Top model Inna Zobova on her scarves collection that helps to save lives

Inna Zobova wearing an Orange Rain scarf. Photo © INNANGELO
Inna Zobova. Photo © INNANGELO

Inna Zobova is a remarkably beautiful and charming Russian-born Parisian, formerly a famous model and now actress, designer and philanthropist. Scarves collection, made by Inna under the brand name Innangelo and featured in the most fashionable Parisian boutique Colette during last International Contemporary Art Fair FIAC, is a part of a big international philanthropic project The Heart Fund. Leonardo DiCaprio was the first to buy one of Inna’s scarves.

You are a Moscowite, tell us about your family and life before you came to international fashion industry.

I was born in Khimki. When I was 7, I was operated on in Moscow Regional Research and Clinical Institute (MONIKI), this surgery saved my life. My heart used to be enormous, and I was told, it would not have fitted in my chest at the age of 13. In any case, it would have been a miracle to live up until 13 years old. I was very lucky to have a surgery before. That is where my charity comes from, the reason why I work specifically for The Heart Fund. First of all I would like people to know, that surgically operated people are in no means incapacitated, they can carry on normal lives, work, and have children. My son Maseo is no doubt my biggest pride.

I studied lots of subjects in lots of places. I have studied anthropology and psychology in Moscow for two years, then at Sorbonne for three years, and after that I have followed general art history classes at the Ecole du Louvre for two years. I also completed a little course at Saint Martins, after having started to make scarves.

I believe I am the product of my time. The essence of it is that I went through the transformation after the collapse of the USSR, emigrated not really willingly searching for a job, and eventually assimilated.

You were crowned Miss Russia in 1994. Did the information campaign that went along with it make any impact on your model career later on?

Frankly speaking, my story with the Miss Russia pageant happened entirely by accident. The title belongs to Anna Malova. Something horrible happened, and unfortunately I do not know any details. Only after about a decade I heard a rumor drugs were somehow involved… I got a call from someone from the steering committee of Miss Russia, who told me: “Please, help us out; we got no one to participate at Miss Universe. We know you could save the day”. I exclaimed: “What? Nobody to represent Russia? That is literally impossible”! Then they called my dad who said: “Ok, we’ll go”! That very evening we met with the steering committee of Miss Russia, and it was them who crowned me.

I got down from a mall straight to the ball, to Miss Universe without any preparation or background apart from self confidence based entirely on sincere patriotism. I saw a very well-prepared American contestant, who had some speech training and rehearsed a lot. I saw Miss Venezuela with breathtaking outfits… And then I remembered how we were trying to come up with something with designer Igor Chapurin back in Moscow sitting at my kitchen table. We were trying to think where to find fabrics in the country that was undergoing great transformations. There was literally nothing there. To be honest, I have no idea, where he has found fabric for the dress, but one evening I got a call from him and heard him gasp: “Listen, we have got to meet as soon as possible, I have found an amazing piece”! Little bit per little bit we prepared everything. When I was told: “You have 30 seconds to go out and present Russia to the world”, I instantly thought: “Russia is the land of strong people», the phrase I proudly exclaimed in the microphone. However my national costume was very beautiful, historic, and genuine. And my second place for national costume at the Miss Universe pageant was very important. It was a moment when Russia was recognized as a separate country and not as a part of the Soviet Union. Upon my return from the pageant to Russia we celebrated 100 days of presidency.

How did you get into fashion world?

My mom and I were walking along Arbat on our way to a store, someone came up to me and asked: “Would you want to by any chance to try”… But I entered the university. During my student years I was making money on the side by working in lots of agencies in Moscow. There were a lot of them proposing work; I was picking the best trying to always be on top.

When I started to work in Moscow, people were telling me I acted like a gamin. It is true, back then I was one of those women who do not have apparent sex appeal, all that was acquired much later. However, it is very important for me to remain true to myself, even if I am a person who always takes the middle path and looks for peace and love. This being said, there are some things I would not change for anything, and as any Russian I would stand to the end.

