From living off €40 a week to becoming one of the world’s leading models, Irina Shayk could teach a degree in determination. Now, as she unveils her latest designs for The Kooples, Irina Shayk talks sexiness, motherhood and refusing to bow to convention with GLAMOUR’s Josh Smith.
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“In this modern world, in the 21st century, I really believe that if you have a baby, it doesn’t mean that you have to wear a longer dress,” Irina Shayk says in her thick Russian accent, as she gestures at the skintight <micro> minidress by The Kooples, which she’s wearing for GLAMOUR’s cover shoot.
We are discussing in a candid fashion whether, after giving birth to her one-year-old daughter (with Bradley Cooper, who she started dating in 2015) Lea de Seine Shayk Cooper in 2017, she has ever felt a pressure to dial down her trademark sexy style.
“One of my friends said, ‘Oh, you just posted a sexy picture. You’re a mum now!’ And I just said, ‘So what!’
“I think it’s really about who you are, who you wanna be and I really feel you just have to stick to your thing. I don’t believe anyone should have to change just because you’re a mother! No, I’m still me!”
That ‘me’ just happens to be one of the highest-paid supermodels in the world, armed with contracts ranging from The Kooples to Burberry and 11.4million Instagram followers - with whom she shares images of herself aboard private jets with Donatella Versace and the occasional candid lingerieshot.
However, except for a few token red-carpet appearances together, Irina’s immediate family are strictly off limits in interviews, and she rarely speaks about her current relationship. But why should a successful woman in her own right be defined by her relationships or position at home? “I have a lot of friends who share a lot of their personal life on Instagram or social media, very publicly. I admire it and I think it’s great – but I think it’s all about personal choice. Because my work requires me to be out there, I just decided my personal life will be quiet. That’s why it’s called personal, because it’s something for you and your family, and I feel happy with it.”
One thing she will candidly talk about, though, is her frustration with the 'size zero obsession' and her relationship with her body and food – although she refreshingly admits, “I’ve been very lucky.”
“I love to eat, and I don’t believe in diets. I’m lucky with my genes. I never had a problem getting too skinny or too big. I never fit size zero and when people try to squeeze me into sample size, I have said, ‘I’m sorry guys, I have my assets – like, I cannot be in this!’ I think that the designers who I work with really celebrate and appreciate a woman’s body. I have a curvy body and people want to use me in their shows, and for their brands, knowing I’m not a skinny girl.”
Whilst Irina never fails to radiate a warmth akin to a hearty Russian stew, it’s abundantly clear is that Irina has little room for unwanted opinions. “I have had agencies who have told me I have to lose weight. But I just stick to myself, my personality and my decisions – I’m a human being as well as a model. I love to eat, I love to enjoy my life and when I’m off duty, I’m not wearing high heels or makeup and trying to fit into a size zero dress. I’m just regular person,” she shrugs. “I think it’s really important to carry that through your work and personal life. You have to think about who YOU really are and what you want.”
While ‘regular’ for Irina might be those private jets and a $13.5million New York townhouse, for all her glamorous façade she is still the woman who confessed to me, when we first met two years ago, that there’s nothing she loves more than chicken nuggets and barbecue sauce. And even when travelling the world, as she does constantly at breakneck speed from her home in New York City(Irina has lived there now for 11 years), her diva demands stop at a packed lunch. “I love to travel with food – I don’t like plane food, so I always pack a snack, like a salmon sandwich!”
There is an effortless self-assurance that Irina emanates during our chat, but it hasn’t always come easily. “I wasn’t that confident. As a teenager you feel ugly, but it’s a learning process. I think every human being should go through it to really find who they are. In any case, it’s good because you really discover your personality, you really discover what you want. Even if sometimes you’re surrounded by people who try to put you down and say you cannot do it, I think that’s good, too, because maybe you want to show them you can do it. I think things come to your life for a reason and it’s always a good reason at the end of the day.”
Her life today is a far cry from her childhood. Irina grew up in the Russian town of Yemanzhelinsk, the daughter of a coal miner, Valery (who died when she was just 14 years old) and Olga, a pianist turned primary school teacher. And she had never even read a fashion magazine before she entered a beauty contest, aged 20, on a whim, in 2004. She won it, and promptly picked up her first modeling contract. Not long after that, she moved to Paris to try and make it. At first the money was pitiful, living off only €40 a week.
However, Irina speaks fondly – almost whimsically – about her past, “I’m a person who has no plans. I grew up in a really small village, my mother is a pianist, my father was a coal miner, so I never thought I was even going to <be> in Paris to have €40 – and €40 was a lot of money for my country. My mum was making $10 a month as a pianist!”
“I was just literally so happy to be in Paris, to have this opportunity. I had plans to just work and hope that I was going to get some money to help my family. But I never planned, ‘Oh, I’m going to be in New York and going to have this and this.’ Of course, you hope you’re going to make it, but I think I’m not a ‘dream’ girl. I think I’m a girl who’s like, ‘OK, I need to do this, and I need to do this!’ It’s not lost on her that today’s shoot is back in Paris, but this time at the Hôtel de Crillon – one of Paris’s most expensive hotels.
Her rise from rural Russia to the runways of Versace and Victoria’s Secret is astounding, especially given that the early years of her career occurred in a world sans social media. “I remember going to castings with just a subway map to show my book. Now it’s a social media world, clients look at your Instagram and they’re like, ‘Oh, she has this following!’ Back then it was no Instagram, barely , I think there was Myspace. It was a fun time, I loved it.” Now as a bonafide supermodel, she jokes to me that, “The only thing I collect is money.”
In terms of her work life, Irina says she’s drawn to brands that replicate a close-knit family because, “they make you feel like you are home”. Hence why Irina has chosen one of the three brothers behind The Kooples brand - which she now fronts - Raphaël Elichato to photograph her GLAMOUR cover.
Having a sisterhood of supermodels is something Irina prides herself on, too. “I’m from Russia and in Russia, family is one of the most important things. I grew up with my sister and grandmas, so I think it’s something that was in me from when I was a child.”
How Irina landed in The Kooples campaign is an example of sisterhood in action: “Stella Maxwell (who also stars in the campaign) said, ‘Oh, my friend Irina would be perfect,’ so that’s how I was brought into The Kooples. I think it’s really special!” Her Kooples family have since given her “room to extend and try something different,” by allowing Irina to use her designer pencils to create her own range of bags, which Irina proudly parades around her Paris hotel suite.
Away from the shoots and glad rags, Irina prefers to live a low-key life. “Irina off-duty is a scary horror movie,” Irina leans in laughing. “It’s sweatpants, hair bun, no makeup – I literally never wear makeup. I kind of hate to wear it, because for work I have to wear a lot. I just stay in bed, watching Russian TV – I have three Russian channels in New York and I really love to keep up with my Russian soap operas!” EastEnders quite clearly can’t compete with that level of drama.
And while she’s obviously still passionate about her work, it’s clear her home life comes first. Wearing a delicate gold necklace spelling her daughter’s name, you can see Irina is a very proud mother – and she has an inspirational story worthy of any child’s bedtime story. Her focus is on the message she wants to pass on to her daughter and the next generation of women: “I think in this social media world, we are always after the perfect picture. I think as a teenager, you always want to be perfect – we always want to succeed – so I think it’s just very important to be grounded; be yourself. Never change yourself just to ‘be someone’ and you will feel comfortable in your own skin.”
Irina Shayk is exactly that – inspiringly comfortable in her own skin and she certainly isn’t a regular mom, she’s a cool mom. Mean Girls would approve.