The Tale of Natalia Vodianova
It is not often that a brief conversation - and one inspired by baby food at that - stays with you and changes how you think about parenting, but such was my interview with Natalia Vodianova – supermodel, philanthropist, tech-preneur and mother of five.

Nicknamed Supernova for her tireless worth ethic, the face of Calvin Klein and Guerlain is one of the world's most successful supermodels with nearly 100 Vogue covers and counting.

We meet to talk about Little Tummy, the new cold-pressed organic baby food that she is backing, and she explains both motherhood and her career are approached with the same attitude.


"I have an internal setting," she says. "Where I am tired at work I put on a brave face and make the effort, and I do the same at home. My children deserve no less. Yes I come back and I want to hide, have an hour with my book in bed, disconnect or meditate. But I choose to be there with the same readiness. It means a lot of personal sacrifices – personal space, personal time, things you want to do, but that is what I choose. I chose to be a mum and I chose to work and because of my choices something has to give. I know I will have time later when my children are grown up but I will feel like I have given them everything."

If her status in modelling is big, in philanthropist circles she is a colossus.

Born in the then-Soviet city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) she cared for her disabled younger sister, Oksana, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and sold fruit with her mother aged just 11 – "It was very hard you can be sure – very hard" – she says.

Early modelling success brought with it an unwavering desire to give back, and at 22 she launched the Naked Heart Foundation, which, since its inception has helped more than 10,000 families with children with mental, sensory and physical disabilities, while thousands more have benefitted from the playgrounds built in around 150 Russia towns.
"As soon as I became successful it was clear to me that I left millions of people behind and still many people lived in difficult life situations," says Natalia. "For me it has always been like that, giving back is what drives me forward, it is what drives me to get up in the morning."

She lives in a beautiful apartment in Paris with her partner Antoine Arnault and five children – Lucas, 17, Neva, 13, Viktor, 11 by her first husband Portman – and Maxim, five, and Roman, three, with Arnault.

But work is an important part of who she is.

The serial tech-preneur launched ELBI, a philanthropy platform which monetises social media for charity, and recently became the first female board member at Flo, a women's health tracking app, which has since become the world's largest female community online.

"For me work is really important – to feel self-fulfillment and to be inspired and to meet great people, to realise my ideas and dreams," she says.

"But I also think that is a good lesson for my daughter and my sons."

Her latest venture is as an angel investor and mentor of Little Tummy, the baby meal service delivering dishes like chickpea, kale and cauliflower, and red lentil, mango and sweet potato, to busy weaning mothers in the UK.

Developed by Nadine Hellman and paediatrician Dr Sophie Niedermaier-Patramani the dishes are cold-pressed to ensure freshness, taste and important nutrients as an alternative to traditional, on-the-go heat-processed baby food.

We asked her about being a teenage mum, what lesson she hopes to teach her children and where life might take her next.



What inspires you to invest in the brands you work with?

The impact is really important or the potential for impact. The founders, of course, what it brings and if I can make a difference to the company and if together we can make a difference.

How were you introduced to the founders of Little Tummy?

Nadine sent me a proposal for investment and I actually got really excited. Usually, I invest in tech. As a mother of five, I had been looking into the baby food space myself for a while. I didn't understand how we could feed babies all these very heavily preserved and processed baby foods – you could taste that it tastes like plastic with sugar. I never gave it to my children except if it was an emergency and we were on an aeroplane. But I always found it interesting that there weren't more healthy and nutrition-first baby food brands. I looked at starting something. I was also thinking of busy mums who don't have time to cook but also who want their babies to be getting all the nutrients, tastes and colours. I looked at the frozen food space for a long time and something I wanted to do, especially in Russia where nutrition is still quite a difficult topic – the awareness is growing slowly. But there is a big stigma towards frozen food and it can be super risky. I was looking around and saw Little Tummy and I thought how incredible, how exciting, how perfect. Here is a product, it's not frozen, it has a shorter shelf life but all the nutrients. The presentation really struck me as someone being created out of passion. And now, of course, Sophie is now pregnant and waiting for her first baby – her number one tester.

How did you find weaning your children? 

I raised my two little sisters so I knew what to do. I have always put a lot of importance on trying different things, creating diversity in vegetables and different tastes. I remember Maxim when he was trying celery puree for the first time. He was four months old and his little face, his nose… It is so important to give them this experience. I'm not saying he loves celery now but he eats really well. [My children] are very open to different flavours.

What are meal times like in your home?

The elder ones eat later and little ones eat early so it is not altogether. My youngest are five and three they eat proper meals. It's so important to introduce your babies to different tastes. My children are all very adventurous with food in different ways. They have things they don't like and I'm not going to force them, but they all like vegetables, liver and different things that are really adventurous for children.

