"Lean on that door." "Arm yourself." "Don't look at the camera." "Now look at me." The photographer gives orders and the model obeys, fixing her blue eyes on the photographic lens. "Now sit on the sofa." "Lie down." "Not so much." "We repeat." Hours pass in a Paris apartment, near the Place de la Bastille, and the photographer does not stop giving instructions. The mannequin, who has risen early and has been performing poses all morning, does not seem tired. On a speaker sounds Blue Monday, by New Order, to encourage her. It is a photo shoot like so many others, but she is not one of the bunch. Natalia Vodianova (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, 41 years old) is one of the highest paid supermodels in the world and wife of Antoine Arnault, CEO and Vice President of Christian Dior SE, the family holding company that controls LVMH, the French conglomerate of luxury brands such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Loewe. The fashion industry has nicknamed him Supernova for his explosive, meteoric and brilliant career. At the age of 17, he left his home in a humble neighborhood of the former Soviet city of Gorky – Nizhny Novgorod, since 1990 – to try his luck in the French capital. At 19 he had already reached the top.
Vodianova still physically resembles the introverted quinceañera who sold apples on the streets of a gray city in Russia and dreamed of making it in the City of Light. It also retains the childish look and soft voice, at times imperceptible. But she is no longer that child. She has been working as a top model for more than 25 years and continues to star on covers, parades and lend her image to campaigns. For 15 years she has been an ambassador for Guerlain, a bicentennial beauty firm, quintessence of French cosmetics and one of the jewels in the crown of the luxury giant LVMH. "It's weird to have been with the same brand for so long. When you get it, it's such a precious thing that you try to keep it. With Guerlain we have a mutual trust that is hard to find in this business," he says during a break from the photo shoot. Now her contracts as a model represent a small part of everything she does. He is also a business angel with investments in more than 20 technology companies developing lifestyle apps with millions of users worldwide. She is the founder of Naked Heart, a foundation with which she has raised millions of euros to help children with autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. She is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund to raise awareness of the stigmas surrounding menstruation. And she is the mother of five children, three of them the result of her first marriage to the English aristocrat Justin Portman and two with Arnault.
Vodianova does justice to the nickname given to it by the fashion industry. It's like a supernova, unstoppable. Nothing seems to distort the course of his career. "What things worry me? You can spend your whole life worried and more in these times. Here in France things are not going well and we have had difficult months," he says, referring to the protests against the pension reform promoted by Emmanuel Macron. "The world is polarized and there are many concerns. But I try to focus on what I can control and change. I'm a practical woman," she explains.
At the age of 17, Natalia Vodianova left her native Russia to try her luck as a model in Paris. At 19, she was already a supermodel. Today, with 41, he has shares in 25 technology companies linked to the world of beauty, fashion, luxury and lifestyle. In the picture, she wears a knitted dress with a corset-effect neckline by Louis Vuitton.Giampaolo Sgura
When you are one of the most sought-after models in the world, and you are also married to one of the richest men in the world, you can control and change many things. In 2004, after the massacre at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, where more than 180 children died, the supermodel created her own foundation to build parks and playgrounds for children who were safe and adapted to all abilities. "I was 22 years old and very successful, but I didn't know what to do with all that success. When Beslan happened, I knew what I had to do," he recalls. In these 20 years it has raised more than 65 million euros with which it has built hundreds of play spaces and has helped more than 25,000 children with special needs. "We've found that the best way to raise money is by hosting nice events for people who love beautiful things," she says of her charity galas and auctions. "We recently commissioned a report from the consulting firm Ernst & Young on the impact of our foundation and they concluded that every euro we invest generates three euros of impact. That is, in reality those 65 million euros have tripled, "he says. This year it will launch a program in France to counsel and train parents with children with autism.
The work in his foundation has served to heal old wounds of his childhood. "It was a way to reconcile with my past of poverty, struggle and suffering. This project has allowed me to take on all that," he reflects. The daughter of a cake seller, the model grew up in a humble home in Nizhny Novgorod. One of his sisters, Oksana, suffers from severe cerebral palsy and autism. So Vodianova suffered not only poverty, but also cruel jokes and incomprehension of the other children. "I was bullied," she admits, though she doesn't want to delve into her experience with bullying. "I teach my children to relativize things. I can't stop someone from harassing or hurting them, but I can stop them from suffering for it. Just because someone says something about you doesn't mean that's true. I teach my children to feel confident and to value their family. I tell them that everything that happens outside our house must be taken with tweezers. You can't control the actions or emotions of others, but you can control your own."
Perhaps that self-control and discipline have helped her rise to the top of a fiercely competitive and extremely lucrative business for female models, who typically earn two to three times as much as men. "I can't say that the fashion industry is more egalitarian than others. It is true that there is a small group of women who earn much more than men. But there are millions of women who don't earn enough," she says. "This is a system designed for success, not failure. And there are many women who fail to achieve success. If you fail, no one is going to support you or help you recover. This happens to many models, designers and seamstresses," she continues.
