In the grounds of an opulent hotel an hour outside Cannes, the guests’ heads are being turned by the sight of a striking, swimsuited figure full of life, radiating energy and working the camera like a pro.
In front of her, photographer Ellen von Unwerth is beaming from ear to ear at the scene developing in front of her. A few feet back, the ES team is collectively doing the same. It is clear that Irina Shayk knows how to bring a very special brand of fun to a fashion shoot.
Interviews, however, are another matter — as becomes quickly apparent when we meet on a hot Friday afternoon, a few weeks later, at a juice bar close to Shayk’s home in Manhattan’s West Village. It has taken a concerted effort to finally pin her down to a meeting, after multiple cancellations and postponements. Her schedule, of course, has plenty to do with this. Last week alone, she flew to Milan and back, then London and back (‘I prefer to do short trips like that, rather than go and stay,’ she notes). But more so, you imagine, it is the fact that she is so intensely private.
The 32-year-old may have clocked up 10 million followers on Instagram, dated the world’s most famous footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, for five years, and now have a one-year-old daughter with her boyfriend, Hollywood A-lister Bradley Cooper. But none of this is up for discussion. Shayk has never spoken about her current or previous partners and, save for the occasional paparazzi shot and a select few red carpet appearances, such as this year’s Met Gala, she and Cooper are rarely seen together. This is not going to change today.
‘That’s why it’s called a personal life, because it’s mine,’ she says, simply but firmly. ‘I am really protective of it. I don’t feel like I have to talk about it or promote it. Outside of my job, I am a normal person, and I want to walk outside of my house like a normal person. I don’t want somebody sticking their nose in my stuff.’ Right then. I consider myself forewarned. At one point later on, I observe that it must be harder to travel for any length of time now that she has a daughter to get home to. ‘It’s true,’ she says, briskly shutting the subject down. Again.
‘I didn’t become a model because I wanted to be famous,’ she continues, in her still-heavy Russian accent. ‘I worked specifically to get the money. And it happened that I had success because I worked really hard.’
Growing up in the Russian town of Yemanzhelinsk, Shayk had never even read a fashion magazine. Before she entered the Miss Chelyabinsk 2004 beauty contest, she harboured no ambitions to model, let alone to become one of the best-known models of her generation, walking the runway for brands from Versace to Victoria’s Secret and gracing the covers of glossy magazines around the globe.
The daughter of a coal miner father, Valery, who died when Shayk was 14, and a classical pianist mother, Olga, who, unable to find a job in the small mining town, worked as a primary school music teacher, her upbringing was poor but cultured. ‘We took the bus to go to the theatre and opera and ballet,’ she recalls. ‘I went to music school for seven years but I hated it. I was pleased when my older sister broke my finger by mistake and I couldn’t take my piano exams.’
Ironically, given her lack of enthusiasm for engaging with the press, as a teenager Shayk wanted to become a journalist. ‘My favourite subject at school was literature. I was really good at writing and telling stories. My teacher was always putting up my work as an example to the older kids,’ she says. However, she ended up studying marketing at college and, for fun, joined her sister in enrolling part-time at a beauty school. Next door was a modelling agency, where the management spotted Shayk’s potential and encouraged her to enter the local contest. She walked it, was soon signed up to an agency and, aged 20, was on a plane to Paris.
‘I had no idea what modelling would be like,’ she says. ‘All I was thinking about was that I could maybe get some catalogue work and help my family. I didn’t speak any English.’ Today, after 11 years in New York, her English is still charmingly idiosyncratic. ‘In Paris, I was living in [a] small model apartment with other girls. We had €40 pocket money a week. On Sundays we would all share rice, because we had no money left. And on Monday morning we would jump on the subway with our €1 we had left to get to the agency and get our pocket money for the next week. It was a hard time, but a fun time.
I am not sure I entirely believe this last platitude; her early days in Paris don’t sound a great deal of fun. ‘The other girls were making fun of me, saying, “She doesn’t look like a model,” she says. ‘They were super-skinny and doing all runway shows. Every time I would go for castings, they would never hire me because I wouldn’t fit small clothes. I had darker skin and I was more on the sexy side — I had boobs. Now, when I go back to Paris, the driver picks me up and I am staying in a really nice hotel,’ she sighs. ‘Being there before, with no money, really gave me this understanding that nothing comes easy, and you appreciate things even more.’