Is food an important part of your life? Is it one of your passions?

Yes! We all love food. We always joke my eldest son would probably kill for food [laughs]. He is very defensive over his meals – his plate is his kingdom – nobody is allowed to touch it although he is getting a little better. If there is not enough, he is like 'oh my goodness is there no more?' [laughs]. He is a very big boy, he is 195cm so he needs a lot of food.

And are you the same?

I share but if I am hungry it is better not to cross my way. I get hangry! I am a very hangry person [laughs].

How did you view food as a child?

Food, it was really a luxury, meat and of course sweet treats, it was a great luxury.

Can you remember being hungry?

Too many times. We came from a very poor family. When I was 11 I started working in a fruit stand helping my mother but I was at school as well.

What was it like?

It was very hard you can be sure – very hard.

What experiences have you had that you would like your children to have and learn from?

I believe that hard work and the ability to work hard is the toughest lesson to teach someone unless you were forced to do that. So I am focusing a lot on that. Encouraging my children to work hard. They are good, they are quite perseverant.

How do you teach that?

By example. When they see their parents living this life it is easier to encourage them to work hard as well.

How hard do you work? Do you work in the evening?

Yes and more. I travel every week. It is quite hard. I am up at 7am – not crazy early – I go to bed at 12. I need my sleep as well.

Do you ever suffer from mum guilt?

It can be difficult with little children emotionally but I am always there for weekends.

Is there a finish line? What is your one goal in life?

I feel like it is when I am going to hit 50. I will see where I am, make some really important decisions. Hopefully I will have more space in my life as my children will be grown up. I look at that point of my life – I will still be very young, have five children hopefully doing really well and still have a lot going on, but from then on, I will be refocusing on me and doing more things for me. I feel at some point I will need to think about myself more than I do now.

What will you do? Will you travel?

I travel a lot but I don't travel for my own pleasure or for myself. I usually spend all my days inside buildings meeting people. There are definitely places I want to discover and experience.

Are there any skills you want to acquire?

It is not about skills really – more experiences. It's just even more slowing down because I have never slowed down. I started working really young and I have never really stopped.

You are known more now for your philanthropic endeavours than for your modeling career – has that always been your intention?

Absolutely yes.

What has been your proudest achievement? Is it all the playgrounds The Naked Heart Foundation has made for children in Russia?

There are lots of things I am proud of. The playgrounds are great, I cannot underestimate them because they bring joy to children every day, but what we do for children with special needs is much, much more. We have helped more than 10,000 families.

Do you go to meet them?

Of course, I meet them very often. There are a lot of tears. It is so rewarding.

And finally, what does fashion mean to you? Is it purely aesthetic or is its impact more multi-faceted?

It is an incredible platform, without this industry and all the support from all of my collaborators, photographers, designers, fashion brands none of this would be possible. I am so extremely grateful that this industry has allowed me to live the life that I have lived. It has been incredible. The level of creativity that I have experienced as well, the people I have worked with are so inspiring. I appreciate the commitment of those individuals into this industry although I have committed myself elsewhere. Those people like Grace Coddington, seeing the way she gives absolutely everything and the last of herself to a fashion shoot, it is just fascinating and incredibly inspiring to dedicate that much attention to whatever you are passionate about in order to succeed. And all of that with so much humbleness – the greatest people in this industry are so humble. Yes we celebrate them but they are amazingly inspiring. Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Paolo Roversi and so many editors. In a way, we know that because we are the industry, but the level of creativity attention and commitment is unbelievable.

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Smoosh Founder Mim Gascoigne
Do you cleanse your face properly?

For so many of us, the answer is probably no (and it doesn't help when you have a small child at your feet trying to get your attention). Which is why we like to keep our skincare regime simple and effective, and also why we opt for oil-based skincare.


Enter Smoosh, a fuss-free, natural skincare range based on the hydrating power of oils, created by Sydney mum of three and teacher Mim Gascoigne.

"Cleansing is such an important step in your routine. If the cleansing step is too harsh and dries out the skin, you are a few steps back and you've only just stepped onto the starting block," she says, referring to that feeling of dryness that can come after cleansing if you've stripped all the hydration out of your skin. She set about solving that skincare dilemma. Smoosh's Silky Cleansing Oil, contains six organic and natural plant oils, including camellia, peach, jojoba, watermelon and passionfruit and leaves your skin feeling soft, supple and hydrated (the opposite to the aforementioned dry, tight state).