The supermodel wears Isabel Marant jacket and Guerlain makeup: Terracotta Le Teint (1.5N) and Terracotta (3 Medium Gold) makeup background, Abeille Royale advanced youth aqueous oil, KissKiss Bee Glow 258 balm, Le Crayon Sourcils eyebrow pencil (01 and 02), brown Le Crayon Yeux eye pencil, black Noir G mask, Ombres G 910 Undressed Brown shadow and Rouge G 11 Satin lipstick.Giampaolo Sgura
Its partnership with the United Nations Population Fund focuses on so-called "period poverty": one in four women in the world has difficulty accessing feminine hygiene products. The model has helped the international agency distribute millions of "dignity kits" in emergency shelters and refugee camps in 58 countries. Each backpack is provided with disposable and reusable pads, underwear, body soap, toothbrush and toothpaste and detergent powder. She also leads a campaign called Lets Talk in which she talks to celebrities about their experience with her period. Supermodels Emily Ratajkowski, Izabel Goulart and Natasha Poly have participated in the cycle. "It's interesting to talk to such different women about something we all have in common: menstruation," she says. "Many feel uncomfortable talking about the rule. If I walked into this photo shoot today and said I don't feel well because I have my period, a lot of people would look at me funny. But if I said my stomach or head hurts, no one would feel uncomfortable. We have to change that," he continues. "I have had a very bad time many times because of this issue. I remember once staining the sheets of a hotel. I ran to the bathroom to clean them and felt very embarrassed, as if I had done something wrong. If I had cut off a finger, I wouldn't have had the same feeling. It's the same blood, but we don't see menstruation with the same eyes."
In 2015 he took another step in his idea of capitalizing on his notoriety to support social causes and began to build a portfolio of investments in technology companies that design applications and platforms to change people's lives. His first investment was in Elbi, a philanthropic social network that allowed users to make donations with just one click. Elbi is now Locals, a network designed to connect people in the real world. "Social media only shows an idealized part of life. You go on Instagram and you see people with perfect lives and you feel that you don't have that interesting life, that you're not doing everything you should be doing, that you're missing things. Networks make you feel like you're not beautiful enough, successful, smart enough, or rich enough." "Our idea with Locals is to inspire people to do things. If you like someone, you can interact with that person and join their club. If you are interested in an activity, you can sign up for it. Locals motivates you to act, to do something positive."
"The metaverse offers you ways to dream, keeps you company if you're alone, and allows you to be whoever you want to be: you can have superpowers, you can be rich... Why not?" says Vodianova. On this page, he wears a jacket, pants and shirt, all by Loro Piana, and Glove Derbies shoes by Steve Mono. Shadow Ombres G 258 Wild Nudesy lipstickRouge G 940, all by Guerlain.Giampaolo Sgura
Her next bet was Flo, an ovulation calculator that reliably predicts menstruation and fertile days. "I invested in them seven years ago and started talking to the media about their mission. Journalists were shocked. Flo has been growing and is now the largest women's health app in the world, with 300 million monthly active users." "That success encouraged me to invest in other companies that also aim to help others." Its investment portfolio already has 25 companies. "In some we have done better than in others. But the balance is positive," he admits. He is a shareholder in augmented reality company Wanna, which works with brands such as Gucci and Puma; and PicsArt, the most widely used mobile photo editor with 150 million users. It has also invested in Loóna, the first app for sleep hygiene, named in 2020 as the best in the Google Play Store; Zenia, the world's first virtual yoga assistant, or Voir, a makeup app that, using artificial intelligence, allows you to test the color palette of cosmetic products without leaving home.
LVMH, the empire of his in-laws, dominates the luxury business and now aspires to conquer the metaverse, the virtual world. This summer, the French group announced a partnership with game software developer Epic Games, creator of hits such as Fortnite, to build new environments and immersive experiences for customers: virtual fitting rooms and fashion shows, carousels of 360° products, augmented reality, avatars or digital twins. Vodianova is excited about the new direction fashion and the super-luxury niche is taking. It seems to him a way to democratize an industry that until now was available to a few. "The metaverse offers you ways to dream, keeps you company if you're alone, and allows you to be whoever you want to be: you can have superpowers or be rich... Why not? And it helps preserve the environment because it is an anti-consumerist platform. There you can do many things without consuming real resources," he says.
"If I walked into this photo shoot today and said I don't feel well because I have my period, a lot of people would look at me funny. But if I said my stomach or head hurts, no one would feel uncomfortable. We have to change that," says the model. In this image, he wears a poplin shirt with tie detail, by Prada. It has Ombres G 258 Wild Nudes shadow and KissKiss Bee Glow Honey 309 balm, by Guerlain.Giampaolo Sgura
She herself has an avatar in Drest, a metaverse game that revolves around fashion, luxury, beauty and lifestyle. It also has a virtual twin at Altava, a gamified social and e-commerce platform it has invested in. "Avatars can help us imagine better versions of ourselves and aspire to be other people. It's fantastic, isn't it?" she concludes, perhaps without realizing that she has already managed to become the best version of herself.
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