Photographed by Steven Meisel, Vogue, May 2009. Natalia Vodianova represented by DNA model management New York

Photographed by Steven Meisel, Vogue, May 2009. Natalia Vodianova represented by DNA model management New York

Ask the makeup artist Pat McGrath when she first met Natalia Vodianova and she doesn’t miss a beat. “It was Los Angeles, 2001, on set for Versus (Versace),” she says, recalling the day that photographer Steven Meisel—whose talent for spotting star potential in the industry’s fresh new faces is legendary—first introduced her to the Russian model. “She had the most incredible bone structure. And the color of those eyes—so blue against that skin,” says McGrath of her initial impressions of the nineteen-year-old Vodianova, who hailed from the small town of Nizhny Novgorod, where she had worked at a fruit stand with her mother before being discovered by a model scout and promptly signed. “Steven said ‘this girl is amazing. She’s going to be a star.’”

He was right. Over the next decade, McGrath and Vodianova would work together constantly, “sometimes every day,” recalls McGrath, who prepped the model backstage for runway shows like Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano, as well as on set for major magazine editorials and campaigns. With her piercing stare, poreless skin, and ability to convey both girlish innocence and womanly sensuality in the same breath, Vodianova made a prime canvas for McGrath’s visionary use of color. On set for Calvin Klein Collection in the mid-2000s, the makeup artist reimagined her as a bronze goddess with sun-kissed, futuristic skin—an image that would eventually beam down from billboards on high in SoHo; for the cover of i-D magazine, McGrath transformed her into an otherworldly creature with a primal feathered brow and graphic face paint.

It was in their work together with Meisel for Vogue, however, that resulted in many of their most memorable on-camera moments. Culminating in a winning mix of fashion and fantasy, McGrath made Vodianova into a decadent flapper with wine-stained lip and diffused grease paint eyes, a Swinging Sixties Twiggy with a pale pink pout and statement-making cat eye, and a modern romantic daydreamer with a shocking lavender mouth. At times the transformation rendered Vodianova almost unrecognizable—like the time McGrath refashioned her into a living reincarnation of fifties supermodel Jean Patchett with arched brows and high precision lips—then frosted her into sixties-era Veruschka-fied perfection for the same portfolio in the May 2009 issue.

Earlier this year, the collaborators and friends reunited for what may have been the ultimate on-set makeup challenge—with McGrath attempting to execute a glittering winged eye shadow look on Vodianova (who is also this month’s Vogue cover girl) for an original film short. “I’ve known Natalia since she was a baby. I’ve watched her grow up,” says McGrath, reflecting on their near-fifteen-year relationship. “It’s amazing to see what she’s done with her charity work, it’s amazing to see her with her divinely sweet and well-behaved children. She’s gorgeous, yes, but she also has a great sense of humor and a kind heart—and what’s more beautiful than that?”

Pat McGrath Does Natalia Vodianova’s Makeup with Her Eyes Closed

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