The Venus incarnate’s emblematic status means that her small absence made our hearts grow fonder. Today, she is ready to come back to the industry that embraced her for many years to make her momentous return into the spotlight. Abraham Studios captures the mother/model exclusively for Models.com, as she turns up the heat in the sensual swimwear of the times.
Were you always interested in the fashion industry? Did you know about it before hand?
I knew nothing about the fashion industry, but I’ve always wanted to be a model. I used to do ballroom dancing and when I was at a competition, one of the moms was like “who do you want to be” and I said “I want to be a supermodel” and she laughed at me. Back in the day in Russia we had no Vogues, we didn’t really have a fashion industry whatsoever. I grew up and there were like, only 5 channels on TV. I was really tall, really skinny, and had freckles everywhere! I think when I would tell people that I wanted to be a model, they would kind of laugh at me so I never felt comfortable talking about it.
When I was 13 or 14, I started talking to my mom about it and she said, “Absolutely not” because A) we didn’t have any modeling agencies in Russia and B) back in the day you would hear in Moscow that all the “model girls” were prostitutes. We had a trusted family friend who owned a modeling agency in my city and my mom got fed up with me begging for so many years and was finally like, “fine let’s go and see.” Pretty much that’s how it took off. I met IMG through them and then I went to do a modeling contest in Milan with IMG & MTV and I won that. I thought, oh my god it’s my first time on a plane and I’m outside of Russia.
You weren’t expecting that level…
No! For me at that time, I was just so excited to go to Milan. I didn’t really care if I won or not, I was so psyched! When I was 15, I went with my mom. There was no bone in my body that thought that anything would come out of it. Then I won.
At that time, I didn’t speak a word of English. They called my name and I was so checked out and no one was going up and they kept saying “You! You!” I feel so grateful because dreams do come true.
How were those first years? It sounds like you really enjoyed it. Sometimes it can be harder for girls who are younger in the industry. Were you excited by all of the new experiences that you got to partake in?
Of course. I remember when I first came to New York I was 15 years old and I was in this huge city! I had never traveled in my entire life except to Milan that time with my mom for the competition. I was by myself, I was at the models apartment and that was a different time when cell phones were just coming in. I had no idea how to deal with any of it. It was harder in a way because you couldn’t really communicate with your family as much and I still had school. I was a straight-A student and it was very hard for me to do both. But, I was so incredibly committed to do both that I finished with straight A’s and I went back and forth for 2 years. I think at 15 years old you’re really cocky and think “I can do everything, I got it, I’m an adult!” Then you look back at it, and I have no idea why my mom let me go!
Honestly, I look right now at kids who are 15 and I’m like, you’re a baby. I was raised in a really wonderful home and my parents and grandparents were amazing. For the first 2 years I definitely did not treat it like a job, it was like “oh my god I’m flying here and flying there!” “There’s champagne backstage at fashion week, this is amazing!” When I finished school and I was deciding whether to go to college or go to New York, it was hard for my parents. For me, I think I still have a hard time that I never went to school and it’s something that I want to do at some point. But this was my dream and I’ve got to see where it takes me. At that point, I was shooting for Sports Illustrated. I had really amazing opportunities and you can’t just give up on that.
So at that moment was that when it really clicked for you that this was something that was really becoming a career?
I think I looked at it and I was like, I’m 17 years old and if a 17 year old can provide for herself and her family? I always was full, I always knew that I was very determined and I was smart and hard working and if things didn’t work out I had my family and I could always go back to school. Honestly, I feel like it was yesterday but it was 16 years ago. I have no idea how the time flew by.
In your career, when did you realize that you had gotten to that next level? What moment stood out in your head where you realized “I’m Anne V.”