Once Pierre Cardin came to Moscow and chose me out of everybody at a huge audition. I was told then that I had a chance to work globally. It was the first robin that made me think if it was worth trying. I also had lost of friends in the model business. One of them invited me to Paris. It was August and I came during vacations. She told me I had to do something with my parameters, and so we went first to Metropolitan and then to couple of more agencies. Finally I picked the one where I was told: “We will not make a Claudia Schiffer out of you, but you will have a job if you are serious”. I agreed, it sounded good to me. It was the Viva Model Management agency, where the most interesting models of my time worked.

The world of global fashion opened to me only when I was already rather grown up. I started to work when I was 24; it is really late for a model. I am like a flower that blooms in winter. All the others have already withered, and I am just waking up and saying: “What is going on”?

What are your favorite memories from the active phase of your modeling career and accomplishments, you consider important?

I believe I have not achieved what I was ought to. Everything was great, but, as the saying goes, I did not break Olympic records. I am a wheel horse, a perfectionist, I was always doing everything well, but never reached an insane stardom

It is common for models to perfectly speak languages of the countries they work in. What foreign languages did you learn during your modeling years?

I finished foreign language classes at Zhukovsky Academy in Moscow. When I was applying to The Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages, I got an excellent grade at the English exam after a good night sleep. I came to Paris already speaking English well, but French sounded to me like one big word. Nowadays I speak French (I graduated from the department of the French civilization in Sorbonne), I understand Italian, and also speak a little bit of Spanish. In addition, I am studying Chinese together with my son. I came to love calligraphy while working in Japan, and when I had a chance to meet a person able to give classes, I could not have missed it.

Models rarely settle in Paris, this kind of decision is often connected with family situation. Why did you choose Paris specifically?

To tell you the truth, I was proposed to move to New York when I started to work with the DNA agency. But, firstly, I had work in Paris, I was always fully booked, and secondly, my parents live too far from New York. When morning starts in Moscow, day is already over in New York, and I figured, it would have been better to stay in Europe. I do not know if this decision was the best, it has really affected my acting career afterwards. I would have been much easier in the USA. I am tall and blonde – it is more an American type. In any case, I soon got a family in Paris and in general European life style appeals more to me. Although, American work style is much more pleasant and appealing in terms of approach and pace. In the USA it is clear, when you will finish working, what you will do, and you will certainly have time for personal stuff. When I was working as a model, it was a real issue, because shootings often finish late at night, and projects always take place in different countries around the world. Model career that has reached a good level takes up all the time.

You have mentioned acting career, could you elaborate on that?

There is a video showing all my roles on my website. My first, and so far latest, main movie part was in the project run by a Ukrainian director, and it has not come out yet. But what is interesting in this project – music was written by the band Agatha Christie. The soundtrack is amazing, I am a fan of this band, and taking part in the movie was a big honor and a great joy for me. I played the role of an aging opera diva, which was leaving the business. The filming was done on the border with Hungary in an old theater, and it was very beautiful.

Would you want to pursue your acting career?

Yes, of course. I have never worked with a Russian director in Russian, of course, that would be the most personal thing for me.

If you would want to, we would be happy to talk about your family.

I am married, my husband Bruno Aveillan is an artist, photographer and director, and we have a son Maseo who will turn 10 in February. Yesterday he did his first charity project – the time just flies by! They sold chocolate for New Year to gather money for the cancer association. It worked as a litmus test of how fast our kids grow for me. We always tend to see them as babies.

What is the role of charity in your life? How did you start to take part in philanthropy and in what projects do you participate?

Philanthropy is a personal story, and I wish to be able to help The Heart Fund as long as I can. My collection for Innangelo gives a certain amount of profit to this association for charity. We started to work with them three years ago. I met the founder, surgeon David Luu. He told me about their missions in different countries, including Haiti. There are lots of projects in Africa as well. Last year The Heart Fund was recognized in the UN, which means there will definitely be some kind of international program. We are all philanthropists; we do not have salaries or a full-time team. The project is fairly new; lots of people take part in it, including real celebrities such as football player Didier Drogba. He has done a lot for Haiti, for example, he bought solar panels to provide the population with electricity.

