There is nary a model Cinderella story as poignant and heart-warming as Natalia Vodianova’s.
Born in Gorky, USSR (now Nizhny Novgorod, Russia), Natalia was raised by her mother in a poor region with her two sisters, one of whom has cerebral palsy. Her father left the family early in Natalia’s life, and she didn’t have any contact with him until after her international recognition.
At 14, she began utilizing her keen business sense and supporting her family by selling fruit. The next year she enrolled in a modelling academy and started learning English.
By 17, her career had already taken off, and she was living in Paris working with Viva Models.
While in Paris, Natalia met former modelizer and property heir, Justin Portman, and they were married just a year later.
Today, they are rarely seen apart, and Portman no longer works a standard 9-5 job, in order to travel with her and keep the family together. The couple has three children, and Natalia has earned a solid reputation for being back on the catwalk and working mere weeks after giving birth.
Her mainstream modeling moments came in 2002, when she was on the cover of Vogue Italia, and in 2004, when she, along with a number of other models, covered American Vogue in Steven Meisel’s Models of the Moment feature. By 2006, at the age of 24, she was ranked as one of the top 15 models of the word, and earning an estimated $4.5 million/year.
That year, Natalia founded the Naked Heart Foundation, an organization that builds safe environments for children to play in, throughout urban Russia. Her experiences as a mother taught her the importance of play, and the first playground she built was in her hometown of Nizhny Novgorod.
On reflection of her life in Russia, she often remarks that she would have been perfectly happy to have stayed there.
Withouth having known the modeling world, she said, her life would have remained pleasant. Her philanthropic work has only grown since and she is now an ambassador for Hear the World.
Her advertising work began with her first campaign in 2000, and she has since worked with brands such as Marc Jacobs, Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, and has fronted the ads for her own collaboration with French lingerie label, Etam.
She has walked in hundreds of runway shows and appeared on the covers of major fashion magazines including various international editions of Vogue.
Her career has served as inspiration for many models, and industry greats have named her one of the most popular and hardworking models in the industry.