New Delhi: Natalia Vodianova, a trailblazing supermodel, and a 71-time Vogue cover girl, has been one of the most successful fashion figures of all time. With a striking eight-season, seven-figure contract with Calvin Klein, she has been the face of campaigns for Louis Vuitton and L'Oreal.
What is lesser-known of the model is that she is also a role model and a philanthropist. As an impact investor, she runs the Naked Heart Foundation (for children with special needs) and Elbi, a charity platform active globally and in India as well.
Excerpts from an interview:
Do you remember your initial modelling days? Was it scary as a young woman in Paris, the fashion capital of the world?
Vodianova: Yes, at times it was. It was also very intense, there was so much to take in. I was a young woman from a town that nobody had really heard of, to suddenly be whisked off to Paris was something I never would have expected. But on the flip side, it was absolutely breathtaking and it was exhilarating and exciting. I remember sitting there and having to pinch myself because it just didn't seem real. There were so many learning curves, but I did my best to take everything on board and as they say, the rest is history.
What social cause do you think requires much more work today?
Vodianova: There is much that we still need to work towards. The recent amazon fires, The devastation in The Bahamas through to the ongoing crisis in Sudan are all issues in desperate need of action. Dealing with poverty-stricken communities, attitudes towards education, environment and much more. But I personally feel passionate about raising awareness and acceptance of women's health. I still feel there is a lack of awareness surrounding periods for example and the implications both socially and physically. I am a board member of the largest female health app in the world Flo, who has a community of 30m strong women.
You have previously said you love dancing. Is it a true passion for you?
Vodianova: I have always loved to dance, it is such a powerful form of expression. You can learn so much about a person from the way that they dance and how they feel. When I was younger, I used to go out partying with my friends and we would often be the first in line and still be dancing when the lights came up. Dancing has always given me an escape if work was stressful or I was feeling up against it. I knew that I could go and let my hair down, blow off some steam and get myself back on track for whatever I was doing next.
Do you follow Indian fashion?
Vodianova: I love Indian fashion. There is so much passion and care that goes into the process, from the initial designs all the way down to the craftmanship - you don't get that everywhere. Fashion should represent the culture, the hard work and the emotion behind it. That is what makes Indian designs so breathtakingly unique, you see the vibrant colors and the elegance of each piece and you can't help but smile, to me, Indian fashion represents joy.
You also invest the money as an impact investment. How can the world's rich better channel funds into solving global issues?
Vodianova: It goes without saying that money has a huge influence over our lives, but it can make the lives of those less fortunate so much better and provide them with opportunities that wouldn't always be possible by conventional means. High net worth people make up a very large portion of donations, so making sure that these funds are being allocated properly is essential.
I think that the main way that we can improve how the world's rich give funds, is by educating. Emphasizing the importance that each issue presents leads to a greater understanding, and if we are all on the same page, we are able to work together much more effectively when it comes to donating to specific causes.
You feel at home in Russia. Tell us about what excites you the most about the country?
Vodianova: Russia is home in so many ways. Through everything I have experienced living there, from the hardships to the lifechanging opportunities, it is where everything started for me and I will always be connected to my roots. They are what made me the woman that I am and what inspires me to use my position to do good for others. Russia excites me because there is so much to be proud of here, there is always something going on, it never sleeps. Its culture, its history is so vibrant. My charity The Naked Heart Foundation, which works with children with special educational needs is also based and works predominantly in Russia so it is something I care very deeply about.
You have previously opened up about motherhood. How can we make parenting more exciting and equal, especially for women?
Vodianova: I think that in recent years, women have shown just how much we are capable of. It is a demanding role, but it is also incredibly rewarding. I think men, in particular, are recognizing the value that it has on our lives and are supporting their partners more as a result. We have careers, and our own lives to manage, but by splitting the responsibility, we can empower each other and lift ourselves up for the benefit of everybody.
Do you think the fashion industry can use some kindness as well? How can we make the fashion world better?
Vodianova: The fashion world has been incredibly generous to me and the causes I support. However, like any industry, there are things that can change. We need to make sure that people do not burn out and build mindfulness into the industry more.
We have also seen the fashion industry become a lot more accepting of people of all shapes and sizes in the last couple of years which is a fantastic step, especially for young women growing up. We come in all shapes and sizes and that's what makes us beautiful.