Next in the Smoosh skincare regime is a serum, and there are three in the range, so there's something for all skin types. "Pregnancy, menopause, hormonal changes, illness, travelling, seasonal changes, stress, shaving (men love our Soothing Balance oil serum) are just some of the things that can change how skin is behaving and its specific needs," she says. "I wanted to offer three multifaceted organic and natural face oil serums, free from fragrance and essential oils, that would offer nourishment and visible results to skin during the different phases life throws our way." As for what serum actually does (i.e. how it'll help us glow), she explains that a serum is that extra step after you cleanse and before you moisturise, that will deliver a concentrated dose of vitamins, antioxidants and/or actives to your skincare routine. If your skin still feels dry after you apply serum, Mim advises you to keep your skin damp when you apply: "our oil serums absorb quickest when skin is damp. after cleansing or misting is a great time to smoosh. Three to four drops massaged into damp skin should leave skin supple, bouncy and moisturised never greasy."

Her passion for plant-based skincare products came from her mother, who is a GP and studied naturopathy. "She has a real passion for research so was great at teaching me, from a very young age, all about plants, their great benefits as well as their contraindications," says Mim. And as for the name Smoosh, it was inspired by the feeling you get when you see chubby baby thighs. "You really want to 'smoosh' them," says Mim. "Whatever age you are, healthy skin has that beautiful glow and softness that brings about the desire to touch and smoosh it."

Here we talk to Mim about how she got her business off the ground (and the ups and downs of that journey), the key ingredients in her products and why your skin will love them, practical time management tips for the working mother, and most importantly, how to Smoosh.

Go to www.smooshskin.com

Smoosh Silky Cleansing Oil

Smoosh Silky Cleansing Oil

www.smooshskin.com

Smoosh skincare

Smoosh skincare

www.smooshskin.com

Smoosh Nourish oil serumSmooth Soothing Balance oil serumSmoosh Radiance oil serum

Smoosh's range of serums

www.smooshskin.com

There are so many cleansers in the market, why did you decide to launch an oil cleanser and what are the benefits of oil cleansers?

So many cleansers, yet I still felt like I hadn't found my perfect one. Personally, having such sensitive skin I really wanted to create an oil cleansing blend that was free from essential oils and fragrance, yet was also light and silky enough for all skin types. A cleanser that is gentle yet thorough is crucial. This is where an oil cleanser shines, it has the ability to cleanse away the most stubborn makeup and sunscreen yet leave your skin soft, hydrated and your skin barrier healthy and intact. I also had customers asking for me to create one.

What skin types would this product suit? For example, should oilier skins steer clear?

All skin types can benefit from our Silky Cleansing Oil, each plant oil in the blend has been thoughtfully chosen to provide just the right amount of slip for a beautifully smooth massage and cleansing ritual, without overloading the skin. Once massaged in and gently removed with lukewarm water and a soft cloth, your skin will be perfectly cleansed, super smooth, nourished and glowing. No greasy oil slick in sight.

Smoosh has three different serums. Firstly, what role does serum play in our skincare?

A serum is that little step that will deliver a concentrated dose of vitamins, antioxidants and/or actives to your skincare routine. Our oil serums can be used alone or added to your moisturiser. Luxurious, potent and brimming with goodness each of the three oil serums is loaded with omega fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants to help nurture and bring about healthy and glowing skin.

What is the difference between the three serums you offer - and how did you settle on three?

I settled on three, as I feel within the trilogy, all skin types can find a a blend to support them. Whatever skin season they are having. Pregnancy, menopause, hormonal changes, illness, travelling, seasonal changes, stress, shaving (men love our Soothing Balance oil serum) are just some of the things that can change how skin is behaving and its specific needs. I wanted to offer three multifaceted organic and natural face oil serums, free from fragrance and essential oils, that would offer nourishment and visible results to skin during the different phases life throws our way.

Radiance oil serum is a nectar-like oil serum, deeply moisturising so wonderful for very dry and/or mature skin. It turns around lack lustre skin really quickly and it's also wonderful in cold windy weather. Soothing Balance oil serum is for all skin types, especially those prone to breakouts, it's silky and light yet still provides beautiful moisture. It's calming on inflammation and brings clarity to confused skin. Nourish oil serum is a satiny, berry packed oil serum, it gives dewy hydration, nourishment and is really rejuvenating for normal to dry skin types. It's a bit like a super berry smoothie in a face oil!

Natural skincare has always been part of your life - tell me how your mother influenced your skincare decisions and how you approach your skincare regime?

My mum is a GP and also studied naturopathy so I was surrounded by tinctures and natural skincare products from a very young age. She has a real passion for research so was great at teaching me, from a very young age, all about plants, their great benefits as well as their contraindications. She was also instrumental in teaching me about the benefits of nutritious healthy food, the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle and how both can impact skin health for the better. She was into bone broth long before it was trendy!

Smoosh skincareSmoosh Nourish oil serumSmoosh Radiance oil serumSmoosh Soothing Balance oil serum

www.smooshskin.com

Smoosh skincareSmoosh Radiance oil serum

Skincare has changed a lot over the years, what are some ingredients or products which have stood the test of time?

