A campaign regular for Calvin Klein and Stella McCartney, Vodianova was first discovered at the age of 16 working on a market stall. That same year, Natalia moved to Paris and signed with Viva Management. After a flurry of early modelling bookings, Natalia took a year out after giving birth to her first son, Lucas, returning with a bang in 2002.
Natalia signed a fragrance contract with Gucci and in March opened the Autumn / Winter show for YSL in Paris. She also booked a campaign with Louis Vuitton and closed 2002 with the cover of Italian Vogue, photographed by Steven Meisel. Natalia’s success continued into 2003 and 2004 with a 49-show runway season and a slew of international Vogue covers.
Signing with Calvin Klein in 2005, Vodianova’s career went into overdrive. A bond that continues to this day, Natalia’s mix of edgy beauty and classic appeal made her an ideal fit for the American super-brand. The signing made Natalia a visible presence on an international level.
Nabbing her second Italian Vogue cover in May, Vodianova renewed her contract with Calvin Klein in 2006, including additional duties representing the label’s newest fragrance, ‘Euphoria’.
Calvin Klein has led the market in making the link between high-fashion and fragrance. A ubiquitous presence in the 80’s and 90’s with ‘Eternity’ and ‘Obsession’, Calvin Klein has succeeded where others have failed because of their ability to identify their customer-base. Every fragrance developed by the brand is individually targeted at a particular group of consumers, from the design of the bottle to the faces hired to carry the campaign. The brand’s clarity in focusing on who they’re selling to has made them one of the most successful perfume-makers in the world.
For Natalia, to not only scoop the initial campaign, but to still be representing the fragrance six years on, puts her in a highly select group of models. Clothing campaigns come and go, but there is something compelling about a good fragrance campaign. When the chemistry is right, the bond between the model and the fragrance can last a lifetime. Natalia’s long-standing affiliation with the scent has turned ‘Euphoria’ into a modern classic.
2007 saw Natalia return to the catwalk in February, opening the A/W show for Calvin Klein. Renewing her contract with the American label, her star-power was in evidence when she appeared on the cover of American Vogue. 2007 was clearly a year for cover-sharing, with Natalia being the only model to have a solo US Vogue cover that year. That charisma translated into serious cash, with Natalia being ranked by Forbes magazine as the 5th highest-paid model in the world, earning an estimated $4.5 million in 2006.
As one of fashion’s biggest names, Natalie got to work on some incredible projects. In January 2008, Natalia was asked to both open and close Valentino’s final couture show in Paris. A true fashion event, the designer behind the Valentino label retired in 2008 with one final, glorious triumph.
The show was a love-letter to glamour, and the ending of the show saw every model take to the catwalk in identical Valentino-red gowns. From a career that started with dressing Jackie Kennedy in the Sixties, to transforming red-carpet dressing, Valentino remains shorthand for sophisticated, Italian glamour. Natalia’s role was pivotal as a long-time favourite of the designer, and she was able to pay tribute to a life’s work that continues to have a huge impact on fashion.
Natalia’s place within the fashion industry was confirmed with an editorial in May 2009’s edition of American Vogue. Titled ‘The Godfather’, US Vogue paid homage to the extraordinary career of Steven Meisel.
The photographer’s star-finding abilities were proudly celebrated, collating every top model that Meisel ever backed. It is fair to say that without Meisel’s unique eye for new talent, the landscape of the modelling world would look very different. Vodianova’s first Italian Vogue cover in 2002 was with Meisel and her ability to command top-dollar comes from those early positive experiences that gave her the confidence to take on those big-money assignments.
Natalia worked with Meisel again, collaborating on the December ’09 issue of Italian Vogue. The cover, ‘Meisel Pic’, and the accompanying editorial, ‘Following’, are a Twitter-esque parody, featuring a ‘friends list’ of some of the world’s best-known models. Gisele, Lara Stone and Christy Turlington all got their pose on, creating faux-profile pictures.
The result was a witty appraisal of the boom in self-portraiture featured on social media websites. Putting the spotlight on these technological developments which are continuing to evolve the way we consume and enjoy fashion, re-affirmed Meisel’s ability to examine the new and the next.
Natalia’s status continued to soar when she got an entire issue of Vogue to herself in May 2010. Featuring throughout Chinese Vogue, Natalia appeared in a range of editorials photographed by Paolo Roversi, Peter Lindbergh and Patrick Demarchelier. Comparable to Natasha Poly’s solo issue for Russian Vogue, this rare honour is only offered to the truly great models.
