Who is Natasha Poly?
The answer to that question may not be as simple as it seems. It goes without saying that Natasha is a fashion force: as the first model profiled in Models.com’s ICONS series, she ranks among the most photographed and in-demand faces in the world. Open up any magazine right now and you’re sure to see her staring back at you, but who is the woman behind the images?
Judging solely on those glossy shots of the Russian beauty looking aloof yet alluring, one might think that she is simply an avatar of fashion’s obsession with refinement, but looking beyond the imagery, one finds a woman who is intelligent, witty, well-respected, and a model of professionalism and skill. In her own words, she defines herself as a team player, telling Vogue last year, “When you are a new girl with a unique face and a good body, people want you on their runway or campaign. You are instantly popular. But after a while everyone gets used to your face, and that’s where your modeling talent and professionalism matters. In this industry, your relationships and connections are essential. You have to be a professional. This is teamwork and it is a fact that a model is only a part of the team. But you can’t build an ego on your face and body. If you don’t have a work discipline, you’ll lose. Modeling is my job, it’s my university.”
In this industry, your relationships and connections are essential. You have to be a professional. This is teamwork and it is a fact that a model is only a part of the team.
Were there degrees handed out for modeling, Poly would surely graduate magna cum laude: in the 9 years since she emerged in the fashion scene, Natasha has amassed an unparalleled body of work. Managed flawlessly by Women Management she booked an unprecedented six Vogue Paris covers, campaigns for the likes of Dior, Jil Sander, and Givenchy, time spent in front of the camera with Meisel, Lindbergh, Inez & Vinoodh, Mert & Marcus, Sorrenti, and numerous others. These achievements have come not just because of her rare beauty, but also due to the hard work Poly puts in behind the scenes. Is there a better runway walk in the business, or a model who can bring as much emotion and life to her photos? There has rarely been a girl spoken about in such a beloved manner, not just by photographers and stylists, but also by her peers – many of whom consider Poly’s prolific career the barometer by which models are judged.
To understand how Natasha advanced to where she is now, one has to go back to her humble beginnings. Born into a middle-class family in the industrial city of Perm, Russia, Natasha never envisioned herself as a top model. The whip-smart child of an engineer mother and a police chief father, Natasha first imagined a career as a travel agent, but at 15, found herself entering a local beauty pageant on the advice of a cousin. Naturally, she won the contest and was soon whisked off to Milan, but the road to the top was often paved with difficulties and her Milan experience was less than encouraging. “They gave me 50 euros, a map of the city, and they told me to look for life. I lived a hell. Then I went to try my luck in Paris. At 18 I made the cover of the French ‘Vogue’ and my life changed overnight.”
Her beauty, her professionalism, and her simplicity! She’s smart, she made the right choices.
- Carine Roitfeld on what makes Natasha an icon
Though the shift from mere model to coveted covergirl did change Natasha’s life, the early setbacks gave her the resolve she is known for. Kate Moss may have coined “never complain, never explain,” but Natasha embodies those ideals with her diligent work ethic. Pucci designer, Peter Dundas, provides a compelling example of the Poly professionalism. “This happened while I was still a designer for another brand. Years ago we had booked Natasha and other girls for a mens show. The other girls hadn’t come to Milan yet and we were so late finishing the women’s clothes. Natasha came for her fitting but she stayed a whole night doing fittings on all the other girls outfits. Most girls her level wouldn’t dream to do that. It’s the nice girls that last the longest.”
Nice is a word that comes up a lot when talking about Natasha; in addition to her tireless devotion to her craft, those who work with her are touched by her kindness and humility. “I adore Natasha,” says designer Alexander Wang, “we have worked together for so many years now and I look to her as a friend first and foremost.” Carine Roitfeld is inclined to agree, when asked what makes Natasha an icon, the legendary editor replied, “Her beauty, her professionalism, and her simplicity! She’s smart, she made the right choices.” Those sentiments are echoed by legendary hairstylist, Luigi Murenu, who cites Poly as one of his favorites to work with. “I met her when she first started during the Milan shows. She’s changed gracefully. She is always learning and aiming straight for the top.
we have worked together for so many years now and I look to her as a friend first and foremost
- Alexander Wang
And the top is exactly where Natasha belongs. Looking at her polished visage on high profile magazine covers, scores of advertising campaigns, and a seemingly endless array of photos shot by the industry’s premiere talents, one walks away with an idealized image of feminine perfection. Some models exemplify sex appeal, and others speak to the allure of unstudied cool, but Natasha has come to embody haute elegance in a way that few can. Designers look to her to add a touch of class to their catwalks, while magazine editors are obsessed with her glamorous off the runway style. For different people she seems to represent different things, but everyone can agree on her importance as a fashion fixture and her iconic status. Natasha Poly has commanded the modeling industry for close to a decade now, and shows no signs of slowing down. Peter Dundas summarized the formula behind her success aptly, “Beauty and a heart. It’s a winning combination.”
Beauty and a heart. It’s a winning combination.
- Peter Dundas on the formula behind Natasha’s success