You know, I never really feel this way because the thing is I really love my job and I don’t really love the term “supermodel.” I’m a working model and I have an opportunity to do really amazing jobs but I feel like the “super” part makes you not human. I feel like I’m very personable and I just don’t really like to treat myself that way. I also really wish that I enjoyed it a little bit more back then. People always ask, oh what could you recommend to young models? And I always say enjoy and really be present. Even if it’s crazy, find the beauty in it. Literally I’ve had so many amazing moments.
What are your favorite moments?
I mean, doing the Victoria’s Secret show…that was for sure. I enjoyed it but you work so hard to get to that point. You are so healthy, you work out every single day to look that amazing and sometimes you would do that show and the next day you’d have to wake up at 4AM in the morning to go to work and I’m like I don’t want to go to work, I want to party and celebrate that I did this damn show!
Exactly but not every model gets the opportunity to do so…
Yeah and that’s where I felt like it was unfortunate that I really didn’t get to enjoy it those moments. If I could go back it would have been nice to savor every single experience. I think we also get a little bit jaded. We work in New York, we get on a red-eye and work in Paris and then get on a train and go to work in London that night, then wake up to go to work and fly back to New York. We do crazy things.
You talk a lot about when you’re a model at a certain level you feel a lot of pressure to maintain a certain body image. How have you dealt with body image working for Victoria’s Secret, Sports Illustrated, and various fashion magazines? As a model how do you deal with it and stay body positive?
I think it definitely took me a while to figure out. I never went like, crazy big but I was big for our industry. When I came to New York and put on weight I was like, I did track and field my whole life but I had never been to the gym. I had no idea what a gym looked like or how to eat a salad. So, for me it was so hard because, I never really had a mentor. When you’re 15 years old or even 17 years old, you have your agents and you hope that they’re wonderful enough to help you but we really don’t have a big support team of girls who are like, “I got you. Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. Your boyfriend broke up with you? Don’t worry you’re going to have 5 more…” It was so hard for me because literally my agents were like, you’ve got to lose weight and I didn’t know how to do it! I was 17 years old what was I supposed to do? I think more too it’s a big mental thing and when your industry takes you the way you look and then you put on weight and then people don’t take you. It can make you think there is something wrong with you.
You take it personally?
You do take it personally because you don’t come from a secure place like, “Okay. I’m in this industry and I need to be a certain size because people pay me a lot of money and that’s okay!” They don’t think that there is something wrong with me and they don’t think I’m a bad person. But when you’re 17 years old you don’t know that so it’s so hard. I eat very healthy and I work out. That works for me and that’s the only thing that works for staying healthy. I do have a lot of loyal people who have really embraced me at any shape and form. I feel really really grateful for that.
You seem incredibly grounded. How do you keep your peace of mind in dealing with rejection and industry pressure? What keeps you focused on the important things?
I think it really came with age. I did a lot of self work because I think we are so incredibly interesting and complicated as individuals. Not even just in the fashion industry but living in New York. Sorry but to get a date here, you need to be a supermodel. And we can’t even find guys! How are other people supposed to find anyone? It’s not even based on looks but you really have to be a secure being and know what you want. On that you kind of really need to look within yourself and be really present and be really confident.
In order to project that out into the world…
Totally. Putting out into the universe a specific thing has always worked for me. If you’re like, well I want to meet a great guy the universe will send you a bunch of guys. And you’re like, no not this one, not this one. Well, you need to tell the universe specifically what you want! Give the list! I’m a true believer in that.
I’ve picked up meditating in the past couple of years and I really feel like taking time to yourself and really loving yourself is super important. For me now, I have a family that is so incredibly supportive and I have an amazing daughter. Before, obviously when I was single and I didn’t have a family, it was hard. You don’t get a job and you come home and you’re like, shit this sucks and now I’m by myself and I don’t have a job…now what? I think when you have a family it’s like, you know what? I didn’t get a job but I’m going to come home to my beautiful daughter and she’s going to smile at me and it’s fine! This is where I’d rather be anyway. The wonderful experience that I have work wise, if I get it it’s amazing! But if I don’t get it, who cares.