Natalia proved her worth again in July 2010, shooting an extensive editorial for American Vogue. Shot by Peter Lindbergh, Natalia was partnered with actor Ewan McGregor. In a spread that combined Hitchcock with domestic drama, it illustrated the type of narrative modelling that Natalia excels at.
In late 2010, Natalia joined Karen Elson and Christy Turlington in shooting one of the top campaigns of the season. Appearing for Louis Vuitton, this was one of the most striking images of the fashion year. Natalia, Christy and Karen showed off their fashion prowess in designs that were unapologetically feminine. From the cutting table to the pages of Vogue, this collection was a winner on every front.
Finishing the year with an opening slot in Roberto Cavalli’s 40th anniversary show in Milan, Natalia began 2011 with more editorial work, including British Vogue’s bridal edition.
Released to coincide with the Royal Wedding, the multi-cover special featured Natalia in couture bridal-wear. With every aspect of bridal fashion covered as only Vogue can, it was a resounding counter to anyone who assumed that the British can’t do romance.
More editorial work followed, with a spread for US Vogue photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. ‘My Generation’ was a retro-styled shoot with references to the novel ‘Brighton Rock’ to give it some bite. It was stylish, coded rebellion, making the editorial look and feel absolutely authentic.
With over ten years in the business, Vodianova continues to book some of fashion’s most-coveted jobs. Scoring a place on the A/W Givenchy campaign with Mariacarla Boscono, Naomi Campbell and Kristen McMenamy, Givenchy went with bold casting choices, choosing experienced models all at the top of their game, proving that as far as high-fashion is concerned; age really is just a number.
Vodianova’s longevity is about more than sheer beauty. Having a face capable of producing looks from chocolate-box prettiness to haute couture complexity, Natalia has utilised her natural gifts to carve out a unique place in fashion history.
Being the prettiest girl in the room isn’t a guarantee of success, and Vodianova has achieved greatness by using that face with purpose. Natalia’s genius is in generating intention behind every shot. Whether it’s conveying dramatic tension or wistful yearning, she is one of the best in the business.
Story-telling is at the heart of great fashion, whether that’s on the runway or in a blockbuster campaign. Drawing the consumer into the story is central to the high-fashion experience. Design and tailoring may make the clothes, but in order to sell them, you need a little magic. Our primitive need to create stories is what makes print work crucial to the success of the fashion industry, even when so much of the fashion experience is now online. If we identify with the story, the label can’t fail to make it big.
The A/W 2010 campaign for Louis Vuitton is a brilliant example of how this strategy works. The genius of this campaign was in persuading us that fashion had become a friendlier place for curves, with most of the pieces needing extra shape to fill them out correctly. The idea that high-fashion was just to be enjoyed in its abstract form was transformed overnight. The gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ got narrower.
The fear that consumer power would stifle creativity hasn’t been realised. The latest A/W collections are eminently wearable but the touches of daring design are still present from Prada’s fur-covered trenches to Marc Jacobs’ bold, magnified touches of luxury. Persuading us to take these sartorial leaps of faith are models like Natalia who make us want to get involved. Fashion should never be a spectator sport; Vodianova’s ability to sell us not only the dream of high-fashion, but the actual day-to-day experience of wearing it, is what has kept her in such demand.
Her latest campaigns with Stella McCartney and Givenchy illustrate how fashion is learning to mould itself to its core customers. McCartney’s slip dress of the Nineties has given way to sophisticated nostalgia. On Natalia, Eighties polka-dots and sheer panels are not a hard sell.
As Natalia heads towards her thirties, she is becoming the poster-girl for a generation that is determined to grow up gracefully. The same group who were caught between grunge and girlie abandon are pushing the fashion industry into a new era where fashion literacy and high-expectations are the norm.
Natalia’s generation have grown up knowing not only the big-name labels, but the smaller, niche brands. Catering to this crowd requires an intelligent approach, making fashion that’s real-life applicable but audaciously creative. These consumers are prepared to give difficult clothes a go, even when other age-groups shy away from them, and that makes them one of the most-valued demographics in fashion today.
Selling to this age group requires a face they can trust. As their peer, Vodianova’s modelling style registers as cool, collected and seductive, but most of all, honest. Natalia’s charm is in her ability to quietly challenge our fashion perspectives, our most firmly-held sartorial beliefs.
Making light of fashion’s hardest task, Natalia’s soft approach to the hard-sell has made us powerless to resist. A gifted and subtle story-teller, Natalia’s way changes us by degrees. A quiet revolutionary, and still continuing to challenge the perceived wisdom, Natalia’s gentle persuasion has made her one of modelling’s truest pioneers.HELEN TOPE