We tell (or rather, we remember) why the whole world loves the most popular Russian model.
Natalia Vodianova’s life, like no other, is similar to the plot of a classic fairy tale. In a short time (so short that the blue-eyed model from Russia was nicknamed Supernova in the Western press), she managed to make her way from “one of the” to the title of the main fashion sensation of the post-Soviet space. Natalia was able to convert a truly fabulous success into an opportunity to help others who were much less lucky in life than she was.
Natalia Vodianova at Paris Fashion Week, January 18, 2019
The youth of the future supermodel in his native Nizhny Novgorod was unenviable. At the age of 11, Natalia dropped out of school, helping her mother Larisa with the sale of vegetables and fruits in order to feed her two younger sisters – Oksana, who has been disabled since childhood, and Kristina. In those years, Natalia suffered from peers who mocked the poverty of her family and, most disgustingly, the illness of her middle sister. Pain to the point of frenzy and total injustice – these are two phrases that describe those events better than others.
When Natalia was 16, she was enrolled in a local modeling agency, and less than six months later, Vodianova already went to the fashion capital – Paris. Russian Russian girl did not speak either English or French, so at the auditions she expressed herself using a mixture of Russian, gestures and facial expressions. Speaking of auditions: Natasha attended them from 12 to 15 a day. It’s hard, but there was no turning back, of course, and Vodianova, who was brought up in hardships, understood this very clearly.
“When I became a successful model, who, fortunately, does not need to be very educated, I realized that millions of people were left behind me,” BoF quotes her as saying.
Natalia Vodianova at the CFDA Award ceremony, 2006
Natalia Vodianova at the Calvin Klein Fall 2004 show during New York Fashion Week
The modeling agency paid a scholarship to a promising blonde with blue eyes — “as much as” $ 100 a week. This money was barely enough to pay for a subway pass and cover other daily expenses, but Vodianova somehow managed to save, and she sent the saved amount to her mother in Nizhny Novgorod.
The ticket to Paris turned out to be a happy one for the future star of the podium. The model quickly found a job, and the icy shade of her eyes and a face that was compared to the face of Romy Schneider, a movie star of the middle of the last century, became her main mark of distinction from thousands of other beauties from all over the globe.
“I didn’t think I would succeed. All I wanted was to earn enough to ensure the safety of my mother and sister,” Natalia continues in the same interview.
Behind the scenes of the Calvin Klein show, February 2003
At a party in New York, February 2007
The fabulous beauty of a young girl from Russia drew the attention of the most influential designers of the industry — Tom Ford and Calvin Klein, instantly making their new muse. After that, filming, screenings and contracts fell like a cornucopia: everyone wanted to see Natalia as their face. That time was even called the era of the “three V’s— – by the first letters of the surnames of the three most popular Russian models of that time – Anna Vyalitsyna, Evgenia Volodina and Natalia Vodianova.
However, her career was almost cut short at its dawn: at the age of 19, Natalia had already married Justin Portman and soon after that she became a mother for the first time. Thank God, the career not only did not end, but also reached a new level: motherhood made the beauty of the Russian woman even more textured. “Having children back then was a real madness. But I was in love, and it seemed more important than anything else in the world. If I found out that my daughter got pregnant at the age of 18, I would definitely kill her!”, – jokes Vodianova.
Natalia with her children on a walk
Natalia with children at the shooting of children’s furniture “Matryoshka”
“In our culture and where I grew up, having children at that age is absolutely normal. If you didn’t become a mother before the age of 25, then something is wrong with you.”
Natalia at the Versace Fall-Winter 2018 show during Milan Fashion Week, February 23, 2018
Natalia at the Fashion for Relief Cannes 2018 show
Natalia Vodianova attends the opening of Chaumet jewelry, July 1, 2018
Natalia in Paris, July 4, 2018
Natalia at the Burberry show during London Fashion Week, February 17, 2019
And although Natalia still appears on the catwalk as a model, it happens from time to time — all the attention of the supermodel is focused on her own five children and important charity work. In 2004, Vodianova founded the Naked Heart Foundation, whose mission is “the formation of an inclusive society open to people with special needs.” The results of the foundation’s work are impressive: with the help of sponsors, Natalia managed to attract more than 60 million euros for the implementation of various projects, and first of all – inclusive playgrounds. In Russia and the CIS, more than 180 such sites have already been built, where previously only unsightly wastelands flaunted in their place.
“Playing is something I missed as a child. Those moments when I was able to do it remained in my memory as the best memories. The game can be therapy, especially when it comes to children with autism. They are able to learn a lot through the most ordinary game,” says Vodianova.
The Natalia Vodianova Foundation often holds its own events, donations at which are an important source of income
To get to Natalia Vodianova’s Fabulous Fund Fair Ball is undoubtedly a great honor
Another successful project of the model is the Elbi application, which aims to popularize philanthropy. With the help of Elbi, ordinary users can support small charitable organizations by accumulating special “coins”. They can spend them at Elbi Love Shop, whose partners include Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney, H&M and other fashion giants.
“It is difficult to attract millennials to charity. This app uses the power of social media, the ability to tell a story and the opportunity to collaborate with your favorite brand for good. All the money that goes to Elbi is sent directly to charities, and the key element here is the feedback that these funds give to show exactly how they manage the donated money,” says Natalia Vodianova’s digital media adviser Timon Athinsky.
Natalia Vodianova at the presentation of Elbi, September 2015
Both of these projects would be impossible without the belief that the fashion industry, in which Vodianova is so well versed, can become a locomotive and a platform for positive social shifts at the same time. Moreover, the largest market players— such as LVMH, Kering and others, are increasing their social responsibility.
“You may or may not like this industry, but there is no denying the fact that it is incredibly powerful from a financial point of view. Young talented newcomers who come for an interview in large firms today ask: “What does the company give in return?”, – says Vodianova.
Antoine Arnault and Natalia Vodianova, 2019
Today, at 39, Vodianova is completely happy in what she is doing. At the end of the fairy tale about Cinderella from Nizhny Novgorod, this very Cinderella has everything: five children, a beloved man and the whole life’s work is to become for someone the same kind fairy who once helped her herself.
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