You mentioned that you have now redirected yourself to San Francisco because of your family and your daughter, her name is Alaska, right? And she’s’ getting ready to turn 1?
Yes! She’s 9 months.
What has redirecting your life to San Francisco for your family taught you differently?
It’s been really an amazing experience. In general, I really love being in San Francisco because people are awesome. They are so incredibly smart and they’re go getters. They have amazing ideas and the amount of creativity that’s happening there is really fun to be around. People are incredibly nice. If they’re successful they are just so incredibly normal. It’s nice to see because obviously New York is very showy. In terms of moving away, it was very hard. When you live in New York for 15 years and you know a certain life and you have your certain friends…
You have your special diners and places to go to…
I mean, it is a shock. But I really really needed it. I think sometimes you’ve got to shock your system with crazy things. Nothing changes and it’s because you don’t actually change your life. It was really cool because it kind of makes you learn how to trust yourself. I thought, I’ve always wanted to have a kid and I’m so incredibly happy. But I’ve worked for 15 years old since I was 15 years old. How am I going to take a year off???
All my friends were like, can you chill out? Can you just enjoy it? It took me so long to feel like it’s okay and allow myself to take this time off. But it’s also like, you’re not going to miss anything. So having that and having a kid and moving to San Francisco, it really shocked my system but hey I pulled through it and the experience makes me feel now that I can conquer anything I want. It’s a nice reminder to get yourself out of your comfort zone.
Like you said, you have done so much in 15 years. You’ve worked with some incredible photographers, and been on the covers of the most reputable magazines. Having done that and then having a child, what drew you back to the industry? Is it a deep love or passion for your job? Is there something that you want to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
I’ve always felt like there is so much more to me that I have done. I truly love my job. I really love being creative. For me, modeling is in so many ways like acting and performing.
The biggest thing for me is that I really want to mentor and be that support for young girls out there. I’ve been on the top and on the bottom. I want to kind of be that voice for young girls and come back to them with- I hear your struggles and I want to figure out if there is a way that I can be supportive to the young generation out there. I feel like nowadays it’s a lot harder than it was when I first started.
Getting 16 year old girls is nothing new in the industry but is it right? Should we wait for the girls to get older? I know you’ve mentioned that when you were starting you didn’t have a support group and I know when you worked with Naomi (Campbell) you were a mentor on The Face. Has your current interest to provide a mentorship for young models spawned out of that experience? Or did you always feel that way?
No, I always felt that way but that experience really got me thinking a lot. Because it really doesn’t take that much time and it really makes a big difference. I really feel like we have such a wonderful industry, that is so supportive in so many ways but is still unsupportive in so many ways as well. The girls on the top, they never were like “oh before I got on top I worked for this and this for 10 years slaving and not being able to pay my bills and then it hit me.” There’s a lot of those great stories and I feel like girls should really talk about it more. In those ways, even younger generations are like hang tight! If you really believe in yourself, you can go and it can happen. I feel like there is not that much support for the young girls and I’m trying to figure out what ways and avenues I can go through to be more supportive.
Switching gears a little bit, and talking about your lovely daughter who is about to turn 1. How have you eased your way back into working? So many people across so many different industries now you have to juggle being a mother, you know… being great at your career. Has it been hard? Especially now that you’re based in San Francisco does she come with you? What is that like?
You see so many amazing moms who have their kids and they run marathons and they’re CEOs of companies. They juggle everything and seem to do it all! I’m like… this is so incredible but can you just say that shit, it’s hard! You really feel like you’re never doing enough. I think the more time that passes the more you understand how to figure out a schedule and balance both. In a way that’s where having a family comes in. When you don’t get things, it’s important to go home to them – it’s just a different level of support. You feel a lot bolder being able to take risks and I’ve never felt that way before. I never felt like I could take big risks and now I literally feel like I could fly to the moon and it’s an amazing feeling.