Her own daughter is enjoying a very different upbringing in the West Village than her own in rural Russia. How will she ensure she instills in her those values of hard work and appreciation?
‘Of course, I am not going to send her back to the village, but you can grow up in rich families, in poor families, in medium-class families and have good values. It’s all about what you are taught,’ she says. ‘My mum and my grandma [who worked in intelligence for Russia’s Red Army] kept us grounded, and taught us manners and respect for older people. I am definitely going to pass that on to my daughter.’
What sort of mother is she? I ask. ‘I don’t really want to talk about it,’ she deflects. Is she strict? ‘Yes, I am Russian, so I am very strict,’ she assures me. ‘And I am Capricorn, too, so I am super strict.’
But is she enjoying family life, I ask, attempting to extract any small detail of her home life and relationship. ‘Of course!’ she exclaims. ‘Family is really important, especially with everything that is going on in the world.’
Even today, with her hair tied up in a messy bun and without make-up, Shayk is outrageously attractive, with olive skin and enormous bee-stung lips. Under her long-sleeved shirt dress is the body that has sizzled on the cover of Sports Illustrated, walked in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and helped flog hundreds of thousands of sets of bras and pants for lingerie brands Intimissimi and La Perla.
Over the past year or two, however, the tide has turned somewhat against the overt, highly commercialised objectification employed by some brands. Is she still comfortable, I ask, being ‘more on the sexy side’?
‘Oh my God, yes, yes!’ she insists. ‘We live in the 21st century and women have to express their sexuality, and they should not be ashamed of their bodies. I never do topless — that’s just my decision,’ she continues. ‘But if someone asks me to do a job and there is some nudity, and I love the project, I say yes. I think it’s art. It is art.’
The often blurry line between ‘art’ and exploitation has been one that has come under scrutiny over the past year too, sparked by the #MeToo movement. Fashion has had its own reckoning, with many models finally speaking out after years of abusive treatment. Shayk, however, is not someone who would ever have tolerated being told what to do. ‘I never let any agency tell me, “Oh, you need to lose weight” — and some of them did say that. Or they wanted to cut my hair. But I never did it, because I always knew who I was. I think people felt my energy. Maybe it’s because I am Russian,’ she laughs.
Certainly, Shayk does not appear to be afraid of speaking her mind or standing her ground. She attests that social media is now a huge aspect of her industry, with models’ accounts as crucial to a brand’s marketing as a glossy campaign ad. ‘Sometimes if I don’t feel like doing it, then I won’t do it,’ she says of posting on Instagram. ‘I don’t have to do anything that I don’t want to.’
And woe betide the person who lazily scrolls in her presence. ‘Every time I am going to dinner with my friends, I always say,
“You guys better stay off your phones, otherwise I am not coming.” It’s really important to be present in life.’
In spite of an impressive physique, she apparently loves eating and isn’t even that into exercising. ‘I tried a juice diet once. After six hours I wanted to kill somebody and eat them,’ she says. ‘But eating is how I motivate myself to go to the gym. I do the Pilates machine because I call it a lazy workout — you just lie there. And I walk a lot. I hate cardio but I do it because I know I’m going to feel good afterwards.’
Frankly though, she’d rather be at home watching Russian television. ‘I have three Russian channels in my apartment — I love Russian TV.’ And she’s a regular at New York’s historic Russian Baths. ‘I am always very proud to say I am from Russia,’ she adds.
Is she still ambitious? I ask. ‘Of course. I never stop working for what I want to achieve,’ she replies, sternly. She won’t, however, be revealing those ambitions to me. ‘In Russia, we say: “Never open your dreams, because then they won’t come true.
Photographs by Ellen Von Unwerth
Styled by Jenny Kennedy
Irina Shayk courtesy of The Lions Model Management
Prop stylist: Nicola Bell
Hair by Peter Lux at The Wall Group using L’Oréal Professionnel
Make-up by Georgi Sandev at The Wall Group
Source : https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/esmagazine/irina-shayk-interview-2018-a3883551.html3218