Natalia Vodianova's rags to riches life story has made her one of the most talked about models in recent memory. Born in Gorky (now Nizhni Novgorod), Russia's third largest city, she lived with her mother and two half-sisters in unpleasant conditions.
As a child, Natalia helped her mother sell fruit from the family’s stall at a produce market; by the time she was fifteen, she had gone into business for herself, running her own stand and haggling precociously with the local wholesaler. Few could have guessed she was destined for a life swathed in Dior and diamonds.
Just before moving, Vodianova enrolled in a modeling academy, where she learned ladylike behavior and etiquette. Fortunately, she also went to casting opportunities, and one day, she caught the eye of a scouting agent from Paris. He told her that a great future was in store for her; all she had to do was learn English in three months.
Convinced that her life could change for the better, Vodianova did just that. At 17, she moved to Paris to try her hand at modeling. Delighted to work, she was a dream client for the Viva agency and was an inspired woman. Though her salary was small at her first, it was still much more than what she was earning in her native Russia.
When she was 19 years old, she made much headway in modeling but still had not made it big. For some time, she was distracted however, after falling in love and marrying British real-estate heir Justin Portman. She gave birth to son Lucas before the lavish wedding in St. Petersburg, and for an instant, her career looked bleak. Fortunately, these distractions did not sway her: she roamed the runways for several fall collections and astounded so many that she headlined the Yves Saint Laurent show that same year.
Soon, Vodianova's phone was ringing off the hook. Gucci made her the new face for their perfume line after she had more than 40 runway shows under her belt, and then Calvin Klein called to hire her for their big Spring show. She was officially the hot new face in town and even made a brief appearance in Roman Coppola's film CQ with Billy Zane and Grard Depardieu.
Now, with campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Miss Sixty to her name, Vodianova is a true supermodel. She has done it all, from Vogue covers to big-name fashion shows. The media loves her not only for her "real" look, but because her story is so inspiring. Living in New York with her husband and son, Vodianova, at only 21 years old, is already poised to take over the whole modeling world with her charm and sex appeal.
For some, modeling is not only a venue to display one's beauty but also a saving grace. This is the case with the vivacious Vodianova, who had the lowly duty of selling fruit in Russian markets at 15 years old to help out her family. Like a real-life Cinderella, she rose from the depths of poverty and was recognized as a rare beauty.
This fairy tale is heartwarming, but does not detract from the real story. How could a woman barely two years into modeling already be internationally known? Most models of Vodianova's caliber are slower to emerge as a household name -- they hover around in various campaigns for years and then break through with a television appearance.
Fortunately, this Russian native needed only her own beauty, and not clever marketing, to get her name out. Solely on the merits of her long legs, pouting lips and shapely body, she has impressed us all.
Vodianova spends her time bringing a little bit of fantasy to children in towns like the one in which she grew up. Through her charity, the Naked Heart Foundation, the former teenage street vendor has built dozens of play parks across Russia. To raise funds, she acts as hostess to a star-studded list of guests at the Love Ball, held in Moscow in 2008 and London in 2010.