A bunch of questions fired upon Irina Shayk – the model, the woman, the icon. A style exercise that puts the supermodel in the center of the stage. No filters. No subterfuges. No references that may lead to a clickbait. We wanted to bet on the impossible, so we made an interview aiming towards the most coveted target: the balance between common sense and good taste.
I sent around twenty pages of questions to Irina Shayk (Yemanzhelinsk, Russia) on a gray, cold Saturday morning, far away from the summer we are used to. In fact, I would have liked to send her a singing telegram, or a huge flower bouquet with a note saying “It’s O.K.” Besides the questions, of course. A journalist’s ego is never indifferent to these opportunities to communicate with a super-star, even if just by e-mail. No, Shayk does not have a fever, and she did not get food poisoning. Instead, Shayk is a daily victim of hundreds of distasteful attacks, disguised as fake news and preposterous assumptions that even Donald Trump’s press office would not dream of. You just need to enter her name on Google. In a matter of seconds, near 28 million results appear; nearly all mention her former relationship with a certain American actor, in more or less tragic and derogatory variations, as if her life and her career depended on the outcome of that story of estrangement. “Irina Shayk still believes in marriage”, “Irina Shayk was seen walking with a mysterious man”, “Irina Shayk receives her mother’s support after breakup” are some of the catchiest headlines – for the worst reasons. These are the few that do not directly mention the father of her daughter, Lea De Seine, whose name we shall try to omit, in an exaggerated feminist effort to make Irina the one and only star.
The whole world is tired of knowing who he is. However, I cannot remember a single Portuguese news that mentions one of the top model’s latest jobs: A Moschino commercial orchestrated by the industry’s elite (photography by Steven Meisel, direction by Jason Duzansky, styling by Caryn Cerf de Dudzeele, hair by Guido Palau, make-up by Pat MacGrath), in which she co-stars with Joan Smalls and Gigi Hadid in a sort of Dinasty-like women’s brawl, full of glamour, good humor and irreverence – ideas that are so dear to the creative director of the Italian house, Jeremy Scott. The campaign has received very positive reviews since its release, in the beginning of July, but apparently that is not so appealing to the clickbait junkies. Irina Shayk is fully aware of that. “What is the biggest misconception about you?”, we shoot. “The greatest misconception about me… There are so many that I cannot keep up with them.”
First question: This Vogue issue is about taste. Good taste and bad taste. How would you define taste? “For me, taste is about countless personal references regarding clothes, hair, make-up style, behavior; and all those small choices create a person’s image. The choices of a person with good taste are relevant to the situation and simultaneously original, making the person seem unique.” Second question: On a more personal note, what to you consider to be the epitome of bad taste? And the archetype of good taste? “The epitome of bad taste is the interference in other people’s personal space. The archetype of good taste is respecting other people.” I am not face to face with Irina Shayk and, on the one hand, that is good because I can feel the effects of her feline look running my spine. “I am certain that she must have thought the interview would turn into a terrible distasteful exercise”, I think while I read her answers.
I am still not very sure of having found the holy grail of the Russian model, who began to play the piano when she was six years old (“My mother is a pianist, and music played a major role in our life. I never wanted to be a musical artist, but I deeply love music, and I cannot imagine my life without it”, she would confess later), but I think I can confirm what a colleague who met her a few years ago told me: “Irina Shayk is a hell of a woman. Answers come out of her mouth like gun fire.” This is what is coming. We wanted to know what she thinks it is worst, from a small list of depressing things: cell phones at the table, gossip, people who occupy the entire sidewalk, not holding the door for those behind us, takings pictures of strangers and making fun of them, clipping your nails in public… “I do not know what is worst. These days, people with cell phones at the table are the sad reality of the 21st century, but all these actions come down to the same fact: if you respect others and their personal space, you show that with your actions.”
To counter that, we ask her to choose one of the following kind gestures: saying “thank you” more often, hugging someone, complimenting a stranger, smiling for no apparent reason, leaving money on a vending machine, writing a thank you note… “Being kind and polite to everyone are definitely some of my fundamental values.” Obviously concerned with her privacy, Irina did not hesitate to shoot an editorial playing with the concept of recreation Fashion photography with the queen of the gender, Celeste Barber. A clear sign that she is willing to break down the barriers of the jobs usually related to top models, and that she does not fear the competition of one of Instagram’s most admired women. “I love Celeste Barber and I follow her work. I love her sense of humor, and how funny she is. She feels so good about herself, and she is so confident and beautiful. She is an amazing woman, strong and charming.” In a nutshell, a sign of good taste.