I think face oils have been around for a long time but have definitely become more mainstream which is great as I think they are really transformative. Oil and balm cleansers have been used by actors and stage performers for decades to remove heaving makeup so their credentials are pretty good too. Weleda Skin food is a great classic as is Dr Haushka Rose Cream. Lanolin is another ingredient that has stood the test of time, Lanolips 101 ointment, is such a great formula. Glycerin is a bit of an underrated ingredient, it's been around for ages and is so healing for dry skin. It seems to be having a bit of a resurgence though!

The term "clean beauty" is very trendy - how would you define clean beauty?

As there is no official definition for the term, I feel the term can sometimes be confusing. One brand's clean list can vary from another. I would say Smoosh Skin is a clean beauty brand insofar as it is organic and natural, plant-based, free from added fragrance, vegan and cruelty free.

What are the hero ingredients in your products?

This is a hard one; we source 26 of the highest quality organic and natural plant oils and create all our formulas in small batches so they are fresh and vibrant. They all play an important role, but special mention to the luminous coral red of the organic Rosehip fruit oil, and the dark vivid green of our virgin Hemp seed oil, however, they are all such a delight to blend and work with.

Where do so many of us go wrong when it comes to skincare?

I think trying too many new products, all at once can often send skin into a spin. I speak from experience in this area! Adding one new product to your skincare routine at a time and using it for a few days before adding the next, is the best way to see if a product is working for you. Also, when using actives like retinol and acid toners it makes you even more susceptible to sunburn so it's so important to practice good sun safety.

Smoosh founder Mim Gascoigne

What lead you to launch your own business - was there a defining moment where you made the decision?

I'd thought about it for many years, however, once I started having babies it took a back seat. Once I had my third child, I somehow felt ready to start a new chapter and had the confidence to jump in. I've always been naturally driven by creative projects and have a genuine passion for skincare so it helps to have a real love for what I'm doing.

The beginning is often a stumbling block for so many women when it comes to launching their own business. Where did you start and how quickly did you launch?

Much of the product line is a culmination of decades of my own research and experience so developing the products has taken years. However, once I decided to go for it, building the brand and business itself, took about six months to solidify. I drew on a bit of knowledge I had from some marketing subjects I did at university. My husband works in marketing so he offered to give me a framework to build the business from i.e. key steps to follow in launching the business, which was very helpful.

What has been the most challenging part of starting a business?

The most challenging parts have been sourcing packaging, labelling and suppliers. Some of our oils have been very hard to source. Covid-19 social distancing and restrictions hit just as I was launching, which brought new challenges as many of our oils were suddenly out of stock. Lastly, being from outside the skincare business, it is a challenge to build brand awareness as a small start-up as it is a crowded market, so that is our biggest challenge right now.

What about the most rewarding?

Customer feedback. Seeing our customers' skin transformations from our products. Having sensitive skin myself and dealing with eczema and more recently rosacea, I know how hard it can be to find a product that works and supports your skin. I genuinely love that we can help our customers get relief for their skin condition and attain healthy, happy skin.

www.smooshskin.com

Now, how do you manage your time between your children and your business?

It is a constant juggle, especially as many of the aspects of starting a new business are completely new to me, so I feel like it takes me more time than the next person, I have to do more research and this comes with more frustration! I have three kids, 9, 7 and 2, so working with them around makes any task infinitely longer! When possible, I plan ahead and carve out pockets of time to work when they are otherwise engaged. I have moved into a casual teaching role which gives me more flexibility to work on the business too.

How do you look after your skin daily? What products do you personally use?

I cleanse every night with our Silky Cleansing Oil and a soft cloth. I then use one of our three oil serums depending on how my skin is feeling.

In winter I mostly reach for Radiance oil serum in the evenings, it's so deeply moisturising and wonderful for dry winter skin. I then often choose the lighter, Soothing Balance oil serum in the morning. In the summer it's more often Soothing Balance in the day and Nourish oil serum at night.

I don't cleanse in the morning unless I've used a mask overnight. Skipping the morning cleanse has been really helpful in calming rosacea flare ups.

Every 7-10 days I use the Allies of Skin retinal and peptides overnight mask. I also use a pure white french clay mask mixed with one of the Smoosh oil serums if I need a soothing mask.

Other loves…….
Mother SPF
Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturiser and RMS Un-Cover Up
Baby Cheeks Blush Stick by Westman Atelier
Tubing mascara as I have hooded eyes and no mascara stays put!
Lanolips 101 Ointment

The Grace Tales is a global lifestyle platform for mothers searching for style, substance, and solidarity. Driven by creating content, community and connection, we celebrate the paradox of modern motherhood; the struggle and the beauty, the joy and the relentlessness.

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