Through your experience in getting your body back. What did you do to stay fit and healthy and make yourself feel confident to feel like, yes I can go back to the modeling world? What did you do during or after your pregnancy?
You know, I was very healthy during my pregnancy. I worked out a lot.
I saw your Instagram! Doing Pilates, I thought ‘Jesus, I need to do that normally.’
My friends were always like, when you ever get pregnant you’re going to get so incredibly big because you’re going to sit and eat ice cream and cheese all day long because you never had the opportunity to do that before! When I got pregnant though I didn’t want to do that, I really enjoyed working out. I had a really wonderful pregnancy I got so lucky. Having a birth is like running a marathon you have to be prepared. You don’t want to overdo it, you have to listen to your body and be mindful but you also want to be strong and prepared. My body bounced back really quickly because I worked out like 6 days a week until I was 9 months pretty much!
Now you’re at this point in your life. You’ve been on our Top Sexiest list for God knows how long. How have you redefined sexy now as a mother and top model? Are you ready to bounce back into the game?
I think it’s just being confident. I think that’s pretty much what it’s about, really trusting yourself and really loving yourself. I mean, unfortunately I love to do it all. I’m a very do-it-all girl if I can. The two sides of the business, high fashion editorial and commercial work, are so different. With commercial stuff going to The Maldives to do a Sports Illustrated shoot? It doesn’t get any better than that! Every girl wants to feel sexy and have big boobs in a tiny bikini with big hair. To walk in the Victoria’s Secret show and wave to everyone is an amazing moment. The high fashion I absolute love because I get a chance to create and be weird and be funky. I get to have no eyebrows or wear black lipstick.
Speaking of no eyebrows, I saw when you last walked in Alexander Wang. Nobody had eyebrows, every looked like this gothic role but it was so dope how you got to transform.
It was amazing! What I really enjoy is I’ve been so lucky that I’ve been on different billboards and I barely ever get recognized. The only time I got recognized was when I had a DKNY underwear campaign on phone booths and people knew it was me because I had a bang and no makeup. But throughout my whole 15 years none of my friends ever knew who I was. In a way I always felt like that was kind of cool. I felt like I was able to transform into all of those different characters. In a way that’s what fashion is about. It makes me feel like I’m good at my job because I’m able to do that. But it also makes me feel that I’m not here just because I’m a pretty face, that I actually can give something to the designer or the magazine that they weren’t able to get without me.
How was it doing Victoria’s Secret? Everyone knows it’s an amazing moment in a model’s career but no one really talks about the energy and what it is that makes it so prolific. What was it like working for them as a brand? What did you love about walking all of those shows?
When you’re young and you might be more insecure and book a job like this then go on that runway wearing the sexiest thing ever? People are screaming your name and your hair is blowing with fans in front of you – you literally feel like you are the best version of yourself. What I love about Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret which is a totally different side from high fashion, they really make it about you.
Yes it’s about the model.
Back in the day, you were a mannequin and no one cared what you believed in. They cared about how you looked, if you’re pretty, and the rest is whatever. But those two brands really care about you and your personality shining through. It was just very special because everyone else treated you like a model. Someone who can play these different characters and sell clothes and represent brands. This was something else, so for me to have that balance of both was awesome.
What are some of your favorite brands/designers that you’ve worked for in the past?
Well, Sports Illustrated for sure. I’ve been in 10 years in a row and I feel so incredibly grateful for that. Working with Prada has also been awesome. I’ve had such a long career with them as well. I’ve worked with them since I was 15 years old and I had been in their runway so many times. The clothes every season are so different, the runways, the music, the looks. You get there and it’s like… this is going to be a show! That’s so exciting and you really play a character there. Working with Chanel Chance fragrance, and shooting with Jean Paul Goude was so incredibly exciting. He is such a true artist.
Everybody talks about his energy and what he brings to set. I can only imagine. What other creatives have been inspiring to work with?
