Gigi Hadid and Olivia Perez were destined to be best friends. Even before they were born, the two shared a connection: their mothers were besties and godmothers to each other’s children. Growing up side by side, they forged a bond that has lasted more than two decades. So naturally, when Hadid was tapped to front Disney’s International Friendship Day campaign, she gave Perez a call. “I have known Olivia for as long as I’ve had memories,” shared Hadid from her family’s farm in Pennsylvania. “I cherish that we have grown through every chapter of life, so far, together.” Currently expecting her first child with partner, Zayn Malik, Hadid is opening up a new chapter, though she’d rather discuss the people who serve as her support system in this transformative moment more than anything else. “This day reminds me of the importance of letting my friends know I appreciate and love them,” she says. “Celebrating the value of being the friend you wish to have as well.”
The campaign was inspired by Walt Disney’s iconic sensational six roster of cartoon characters—Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, and Pluto—and allows superstars to shout out the people who make their lives meaningful. Grownish star Yara Shahidi paid homage to her father Asfshin and brother Sayeed, while Chance the Rapper posed alongside his brother Taylor Bennett. Instead of sharing another modeling moment with her sister Bella, Hadid chose to highlight her friend Perez. “Friendships are at the heart of staying grounded, especially those which started before my career took off,” she says. “They hold you accountable, even indirectly, and always seem to be the balance you return to from the craziness of work and travel.” Likewise, Perez has found their connection significant. “Lifelong friendships are rare, and I’m constantly grateful to have a friend like Gigi by my side through every aspect of life,” she says. “She Is my oldest friend, someone who knows me better than anyone else.”
Disneyland was a special part of Hadid and Perez’s childhood. The Anaheim California theme park served as the setting for their birthday parties and milestone celebrations. “It was a tradition of ours to go to Disneyland monthly,” explains Perez. “We loved hanging out in Mickey’s Toontown (specifically Minnie’s house) and getting to meet the Sensational Six around town.” The pink and lavender cottage where Mickey’s main-squeeze resides is the ultimate girly-girl hideout and a nostalgic escape. “The rising cake still makes me feel like a kid,” says Hadid. “Minnie is my favorite—classic, iconic, legendary, but [she and Mickey] also feel like family to anyone, and have the power to connect people worldwide.”
Over the years, they’ve continued their annual visits. Hadid’s 4th birthday was celebrated at the park, and earlier this year, she had hoped to revisit that moment with a trip to Florida for her 25th. “We were so excited to kind of recreate that memory as adults,” she says. “I was in the middle of planning my 25th at Disney World Orlando, which would have been my first time at that specific park when quarantine began. Maybe next year!” COVID-19 may have halted that event, and yet pouring over decades worth of old pictures for the campaign allowed the pair time to look back at countless b-days past. “My mom was a photographer growing up, so the photo boxes are endless,” says Perez. “Even though we have so many current memories together, our childhood ones are our most treasured, and something we often love to reminisce on. It’s important to take time to reflect and appreciate the strongest bonds in your life, and we got to do that here.” Their favorites reflect everything from their carefree days taking pottery classes together as kids to their first years in New York when Hadid was a student at The New School and Perez was studying journalism at New York University.