This story first appeared in the August 12, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Measurements: 31, 23, 33
Agency: Women Management
Hometown: Bukhara, Uzbekistan
How did a beautiful girl living in the spectacularly tiny Russian village of Tatarstan — where she went to school with the same seven students for 11 years — become one of the faces of Dolce & Gabbana and Victoria’s Secret? It was a case of being in the right place (a supermarket in the city of Kazan) at the right time (during a casting for the Miss Tatarstan beauty pageant.) With no prior modeling experience whatsoever, then-18-year-old Sharipova won the title of Miss Tatarstan and became the first runner-up in the Miss Russia competition. (And those good looks run in the family; her mother, Elena, previously won the title of Miss Bukhara.) Now 23 and living in New York, Sharipova has become an established face, gracing the pages of Vogue Italia and the runways of Chanel couture, Marc Jacobs and Givenchy.
WWD: Tell me about your childhood.
Irina Sharipova: I’m originally from Uzbekistan. It’s a very beautiful republic; small with a beautiful culture. If you Google a picture of Uzbekistan, [and particularly] the city of Bukhara, it’s amazing; it’s a really old culture. When I was seven, I moved with my grandmom to Tatarstan, a different republic. I still had a Russian passport, but we had our own president there. I can speak a little bit of Tatar — but just a little. My first language is Russian.
WWD: What’s your family like?
I.S.: My family is not big. I grew up with my grandma and grandpa. My mom still lives in Uzbekistan; I met her for the last time about six years ago. But my grandma, she’s super young — she is 57 years old. You know, back then, people gave birth so early, which is amazing because my grandma, she can understand me… She follows all the new innovations. She’s super proud of me.
WWD: Growing up, did you ever have any intentions of becoming a model?
I.S.: Nobody had any idea about modeling [where I was from]. I’d always see boys looking at me, but you know how it goes in school. It’s funny, because I grew up in a little village — this super Russian village. My class was about seven people and we studied for 11 years with the same seven people. Then I started studying at university, in the city of Kazan, for fashion design. One day I went to the supermarket and there was a casting for Miss Tatarstan. I had no plans [to enter]. They told me, “Honey, just try.” And I won.
WWD: After that, did you sign a modeling contract?
I.S.: It happened at Miss Russia; a woman there was scouting. She asked me, “Do you want to try to work as a model?” Contests and modeling were absolutely different worlds. I had no idea how it worked; I had no idea that modeling was a real business that people could make money from. After a year, I said, “Okay, I’ll just try.”
WWD: How did your career take off from there?
I.S.: I went to the Milan airport, I saw this beautiful girl Bianca Balti in these Dolce & Gabbana ads, and I thought to myself, “Why am I not on there?” When I came for the first time to the Women [Management] office, I met with the agent and I said, “Honey, I need three things in my life.” I said, “I wanna get Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana and Victoria’s Secret.” These were just things I found on Google. And I got all of them. My first big, huge job was Dolce & Gabbana. I opened the show, then I did the campaign. It’s a family there. They love sexy, confident women.
WWD: Since you’re a bit more seasoned now, do you still enjoy walking the runways?
I.S.: I love walking. I always feel superamazing. I feel like a butterfly. But it depends on the show. Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren — it’s more classic and elegant. Givenchy and Marc Jacobs — it’s more about being a cool girl. Every designer is so unique, and you have to understand what they want. The travel can be really stressful. You have no time to eat and sleep. But I still love it.
WWD: How did you feel when you found out you were cast in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in London last December?
I.S.: You can’t not be nervous. You’re always nervous if it’s something big. It is totally different from walking traditional runways. All of my training from participating in contests came back: I was shaking my hips, smiling. I have no idea if I will get the chance to do it again; as American people say, “you never know.”
WWD: What’s one of your funniest modeling memories?
I.S.: The first job I got in Paris was for Lancôme lipstick; it was a TV commercial. I had no idea how to speak; I had never spoken English, and I only knew how to say hello. The French people asked me, “Can you sing something? We want to see your lips move.” So I started singing a Russian song, which moms sing to children.
WWD: What do you like to do for fun in New York?
I.S.: I really love watching Russian TV in my home. I also have two cats. I take care of them; they ask me for too much attention. They’re really wild cats: a Savannah cat and a domestic Asian leopard cat. I also love seeing my friends. But because you’re always traveling, you cannot find friends who are here at the same time as you. I don’t have a lot of model friends; everyone is always working and busy. All of my friends are in Russia.
WWD: Do you think Instagram helps to boost your career?
I.S.: I’m not sure, but I think it’s nice that my parents and friends can follow me and see what’s going on in my life. For those young ladies who want to work as a model, they always send me messages. When I was young, I always looked at Google and said, “I want to be like her.” I always looked up to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, an Indian model. She’s amazing, really beautiful. And Natasha Poly; she’s sexy and also a high-fashion girl.
WWD: What are some of your goals?
I.S.: In modeling, I really want to concentrate on getting a fragrance campaign. When you go to the airport and you see your picture on the billboard, it’s amazing. Thanks to my parents, I still look fresh and young, and I need to get this as soon as possible. Swimwear [campaigns], too, because I love sun and the beach. In life, I want to start a family and to be relaxed. Life can be so dramatic, and you have to find your person and build your family. I want maybe three or four children eventually. This is my goal.
WWD: What advice would you give to a young model just starting out?
I.S.: I would say, “Do not start at such a young age.” Find your love. Maybe something will change. But if you decide to model, then start at 20 or 21. You will understand what you want from the business. You can start to make money to build your career and save for your future.