NEW YORK — It’s after lunch in Natalia Vodianova’s TriBeCa loft and she, her husband Justin Portman and their three-year-old son Lucas are doing a tasting with caterers. They are planning Wednesday evening’s benefit “To Russia With Love,” the first event for the Russian model’s new charity, the Naked Heart Foundation. As Portman tries a miniature ice cream ball and Vodianova thumbs through a Russian cookbook to show the kinds of hors d’oeuvres she’d like to be passed, Lucas picks the caviar off of several melba toasts before stuffing the fish eggs into his mouth.
“He loves caviar,” says Vodianova, laughing.
The scene is a far cry from Vodianova’s youth in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and her charity’s focus is to make her homeland a better place for children. The goal is to bring prefabricated playhouses (each including jungle gyms, a doll house, a slide and a ball pit) to the country. The houses cost between $150,000 and $200,000 each and will feature a cafe in the hopes that they will ultimately become self-sufficient. The first, she hopes, will go up in Beslan, the site of the school tragedy in September. (Song Airlines, which is sponsoring Wednesday’s event, will also be putting a prefab playground up in its JFK terminal.)
“In Russia, children become adults so quickly,” Vodianova explains. “There are no child-friendly, colorful places except McDonald’s. It’s all grayness and misery. There’s not even a place where you can go for ice cream.”
The charity event will transform Diane von Furstenberg’s studio into a Russian winterland. “I see it like the Snow Queen story, with splashes of red,” Vodianova says. There will be “real Russian vodka” (“In fact, I would like one right now.”), borscht, chicken kiev, blinis and caviar. “All my friends are flying half a kilo from Russia,” she boasts.
She has used her supermodel connections to pull in fabulous auction items for the event: Helena Christensen cooking you dinner; Bruce Weber doing your family portrait; one of the Annie Leibovitz photos from Vodianova’s “Alice in Wonderland” series from Vogue last December; an Irving Penn print from 1971. The pièce de résistance might be considered the night out, for you and a friend, with Vodianova and her fellow models Jacquetta Wheeler, Daria and Liya Kebede. It could involve dinner at Spice Market (“where they can be seen,” she says) and “if we like them, maybe we’ll take them dancing at Hiro.”
This story first appeared in the December 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
How much does she think that will go for? “Expensive, I hope,” Vodianova chuckles. “Normally I don’t wake up for less than…well, you know that joke.”
She made the rounds all last week (from the Neue Galerie to the Met) in the hopes of sparking interest for her event. “We need lots of heavy hitters,” she says. “Do you know any?”