Best known as the face of countless covers and ad campaigns, this mother of three has also devoted her life to a cause dear to her heart. Vodianova talks to D’NA about giving back to her native Russia and her first trip to the Middle East.
Why did you decide to establish a foundation?
I’ve been very fortunate in my life and career, and I wanted to make a positive contribution to my country. I founded the Naked Heart Foundation five years ago to give underprivileged children in Russia the gift of play. The idea came to me after the Beslan school siege in 2004.
The Naked Heart Foundation believes that playing is a necessity, not a luxury, and that every child should have a secure environment in which to play. To date the foundation has built 54 playgrounds in 38 Russian cities, including facilities in orphanages, rehabilitation centers and children’s hospitals. The need for such facilities in Russia is enormous, where more than 25% of the population has salaries below subsistence level. Furthermore, the authorities don’t provide play facilities in a country where the poorest are typically families with children.
Any future plans for the Naked Heart Foundation?
This year we’re launching a new program called “Every Child Deserves to have a Family,” providing essential support to families of children with special needs. This is a cause that’s particularly close to my heart. My sister Oksana has cerebral palsy, and I’ve experienced firsthand how little support there is for children with special needs in my country. Without support many of these kids are often abandoned in state institutions where they languish.
How do you generate funds for the foundation?
Our main fundraiser is the annual Love Ball. The first one was held in Moscow in 2008, and raised $5 million. It was the most successful charitable fundraiser in the history of Russian philanthropy.
This year’s fundraiser, The White Fairy Love Ball, was our most spectacular to date. It was held on July 6th at the couturier Valentino Garavani’s Chateau de Wideville in Paris and offered a rare opportunity to visit his archives. The gala dinner brought together some 450 friends of the foundation, including international celebrities from the worlds of fashion, business, film and art.
The highlight of the evening was a fashion show featuring more than 40 custom-designed dresses created by the world’s top designers, which were auctioned that same evening, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting the Naked Heart Foundation.
Have you ever visited the Middle East?
My first trip to the Middle East was last November, when the Naked Heart Foundation was invited to be a beneficiary of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Ball. That particular visit left a big impression on me. It was almost like landing on another planet, with Yas Island’s fantastical architecture and its multi-cultural inhabitants. Unfortunately it was a very short trip, and there was so much of the culture and country I still wanted to explore. I hope to visit again someday.