10 APRIL 2015
NATALIA VODIANOVA COVERS GLAMOUR'S APRIL ISSUE
Meet Natalia Vodianova: supermodel by day, superhero for kids by night. So basically? The ideal face for Glamour's Beauty Issue. Below, read excerpts of her cover interview with Christa D'Souza.
Natalia Vodianova was brought up in a poverty-stricken single-parent household in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. Her mother, Larisa, couldn't work full-time because Vodianova's sister Oksana, who has autism and cerebral palsy, required constant care. At just 11 Vodianova began selling fruit illegally on the street to help her family make ends meet. At 17 she moved to Paris to pursue a career in modeling, after being spotted by a local modeling scout. In 2001 the 5'9 ½" blond appeared on Marc Jacobs' runway, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, more than a decade into her career, Supernova, as she was nicknamed by photographer Mario Testino, is still shining: Last fall Vodianova landed the cover of Vanity Fair's International Best-Dressed issue and made Forbes' short list of the world's highest-paid models; this spring you'll see her in ads for both Stella McCartney and Guerlain.
But her most meaningful successes aren't professional—they're personal. Inspired by Oksana, Vodianova is using her clout to change the lives of children with special needs. In Russia, where people with disabilities are still not often considered equal members of society, the Naked Heart Foundation has helped schools train teachers, has built 136 accessible playgrounds, and, little by little, has chipped away at those damaging attitudes. In its first 10 years Naked Heart has raised nearly $35 million, and its founder, Vodianova, has earned many awards—among them, Glamour Woman of the Year in 2014. In short, she's not just taking care of herself; she's taking care of thousands.
Here, a few excerpts of our conversation. Read more in the April issue of Glamour Magazine.
GLAMOUR: You had to be persuaded by your grandmother to get on the plane to Paris to pursue modeling. Why were you reluctant?
NV: She kept buying me plane tickets, and I was like, I'm fine in Nizhny. I have my little life; my fruit stall is doing OK. Deep inside was this fear: What if nothing happens and I have to come back?
GLAMOUR: Was it a big change moving from Nizhny to Paris at 17?
NV: As a girl in Russia, I had felt exposed to the street—to stealing, fighting. At school there were gangs of girls and boys who'd beat you up if you looked or said something wrong. You had to be tough. When I arrived in Paris, I could not speak French or English. I was so defensive. I felt like I still had to be tough.
GLAMOUR: Let's talk about your family. Your partner, Antoine [Arnault], is, of course, CEO of Berluti and on the board of the luxury giant LVMH. Was it love at first sight?
NV: Eventually. A couple of months, I guess. It went from being curious to getting to know [him] to realizing: This person is wonderful, and I love everything about him. [But] there was a little bit of pulling the blanket in the beginning, like any couple.
GLAMOUR: ...Starting the [Naked Heart] foundation in 2004, you already had this amazing life: beautiful husband and child, modeling. And you felt like, hold on, something's missing?
NV: There was a point, in 2003, when I was lost. I was thinking, Why am I still modeling? When you learn as a child how to fight for the next day, you don't suddenly go, "Wow, I'm 21. I'm going to enjoy all of this because I deserve it." At some point I said, "What's next?" Then Beslan happened—
GLAMOUR: The school massacre in Russia, in which 186 kids were killed.
NV: And it sparked this will in me to give back to my country.
GLAMOUR: You must feel immense joy helping children like your sister.
NV: Looking back on my childhood, I loved Oksana more than anything, but I also realized a lot of [my family's] struggles were because of her. So when I was setting up my foundation, I was thinking about children with special needs.... I remember cutting the ribbon at the first play park I built, which was five minutes from where I lived, and all these children filling up the park. The sound of laughter was overwhelming. I cried. It was just—the most beautiful moment I've lived so far.
GLAMOUR: What have your kids learned from your work with Naked Heart?
NV: So much. The compassion and empathy they feel for others comes from knowing the reality others face.
GLAMOUR: Do you plan to have any more children?
NV: We are hoping to have a fifth.
GLAMOUR: Wow, brave!
NV: Yeah, and a little crazy.
GLAMOUR: You don't get overwhelmed very easily, do you?
NV: The minute I feel vulnerable, I say, "Hold on: Everyone is healthy. The world isn't ending. We're only talking fashion. I'm fine."