Getting shot for the annual Pirelli calendar is considered a great coup in a model’s career. Natalia Vodianova, who turns 34 this month, clocks her fifth appearance in the calendar this year—but this time, it’s Vodianova’s brains that got her the booking, not her (admittedly amazing) looks. Photographer Annie Leibovitz hand-picked thirteen women who inspire her—Patti Smith, Amy Schumer and Serena Williams, among them—and Natalia earned her spot in the lineup thanks to her many meaningful philanthropic endeavors. The one she’s best known for, undoubtedly, is her Naked Heart Foundation, which supports disadvantaged children all over Russia. And the most famed of all the Naked Heart Foundation fundraisers was, undoubtedly, the Love Ball held at Mr. Valentino’s Chateau de Wideville in 2011.
Co-hosted by Anne Hathaway and featuring a VIP guest list all clad in white and silver—with the exception of Natalia, who wore a Valentino couture confection in the maison’s signature lipstick red—the 2011 Love Ball at Wideville will go down as one of the chicest parties of all time. Think, Truman Capote’s Black & White Ball, but for a very good cause. Mr. Valentino was more than happy to loan his chateau to the Foundation for the evening—after all, Natalia numbers among his closest friends. She’s been a member of the informal Valentino clan since she made her debut on the Valentino catwalk opening the show for Fall 2002. She opened the show again six years later, as Mr. Valentino sent his final collection down the runway for Spring 2008 Haute Couture. And she was on Mr. Valentino’s arm when The Last Emperor debuted at the Venice Film Festival, and she’s sat beside him in the front row to take in Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Valentino shows.
Natalia Vodianova has packed several lifetimes’ worth of experiences into the 34 years she celebrates on February 28th. She grew up poor, in Gorky, in the former Soviet Union—famously, she sold fruit by the side of the road before decamping to Paris at 17 to launch her modeling career. She catapulted to the tippety-top of the modeling stratosphere, earning herself the nickname “Supernova” in the process, and she’s stayed there; her longevity as a bankable face is comparable to that of Gisele. She’s acted in a few movies, given birth to four kids, and launched a foundation that’s active in supporting children all over Russia. Now Natalia is going digital: In 2015, she teamed up with tech impresario Eugenia Makhlin to create the Elbi app, which allows people to donate to charitable causes with the touch of a button. No wonder Annie Leibovitz made her Pirelli’s Ms. January.