Natasha Poly is modelling’s newest superstar. In an age where the word ‘supermodel’ is strictly off limits, Natasha is raising the bar for a whole new generation of modelling talent.
Born in Russia on July 12 1985, Natasha’s success was far from overnight. She began modelling in 2000, but it wasn’t until February 2004 that she experienced a breakthrough.
Working across Europe, Poly got booked for the Autumn / Winter show season. Signing up for 54 shows, Poly’s big moment included appearances for Balenciaga, Chloe, Gucci, Peter Som, Sonia Rykiel and Vera Wang. Her strongly-defined features wowed the industry: Natalia Vodianova and Daria Werbowy were already making waves, and Poly would soon find herself joined by Sasha Pivovarova. The fashion world couldn’t get enough of what Eastern-Europe had to offer.
In May 2004, Poly landed the cover of French Vogue and another in June. In December, she scored her third Vogue cover of the year, this time doing cover-try duty for Australian Vogue. Poly may have been the epitome of Slavic chic, but her blonde-with-attitude beauty had no problem translating to other continents. 2004 was a whirlwind of a year, but there was no doubt about it - Natasha was a hit.
In 2005, Poly featured alongside other Eastern-European models for a Vanity Fair spread called ‘Slavs of Fashion: The New Beauties’. The overwhelming popularity of girls like Poly represented a new modelling phenomenon, mixing the familiar (tall, blonde and gorgeous) with a hint of old-world exoticism.
November brought Poly another cover of French Vogue and her first appearance in the Victoria’s Secret show. At this point, Natasha was very much a high-fashion lynchpin, but her Slavic look easily crossed over into the more commercial arena of lingerie modelling. Poly’s ability to shift from couture to lingerie (even when it’s televised and broadcast to millions) marked her out as a fashion multi-tasker. Everyone loves a versatile model, but with Poly, the transition was seamless.
The New Year started off well for Natasha. Landing a campaign for Ralph Lauren with fellow Russian Valentina Zelyaeva, Poly had a brilliant S/S show season, doing runway for Balmain, Givenchy, Lanvin, Luella, Proenza Schouler, Valentino and Zac Posen. In March, she scored another cover of French Vogue and an editorial in Numero magazine, photographed by Camilla Akrans.
2007 presented Poly with another career high, when she signed a fragrance contract with Gucci. The fragrance, also called ‘Gucci’, had a TV advert directed by David Lynch. Poly, in a floor-length, gold lame gown, danced to the Blondie hit ‘Heart of Glass’. The advert was hedonistic charm at its best. The antithesis to the clean, minimalist fragrances flooding the market, ‘Gucci’ stood out and the shot of Poly curled up with an enormous bottle of the stuff made the perfume an international hit. Poly was not just fashion’s it-girl; she was connecting with the public too. Natasha’s iconic Gucci-girl image became a byword for modern glamour. Gucci agreed too, renewing her contract in 2008.
January 2008 began with news that Natasha would appear in the next Pirelli calendar, to be shot by Mario Sorrenti. Poly returned to her high-fashion roots in February, with a stellar season. She opened shows for designers such as Derek Lam, Belstaff, Gucci, Moschino and Isabel Marant, and closed shows for Herve Leger, Temperley, Balmain and Dries van Noten. The girl from Russia had gone well and truly global.
In April 2008, French Vogue paid homage to their favourite Russian by dubbing her a ‘top model’. Poly’s successes continued to pour in with a Russian Vogue in July dedicated entirely to her, and in August she scored a second consecutive cover of Russian Vogue, photographed by Terry Richardson.
In September, Russian Vogue also hailed her as a top model, and as if to prove this point, Natasha had one of her best show seasons. Walking in 54 shows, Poly headlined for Matthew Williamson, Preen, Blumarine, Roberto Cavalli and Stella McCartney. The year closed with the cover of i-D, photographed by Emma Summerton, and 2009 began with an Italian Vogue – Steven Meisel editorial with fellow model Sessilee Lopez.
2009 was a good campaign year for Poly, continuing her affiliation with Gucci, plus ads for Blumarine, Missoni and Calvin Klein Jeans. With a strong RTW and couture season behind her, Natasha did editorials for French and Russian Vogue in August. But her greatest moment came in September, when Muse magazine dedicated their entire issue to the Poly phenomenon.
With contributors such as Ricardo Tisci, Jeff Koons and Terry Richardson, it was a timely nod to Natasha’s extraordinary influence on the fashion industry. Doing everything from haute couture to beachwear, at a time where the term ‘supermodel’ seemed self-indulgent and outdated, Poly was reinventing it for the next generation.
In December ’09, Poly appeared with several other top models in a Twitter-inspired editorial photographed by Steven Meisel. A witty take on the growing role networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have in our day-to-day lives, it was the most literal indication yet of fashion’s emerging relationship with technology.
2010 marks ten years in the business for Poly, and as we move into a new decade, the career of someone as prolific as Natasha Poly serves as comment on how we see the term ‘supermodel’. If Poly had been working 20 years ago, she would have easily joined the ranks of Evangelista and Campbell. Her body of work, astonishing as it is, is still not enough to warrant that label today. It has not just fallen out of favour; the phrase has become a piece of fashion history, perhaps never to be revived. After all, if Poly can’t do it, it begs the question: who can?
Kate Moss is probably the last model who can legitimately refer to herself as a supermodel, and the birth of her career, the early 1990’s, is the last time we see models being treated as celebrities.
As the cult of celebrity accelerated during the Nineties, models were sidelined into runway and editorial work, while the pulling power of names like Aniston carried magazine sales. How did this happen? Well, if models could be celebrities, what was to stop celebrities becoming models? However noteworthy an up-and-coming model, she simply couldn’t compete with the star power of Hollywood’s A-list.
So the modelling industry had to get creative. They went to their strengths: editorial, editorial, editorial. The modelling world reminded designers and editors that when it comes to selling high-fashion, the tricky stuff, there are some assignments best left to the professionals.
As a result, the landscape of the modelling industry now looks very different. The faces can be just as familiar, but the names are not so easy to place. The basic terms of what constitutes a supermodel remain the same: high visibility, presence and punch. But that high-octane celebrity attached to names like Evangelista and Crawford has gone for good. What’s left is a raft of models like Poly, including Rocha, Rubik, Deyn and Kloss who are mastering the runways, campaigns and editorials.
Poly’s appearance in the famous ‘Twitter’ Italian Vogue editorial in December 2009 is a prime example of how we see models differently. A model’s contact with the public used to be a series of carefully-orchestrated, PR-driven appearances. This has now given way to round-the-clock Tweets on your laptop. We can now get glimpses of models – Jessica Stam and Chanel Iman are two particularly avid Twitterers – that are gloriously unedited and unsupervised. We feel that we ‘know’ today’s supermodels better, because that personal connection is more immediate: it feels more real.
It’s hard to see a future where fashion returns to the rarefied, exclusive realm it inhabited before the recession. The front row experience is no longer reserved for editors and celebrities and bloggers can freely comment on a runway show or red carpet as it happens. When everyone has a voice, it doesn’t always make for balanced debate, but this equality potentially means the most radical shake-up in decades, and the fashion world definitely seems to have got the memo that a more inclusive industry is a richer one, both aesthetically and economically.
So what we have lost is nothing to what we have gained. In losing the model-as-celebrity, we’ve now gained a generation of girls like Natasha Poly who are the faces of a fashion revolution. A new breed of top model that represents the latest – and bravest – fashion age: it’s fashion minus the ego, and it hasn’t come a moment too soon.