There are so many, it’s hard to say. I’ve worked with Irving Penn and I wish that I had that opportunity now because I would have probably kissed him to death! You know, sometimes when you’re so young you’re also so shy and you don’t want to ask creatives questions. You feel uncomfortable, but now I would say, “so… tell me about your life!” They are legends. Speaking of artists, he’s amazing and being in American Vogue and Italian Vogue, working with Steven Meisel… these are people that are incredible. There are way too many favorite people. Honestly, I really enjoy working with young photographers too. There is so much new talent and new people where I’m like, wow I’ve never seen this before and it’s really exciting.
As a model, how do you kind of ask for what you want in this industry? In retrospect as far as speaking up for yourself – would you do anything different?
I probably would. I feel like I’d probably go out of my way a lot more than I should. If someone wants to take one picture for 6 hours, I don’t think it’s a nice way to be like, “OK we’re done! We’ve got this picture!” A lot of people do that and I wish I could but I can’t and I probably would have been a little bit more enjoyable at times for me. However, if someone pisses you off and you’re rude you’re not going to get anything from the other person but if you say it in a really thoughtful way, a miracle could happen from that. At the end of the day you have to do what makes you happy. I think trusting your instincts as well. If it doesn’t make you happy, do something else. Find another client or find another agency. Don’t let someone else run your life… really listen to yourself.
In your mind, how long do you want to be modeling? There are so many different answers to this question. Some women want to do this forever, but you talked about doing it until you’re not happy anymore…
I think, there are definitely other things that I want to do. Would I want to fly 5x per week to go to jobs? No, it’s exhausting. But do I want to still do it? Yes! I really love it. I’m probably going to do it until people are like, damn you look too old. I think having the right balance with other things is like… why not? If I have an opportunity and it still inspires me and I inspire people I don’t want to be like, I’m sick of this. Pretty much the fashion industry gave me every single thing that I have. I was able to move me to America, I was able to provide for my family and me, I was able to give me my houses. I have a lot to be grateful for.
Does it get easier? Or less nerve wracking as you progress?
When I’m in front of the camera I really trust my gut. You don’t have to give me complete “do whatever you want” but I don’t like people who are like, “put your hand on your hip… turn your head to the left…” why did you hire me? I know how to do this. It’s a natural reaction – sometimes you look at pictures and you’re like whoa I would never do this normally but I guess I did! You come up with like the craziest poses and craziest pictures.
Is it a natural process? When you first go on set, and you’ve looked at the clothes and looked at the setting do you develop a character in your mind? Do you disassociate yourself that much away from what you’re doing or is it more organic?
It’s organic, I put stuff on, I like to look in the mirror for a glimpse of what I’m wearing and have an idea of what I might do. Obviously it depends on the story, if people say we’re doing a super boyish story there’s a different character. I’ve never been able to come on set and be like, “ehhh I don’t know what to do with myself.” And that’s when you have to just trust yourself – know that you’ve got it and tap into a really powerful feeling. Taking that gut feeling and trusting yourself carries through your whole life.
What’s the craziest shoot you’ve ever done?
One of the shoots that comes to mind, was this shoot with Irving Penn for American Vogue. It was an unrecognizable picture and we had candy all over. We were laying down and they would put candy in the shape of our face on the face. I thought, “okay I’m working with Irving Penn but this shit is so weird.” It’s amazing because you look in there and he knows exactly how it’s going to turn out. That’s the only photographer, well, him and Steven, where I thought they have that vision! That’s so cool to me because they’re so strong in what they want.
And what about acting?
I feel like when it has to do with pictures, I really love to act. But, the minute it comes to speaking I really want to be who I am. I’ve tried a little bit of acting and I really enjoyed it but it wasn’t for me. I felt like I’d rather show people what I’m about truly. I’m so opinionated and I have so much to say that… I don’t know. I feel like I would be better at improv perhaps. But when people tell me exactly what to say and act I feel like I overplay it and it sucks haha.