NUMÉRO : When and how did you start your modelling career?
IRINA SHAYK : I’m from a tiny coalminers’ town in the middle of nowhere in Russia. When I was living there I had no idea what fashion was and we didn’t even have fashion magazines. I never thought about becoming a model as this profession literally did not exist in our town. I started modelling pretty late, at the age of 19. My first trip to Paris was a very difficult time for me, as I had no money, I didn’t speak English and had to learn very fast. I’m a perfectionist and I’m very persistent, so I was always giving my maximum at every shoot.
How did your model career develop?
My first contract with Intimissimi in 2007 changed everything for me – it was my first big contract, I learned a lot about my job with this brand. Intimissimi were always very creative and I travelled to some of the most beautiful places in the world for shoots with them and I got to work with amazing teams. I’m so happy that after 13 years we are still working together. The Intimissimi team really feels like family to me.
How did you feel about growing up and evolving while being watched by an entire industry?
I love my job, it makes me very happy and I’m blessed to meet the most amazing and talented people in the industry. Being exposed, it is a part of my profession and I can say that I am proud of the job that I do – I always give my maximum and try to do my best for every shoot, show or event.
How was your relationship with your body when you started and what is it today?
Like everyone else I felt insecure about my body at first, but with age and experience I learned how to feel confident, strong and powerful in my own skin. The most important thing I have learnt in life is that inner beauty is much more important than physical beauty, and true beauty always comes from the inside.
How being pregnant and a mother does change your perception to your body ?
I found inner peace and balance and it made me feel more confident. Being a mother changed a lot in my life and now I am discovering a new dimension of women’s beauty as a mom. This special feeling started on a shoot with Peter Lindbergh when I was 5 months pregnant but no one knew about it. Peter made me feel so comfortable and so special, he truly nourished my inside feeling at this moment. I realised that being pregnant gave me a powerful emotion, it filled me with happiness and love. The pictures from this shoot are some of the best pictures I’ve ever done. Peter even printed some of them and gave them to me, so I had them framed and now they are on the wall in my house. He was a very special person in my life and I truly miss him.
For the issue celebrating the 20th anniversary of Numéro, Peter Lindbergh and Babeth Djian shot you with short hair, what are your memories of this shoot? How does it feel to change your appearance for a shoot?
I love changing my appearance for shoots and providing different characters. It’s always a great challenge and an interesting experience. When you’re in the right hands you have this feeling of true magic happening. The shoot with Peter and Babeth was definitely magic! They were asking my opinion about the looks, but I was always saying – “Whatever you guys think!” – as I completely trusted their impeccable taste and creativity. Sadly this was my last shoot with Peter, and I will never forget it.
How do you perceive the changes for women, their bodies and their femininity?
For me inside beauty is the only real beauty that a human being can have. Years ago, Intimissimi launched a campaign with this powerful message and I am proud to be a part of it. Fashion changes so fast, some fashionable looks of the past seem weird for the next generations, but inner beauty is always there. I am convinced that every woman is beautiful in her own, unique way.
And how have you noticed it in the fashion industry?
I think that fashion today is all about personality. I love it how fashion is bringing more and more diversity into fashion campaigns and on the runways every year.
How did it affect you personally?
I’ve been lucky enough to do high fashion jobs, to walk in top fashion shows – fashion today is much more flexible than it used to be.
When we see you walking down a runway, you look strong and confident, is that really the case?
Yes, it is. I’m from a family where all the women have strong characters and it’s in my blood. I always admired how my mom and grandmothers stood up for themselves even in the most difficult times, and I learned from them that you should never give up.
You are also part of a new generation of models with impressively long careers. In your opinion, why do models who are over 25/30 still get work and why are they bringing back the former supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington ?
These women are power houses with great charisma and strength! I see the supermodels of the 90s as true icons. I believe that modelling today is not just about looks anymore – it is all about personality, and models today can only have a long career if there is something more to them than just physical beauty.
Today, you are counted among the supermodels, alongside Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington ... what does this label mean to you?
This is such an honour… These women are real icons, I truly admire them. I think that today we live in a world where a woman has less limits and her voice will be heard.
You took part in Jean Paul Gaultier’s last couture show, how was it? How did you meet him and what is your relationship with him?
I’ve always been a big fan of Jean Paul Gaultier and his legacy. He is never afraid to be bold, fearless, to start new fashions and create strong, provocative styles and forms.
He is an extraordinary artist and a very down-to-earth person at the same time, very attentive and caring and extremely talented. I love how creative he is, he literally has no boundaries and his shows are always a statement.
You are also close to Riccardo Tisci, how was he important in your career and why?
The first time I met Riccardo Tisci was eight years ago at Carine Roitfeld’s Harper’s Bazaar party, and my first impression was how sweet and down-to-earth he was. Then I met him again during the casting for my first Givenchy show. I walked into the casting room, and I saw Riccardo – I remember the way he looked at me and said nice things, and I literally fell in love with him. He was one of those people who when you see them for the first time in your life, you feel like you’ve known them forever. I’m so happy this grew into a real friendship, I’m honoured and proud of it.