My husband made a movie telling my story to the Fund in 2013. It took us about one and a half year to film it clip by clip on different continents. Peter Lindbergh shot photos of me for the Heart Fund campaign in 2014. Last year, when I had already launched my scarves collection, we decided to give a couple of them for an auction held during a charity evening, which is a part of the Cannes Festival, to gain some money for The Heart Fund. It is great to devote your time to the association, it is as important if one has a possibility to ask famous photographers for their support, but the best thing is when a person can assist with money.

When we started to work on projects more intensely, we were gifted a plane. We realized afterwards that necessary medical equipment adapted for planes does not exist in fact. Therefore, of course, money is much needed. We barely managed to collect 50 thousand euro during our first charity evening. Nowadays it is already much more simple, even such amazing people such Leonardo DiCaprio participate in it. Innangelo scarves are based on my artworks. Last year we offered an artwork and a similar scarf for the auction. Leonardo liked them and bought both. Of course, I was very happy, firstly, because he became my first client, and secondly, because it is a very personal deal for me. Gradually we started to get substantial sums for charity.

I have not myself been on a mission yet. But there is a project in Latin America; I would like to take part in. We are planning to make a movie about our work and show remote places and life of people, that none of us living in consumer society and surrounded by luxury know.

Earlier you mentioned your husband and the fact that you work on projects together. If I am not mistaken you launched the scarves collection together as well. How did the idea of working together come up? Why did you decide to make scarves in particular?

During my modeling career I shot a lot as a photographer myself, I also made videos about traveling, about people. At some point the pile of my works became rather big, and we started to think with Bruno what to do with them. He exhibits a lot as a photographer and artist. But I had no desire to exhibit my works; it does not go well with me energetically. Fashion is my territory of course. At the same time we really wanted to keep the framing integrity. Once Bruno suggested we try to work on silk. That is how the idea of Innangelo – of a gallery on silk – was born.

The production process of one scarf is very technological – before the actual printing begins, silk is put through a machine, for three days it goes through different stages on a big beltline: washing, application of fixatives, soaking in special solutions that help color to go deeper in silk and persist. It takes me about 120-150 hours to make the print. The fabric was developed specially for Innangelo, it took us long to find the right composition, which is now a secret and belongs only to us. Everything is produced near the Italian lake Como, and even a trip is an inspiration for me. Finished scarves are hemmed by hand in Italy as well.

This season is the first one for me; we launched the collection after Paris Fashion Week at the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC). Really beautiful window displays changed daily were made for us at Colette. Moreover, the scarves were lit from inside by a pulsating light making an illusion of a heartbeat. Everything is interconnected. Innangelo is basically my name put together with «heart angel» (that is what people who help The Heart Fund are called). The collection includes 14 scarves and 2 pareos. We also created 2 scarves together with a French sculptor and artist Richard Texier.

How are the roles divided in the project?

The collection is made entirely by me; Bruno has nothing to do with it. He shoots catalogues and movies for us. It is a great joy for me, that after so many years of being together we still enjoy being a team not only at home, but at work as well. Some people have children; some people have children and express themselves creatively as well.

So your photos are the basis? Or are those your drawings?

I have a special technique created by me – a mixture of a drawing and a photo. Of course, in the end, everything is digitized, modern scarf production technologies are rather complicated, all the machines have to be programmed.

Your husband is a famous photographer, he worked with such brands as Louis Vuitton, Guerlain, Tiffany, and does he by any chance plan to participate in Innangelo project in this capacity as well?

He promises! I would really love him to participate as a photographer as well. But since we have worked with Richard Texier, in 2017 we have a joint project with Mircea Cantor, an artist who has received The Marcel Duchamp Prize – I think, Bruno feels he has to come up with something incredible to steal the show!

I have noticed only one dress so far on your Instagram account, but it is absolutely wonderful! Do you plan to enhance the collection?

The dress is made entirely from long scarves-wings; their shape was imagined and created by me. The conception of dresses is supposed to assure the integrity of the scarf and its pattern. Dresses are truly beautiful, flowy, and fluid. I love this kind of style myself.

It is the next year’s project. I hope in 2017 we will be able to talk not only about the scarves collection, but about the dresses collection as well.

Interview: Maria Massot


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Photo: Timur Artamonov for Elle-Russia

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