You may not remember her name, but if you are in your late 20s or early 30s and beyond you would definitely recognise the mysterious stunning girl from a Cacharel ad whom Karl Lagerfeld once called “an explosion of beauty”. And now you can learn her name, too.
Olga Pantushenkova was born in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) in 1975. Their home was always full of magazines like Russian “Moda”, “Krestianka” and “Burda” and together mother and daughter used to spent hours and hours flicking the glossy pages and choosing new designs that Olga’s mum would later make.
One day little Olya decided that it wasn’t enough just to look at beautiful clothes. The girl went to her mother and declared that she would very much love to become a fashion model. Not a teacher, doctor or ballerina, it was the modelling or nothing.
Although it came as a surprise, her mum was happy about her daughter’s decision and took the girl to several competitions including the “USSR Supermodel” in 1991. And it was then when 14-year old Olya won a 3rd prize and got noticed by “Red Stars”, the most influential Moscow modelling agency who sent her off to German Elite. Something didn’t seem to work out because 3 months later Olga was back in Moscow. Next stop was “People International”. In 1993 she signed the contract and was sent to Paris.
Despite her hopes and dreams, the reality was different. The agency informed the beautiful teen that her future as a model was non-existent because she wasn’t right for the industry. It was time to return to Russia.
Many girls would probably buy a ticket and head back home, but Olga had a dream and wasn’t prepared to give it up just yet. She remembered meeting an agent from “Elite” after the “Supermodel” competition, so instead of packing her bags, went straight to the agency. They remembered the young Russian beauty and were happy to sign her up on one condition – she had to cut her hair.
They didn’t have to say it twice. Olga run to the hair salon and her long locks became a short chic bob. Suddenly, everyone noticed that she wasn’t a skinny teenager with sparkling blue eyes, but a delicate, fragile, striking one-of-a-kind beauty. Unlike her native Russia, Paris fell in love with Pantushenkova at first sight.
She was offered a contract with Cacharel and became a face of Eden. The campaign photographed by Javier Vallhonrat took five days to make and became one of Olga’s most found memories (although she did admit later that she never liked the perfume). Her client list was growing. Olga was offered contracts with Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Christian Lacroix and Claude Montana. She worked 24/7 modelling for Balenciaga, Valentino, Chanel, Galliano and Yves Saint Laurent and posing for Vogue, Elle and L’Officiel. Within months Olga Pantushenkova became one of the top 15 fashion models in the world.
In 1996 John Galliano asked Olga to add a personal touch to the Bride look designed as a part of his first Haute Couture collection for Christian Dior. Pantushenkova dyed her hair into platinum blonde and ask for a super short pixie hair-cut. The blonde pixie look became iconic as soon as the show was over.
Her career spanned over a decade. In 2002 she appeared on a cover of Italian Grazia, opened a Chloe boutique in Moscow in 2004 and worked as a stylist at Russian Marie Claire. Now she’s planning to write a book, polish her French, study something and just live without constantly checking her schedule.
Photo source: Olga Pantushenkova in Elle Russia, Vogue Russia 1998 (photography: Mario Testino), Claude Montana campaign, Vogue Russia September 1998, Eden by Cacharel campaign 1995, Vogue Paris