Lera Abova’s big break came in 2016 when she shot with photographer – and 90s grunge legend – David Sims, who became a champion of her career. Abova describes herself as his muse which, she says, “is just amazing”. “He’s an artist. To know that he sees something in me … I’m always really honest with him, crying in front of him, telling him he changed my life, which is very true.” She has also worked with Sølve Sundsbø, Colin Dodgson and Mariano Vivanco.
Abova has shot covers and fashion stories for Vogue Ukraine, Vogue Paris, Vogue Germany, Vogue Russia and Vogue Australia. She has also starred in campaigns for Joseph, Acne and Sportmax.
She grew up in a Siberian village that is “so small they don’t have it on the map”. Now 25, she moved to Germany when she was 13, and divides her time between Berlin, London and New York.
When she first moved, she couldn’t speak a word of German. “I used an electronic translator,” she says. At first, that piqued the other kids’ interest, but not for long. “That first summer was really hard. I had no one, only my skateboard. You should have seen how I looked. The other girls were so fancy … they already had boyfriends. I had a pink Pokémon T-shirt and crazy, long hair.”
She quickly started to find her feet – she learned the language: “Then, I got to meet cool people and [become] cooler and cooler … then I was the coolest!”
Abova dropped out of school, “right before my exams, when I was 18 or 19. They didn’t understand my soul. I never regretted it,” she says. “If I had had a school education, I would never have had the life I have.”
She was discovered for the first time at 17, “by a woman who believed I could be the next Kate Moss”. That didn’t work out. “No one needs a second Kate Moss,” she says. “There is never going to be a second Kate Moss – and I don’t want to be second someone.”
Later, after working in bars, she met her “mother” agent, Peter, who is, she says, “wicked. He has helped me so much, on an emotional level. He never gave up.”
“It’s really important to have good people around you in modelling,” she says. “Every business where it’s about money, beauty and fame is always going to be dirty”.
Abova shaved off her hair in what she describes as “a Britney Spears moment, when I was in a bad relationship”. Her boyfriend at the time also had a shaved head. “We looked as if we had just come out of prison.” It did her career no harm.
She describes herself as “a character model”. Before her career took off, she says, “I was so fixated on not being skinny enough or tall enough, but I thank my booker because he never told me to lose weight. I was brainwashed by some people in the industry, who I met when I was 17 … it stays with you, in your head. But my mother booker told me: ‘No, you are different, you have everything.’ I always call him Dad.”
She has started acting, appearing in a small part with a big name director – a project that is still under wraps – with another, larger role, in the pipeline. “I have always had ambitions to be on stage,” she says. “Some people are scared of other people’s opinions, but I never have been.”
She didn’t grow up wealthy, and now she pays her 11-year-old brother’s private school fees.
Abova is not seeking Insta-fame, despite having 52,000 followers on Instagram. “Instagram is a really hard subject for me,” she says. “I see the whole thing as bullshit. Stop making stupid people famous! I don’t understand it. I want to have followers because I am someone, not because I post a picture of my face 10 times a day.”
Quick to laugh and outspoken, Abova has a theory about fame: “People should love you or hate you,” she says. “I would never be in the middle. I would rather be risky than be everyone’s cup of tea.”
• Read more from the spring/summer 2018 edition of The Fashion, our twice-yearly fashion supplement