — not on the street, but within the hotel’s gated courtyard. On the truck itself was one of the campaign’s posters, and on the counter, coffee sleeves printed with Bella’s face.
A photo posted by Nisha (@velvetdaydream) on Jan 29, 2017 at 10:42am PST
This first location was calmer than I’d expected, the only other people there being the woman working the coffee truck and a man working on a laptop who was clearly not interested in the Bella hunt. I was disappointed. Is this what I gave up brunch for?
I decided I’d wait for the inevitable swarm of Bella fans to mob the truck. After all, this was international supermodel Bella Hadid we were talking about. Besides, the contest had officially started only an hour before.
A few minutes later, finished with the scone I’d scarfed down and seeing no other reason to stand in the cold, I began to walk toward 10th Avenue. Suddenly, whoosh! a fiercely determined young girl nearly sideswiped me, iPhone in hand, to snap a picture of the truck.
“Are you here for the Bella search?” I asked, as if it weren’t obvious: The girl was in a rush to capture the campaign poster, while her cab, door ajar with the meter left running, was waiting for her at the curb.
“Yes!” the girl said. “I love Bella!”
It was only 2 p.m., just two hours into the all-day contest, but the 18-year-old, who told me her name was Olivia, had just captured her final image, now qualifying her to win the grand prize. Clearly, I’d underestimated fans’ dedication to meeting Hadid.
Before I could ask Olivia anything more, she had sprinted back to her yellow cab and jumped in, and I watched as the driver sped off… until it hit a red light 50 feet away. Finally! My sleepy morning was injected with some real action, as if I’d suddenly become an extra on a low-budget heist movie that would probably go direct to video.
Reenergized by this youthful exuberance, I set out to hit the next location: the Cupcake Market in the East Village.
I arrived at the quaint bakery 15 minutes later, although there seemed to be no apparent Bella hysteria. I walked in and immediately noticed the giant Bella cookies on a table near the doorway. Resisting the sugary temptation, I approached a bakery employee named Mackenzie to ask her about the contest.
A photo posted by aundera schroder (@aundera) on Jan 29, 2017 at 1:29pm PST
“We’ve had more foot traffic early on a Sunday morning than we would normally,” Mackenzie told me. When asked whether contestants were buying Bella cookies or simply checking items off their list, she said that some had bought cupcakes, some nothing, and only two had bought a $15 Bella cookie.
The bakery was charming, and I almost didn’t leave, until I glanced up and caught a Joe Biden cookie hanging on the wall (the bakery is known for creating huge cookies with celebrities’ faces iced on them).
Inanimate Cookie Joe seemed to give me a reassuring nod-and-wink, as if to say “Go get ’em, Tiger.” Not wanting to disappoint our former VP and forever Internet hero, I grabbed my backpack and sought out Destination No. 3, waving Mackenzie good-bye, and knowing that I might never see her or the magical bakery again. (Goodbye, Cookie Joe…)
This time, I embarked on foot through the city’s not-so-mean streets to the Lower East Side, the formerly gritty downtown neighborhood that’s now reserved after dark for belligerent trust-fund kids.
I might have missed my third destination, AKIKO Nails, if not for an inconspicuous overhead sign and a set of stairs leading to the tiny salon. A Venezuelan hand model named Ines wearing stick-on Bella nails sat perched in a bright alcove, looking down on Rivington Street and waiting for contestants to come in to take pictures of her manicure.
A photo posted by #findbelladkny (@cher.rios2) on Jan 29, 2017 at 2:59pm PST
AKIKO’s receptionist told me that no one, aside from Ines, had got a Bella manicure. The salon’s nail technicians were busy working on regular clients and were booked solid through that evening.
I examined my own hands and, feeling inadequate (ugh, my nail beds suck), turned to walk out, when I noticed a woman named Monique waiting patiently behind me to take a picture of Ines’s nails.
Monique (who asked to be identified using an alias), seemed, well, too old to be a hardcore Bella fan. I soon learned that she is a 38-year-old health care professional who had met Bella and Gigi Hadid once before in Los Angeles. “It was just at a meet-and-greet, quickly. I’d like to meet her again.” Ashamed of my ageism, I wished Monique good luck and left the salon.
I was close to another destination, a graffitied wall only a 10-minute walk away. But I was tired, dedication dwindling. Maybe a Bella cookie could have given me more stamina, I thought. Then I remembered Cookie Joe and, inspired again, resumed my mission.
I walked down Eldridge Street and saw a graffiti Bella, face slightly misshapen thanks to the grooves in the tagged garage door. The model’s perfectly sculpted, ahem, features looked as if they were reflected through a funhouse mirror.
A photo posted by ✌ (@jkk624) on Jan 29, 2017 at 1:16pm PST
Eldridge Street was quieter than the hotel’s courtyard had been, and I decided after a painstaking 45-second wait that the chance of running into another Bella fan here was unlikely.
By now, I was three hours into the Bella hunt, hungry, with waning morale. I rewarded myself with lunch at nearby Cherche Midi and scrolled through Instagram posts using the contest hashtag.
Much to my surprise, people were visiting each destination. There were hundreds of posts at the checkpoints across town, and I quickly saw photos posted by Olivia, the teenager I ran into at the High Line Hotel. She had completed the contest in an astonishing two hours.
A photo posted by olivia (@olivia_nixon) on Jan 29, 2017 at 3:14pm PST
I decided that I’d embark on a search for one last locale — the DKNY flagship store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, which seemed like an appropriate way to end the Bella hunt.
There was a Bella newsstand displayed in the window, rendering it unnecessary for contestants to actually go into the DKNY store to participate.
I walked in anyway, and the saleswoman I approached looked deflated. She explained to me that most of the people who came into the store that day were young girls asking whether they could meet Bella there.
“They keep asking, ‘Is she here?’ and I try to tell them, ‘No.’ They’re not really buying anything.”
It didn’t seem to bother any of the fans I encountered that they’d have to wait a few days for the chance to meet Bella. They might have endured, but I had not, and I decided to call it a day. I had only hit five stops, just shy of the six for completing the contest. I went back to Brooklyn empty-handed, wishing I’d gotten myself a Bella cookie — or at least a coffee with her face around the cup — to sustain me.
Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style and Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.