And then we have social media. On Instagram only, she has more than 12 million followers, but she uses it discreetly, giving special emphasis to her professional projects. “I see social media like a part of my job, since being a model in the 21st century cannot be separated from [a presence on] social media.” Is this the definition of a carefully planned pathway. “I was definitely very lucky with my career, and I had the chance to work with the most talented people of the Fashion industry – such as in my recent assignments with Steven Meisel for Moschino, my campaign for Burberry, being the face of Versace. I feel blessed for having a wonderful team working with me, especially my agent, Ali Kavoussi, who undoubtedly makes the best professional decisions for me.” That is the entourage Irina never forgets. Not even when we question her about the best way of dealing with responsibilities and saying no. “I have a great team of professionals who says no to jobs that are not important for my career. I am very lucky to have the best agents in the world and to trust them entirely.” And then, there is the other side. Despite being known for her private stance, Irina is not shy when it comes to speaking about the women of her life, such as her mother, Olga, her sister, Tatiana, and her grandmother, Galina; and her friends, like Riccardo Tisci or Donatella Versace. “Friendship and family are the basis of my life. I am blessed to have a small group of friends who have known me for years and love me just the way I am. They always support me, and I can share anything with them. They come from different places, live in different countries, have different jobs, but they all have a great sense of humor; they are creative and have strong personalities.”
Vogue had recently seen Irina in the City of Lights, on occasion of the launch of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s new fragrance, Scandal À Paris, which she represents. At the time, tabloids were not yet feasting on her breakup with the actor, as if the world had no other concerns. That night meant the conquest of a double milestone: it was the model’s first time representing a perfume, and it was also her debut with the French creator. “He is one of those men who is not afraid to take a chance, to knock down Fashion barriers. In fact, he creates Fashion; he is not a follower. He was one of the first to bring different personalities, different shapes, and different girls to the runways, and presenting them as models. He was not afraid of being judged, and he made great changes in Fashion and in the history of Fashion.” Besides falling in love with the scent, that combines honey, pear, and jasmine, Shayk was excited with the concept of the perfume’s TV add. “Usually we always find perfect models, the perfect photographer, and the perfect light on the set. Here it was like a movie set, with real characters. There were two twin sisters, a chef, a woman holding lobsters. It was a real moment of our lives, surrounded by cool and charismatic people who really made me feel like a part of that world.” The Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, a friend of Gaultier’s, is one of the stars that gives a genuine and funny touch to this Scandal À Paris – that, by itself, would have been über glamourous and sexy.
That down-to-earth side also interested Irina, because although she appears before the global press wearing a blazer-dress with structured shoulders (Gaultier) and infinite stilettos, that does not mean this is her daily uniform. “Today I am wearing high heels and make-up, but do not look like this when I wake up. I tie my hair in a ponytail, I do not wear make-up, and I wear comfortable clothes. I separate the idea of the perfect image demanded by my job, and I am simply myself when I am not working. This is still me right now, but I know I do not want to walk around looking like this all day long. I like to be comfortable. I have many things to do throughout the day, and I am a mother.” Back to the email: We wanted to know how exactly maternity changed the way you interact with the world. Do you feel more aware of things around you? “Maternity made my life much more exciting and beautiful, and I am very grateful for that.”
Is there a piece of clothing you would never wear? (I imagine her huge translucent eyes rolling impatiently, like any other Capricorn.) “I believe that as a model and as a person who loves challenges and wants to try new things, I would wear any piece of clothing to a photo shoot.” Do you think your style evolved since you began to work as a model? (A yawn, I am sure.) “I do not know how to describe my fashion persona. You should ask someone else, not me. My style evolved throughout my life and my career, and I have changed with myself. I learn something new every day. I travel, I meet new people, and my style changes with me.” Do wrinkles disturb you? “I think women become more beautiful and sophisticated with age. I have wrinkles but I am not afraid of [the] aging [process]. I think every age has its beauty, and I am not afraid to grow old.” And how do you see yourself in ten years? Do you have any secret desire, like creating a brand, investing in a movie, opening a model agency? “I think I am a person who lives in the present. I have plans and dreams, but I would rather not share them because, in Russia, we believe that if we share a dream, it will not come true.” Irina, I know I should not comment your answers, but if I were you, I would not tell anyone too.
Originally published in Vogue Portugal's August issue.
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