By Nicole Berrie
Photos by Vanessa Packer and courtesy of Instagram
“RUSSIAN WOMEN LOVE TO DO THINGS WELL,” SAID NATALYA PONIATOWSKI, Moscow native and founder of Luxcartel, a New York-based fashion incubator, which since 2011 has nurtured up-and-coming international brands such as Lebanese jeweler Sabine G, clothing brand Kalmanovich and American handbag line Tyler Alexandra into cult phenomenons. “Russians in general are the kind of people that want the home no one else has, the food no one else has tried and the fashion no one else has. So in that respect, new brands do amazingly because people want what’s new and exciting.” To wit, Poniatowski, who formerly worked in finance, has made a business of fostering little- known designers and turning them into the fashion world’s most buzzed-about brands. Take artist Sydney Albertini, who created a one-off clothing line featuring her vibrant, sculptural works affixed to bolero jackets and sweatshirts, which in turn caught the eye of Fivestory’s Claire Distenfeld, who featured a capsule collection with Albertini at her uptown shop. “It’s our job for them to blow up,” said Poniatowski from the company’s Soho offices. “That’s what we do for our designers. So when that happens we’re very happy because that’s the synergy between us and them creating something amazing.” Below, we caught up with the Manhattan resident who not only divulged the routines of her fellow glitteratski but also why growing up in the former Soviet Union was integral in her health habits today.
How would you describe the mission of Luxcartel?
Luxcartel is an incubator for up-and-coming design talent. We source our designers and then we basically act as their office. We do everything so they don’t have to distract themselves with logistics, press, production, financing, accounting. Anything you don’t want to do as a designer, we do that for them. We essentially let them develop as an artist. That is our mission.
What do you look for when you’re seeking new designers?
It’s a combination of factors. Talent is obviously the premiere thing. But over the years we’ve realized that talent is unfortunately not always enough. You need to have the stamina and you need to have an understanding of the business. We look for someone who is going to listen. We want to create a business based on talent, but a business nonetheless.
Masterpeace headbands Tyler Alexandra clutches
Growing up in Russia, how would you describe the style there?
In the U.S., you have so many stylish girls and it’s truly effortless, a lot of time it’s by accident. In Russia, it’s much less of that. There are girls who really love fashion. One of my friends in Moscow comes to the U.S. to go shopping with 18 printed out pages with the shoes she wants, the shirt, etc. I think in Russia, girls take fashion seriously in a good way and that’s what makes them really well dressed.
Julia Kalmanovich in one of her own designs. Miroslava Duma in Kalmanovich
To what do you attribute the fact that (almost) all the street style stars are now (almost) all Russian?
It’s very Russian to be very meticulous and opulent. We live in New York where it almost looks silly when we see someone on the street in high heels and a beautiful dress with hair and makeup done at 12pm. If you are in Soho and you see that, you’re like, “Ok that person is trying way too hard.” Whereas if you are in Moscow, that is the normal. If you look like we look like now, like all of us in the room, it’s like “Why are you such a bum?”, “What’s wrong, what happened, are you depressed?” The funny thing is, when I come back from Moscow, the first week, it’s like a transition period. My makeup is still done, my hair is done, I wear heels and by the second week, I slowly trail off.
Does that segue into how they take care of their bodies?
The Russian girls I know all have trainers. All do lots of yoga and this and that. They take it very seriously. They spend time on their bodies and they look amazing. Russian girls’ lifestyles, I’m talking about the 1 percent, those girls take their beauty very very very seriously. Even though they all have the brains, the beauty is such a big asset because in the end they are judged by that.
How would you describe your personal style?
Today? I have a two month old so my personal style revolves around breastfeeding. In Russia, they’re nine months pregnant and wearing six-inch stilettos. It’s a lifestyle. When you see everyone around you like that, you kind of adapt. Whereas here, everyone is chilled you and end up being chilled yourself.
Has your Russian upbringing influenced your health philosophy in any way?
Hugely. In Russia, my snacks were fruits. If you are hungry in between meals, you ask your grandmother, she gives you fruit. She doesn’t give you candy, she doesn’t give you sandwiches. So I think that definitely set me up with a good immune system. Today if I get hungry, I want an apple. I don’t want cookies.
How do you feel your childhood differed from the typical American upbringing?
I see my friends kids and they’re like, “Mommy I’m hungry,” so they give them Goldfish and it’s like, “No!” I think fruits are a huge thing.
Was there one health secret you learned growing up in Russia?
Until I left for America, every summer, every single day of my life, my grandmother made me drink a glass of fresh goat milk. It’s so disgusting. I cannot stand goat cheese to this day but it’s really good for you. I don’t know if I’m going to do that to my daughter. I think my grandmother was trying to do a good deed for me but it was so disgusting. I think it was for immunity. You don’t mess with your grandmother. So in terms of very natural food. Obviously half of my childhood was communist so you didn’t have very luxurious foods. It just came down to really natural, healthy foods. And it affected my system. The thing is what you eat the first ten years of your life develops your taste. That’s your comfort food. Aside from goat’s milk now, which I despise, all really healthy fruits, vegetable, soups, meat cutlets, that’s my comfort foods. Whole foods.
Did you experience any culture shock when you came to the States?
When I first moved here, I lived in a Russian neighborhood next to Brighton Beach. Every was the same. But when I went to college, I didn’t realize that things like anorexia and bulimia were real. I would hear about them and I didn’t understand. It was bit of a shock. Now I know people who suffered from it and it’s a real disease, but in college, because what was given to me for the first 17 years was so strong in terms of my health regime, I never suffered from that. I eat only how much I need to eat, healthy food. Of course I love pizza. It’s fine as long as you eat a little bit.
What is your diet regime like today?
I do not diet. I’ve never dieted in my life. I’m a huge opponent of any juice cleanse. I really believe that your body needs everything. You cannot not give it what you want. Because if so, what ends up happening is after you end up binge eating and you end up undoing everything you just did with the juice because you cant survive on juice.
We’d have to agree to an extent. But what about integrating juice into your daily life?
Juices while you eat is holy. For me, as I said, fruits, juices, it’s so important. It’s a lifestyle. But the intense dieting, no. I have this conversation with my sister constantly. She’s like “I’m doing this cleanse.” And I’m like, “Please don’t.” I really believe in eating only as much as you want. With my husband I have this problem because he says you have to finish your plate because that’s the way he’s been brought up and I never finish my plate. Most times it’s too much for me. I order and I want to try everything but I eat only how much I want to eat and I think that comes down to being healthy. Until I gave birth I was quite skinny. I was sample size but now I’m not. I don’t particularly care. It’s nice to look womanly. It’s nice to look healthy. That’s the important thing. And you are a happy person if you eat what you want to eat rather than starving yourself and you’re pissed off at the world.
What is your fitness routine like?
I have a trainer who’s amazing. She used to be a dancer for like 20 years. A lot of it is based on dancing. Straighteng your posturing, making your waist nice, making your butt nice. I really like her because I feel like it’s a woman’s exercise. And I play tennis once in a while and I do yoga once is a while. I want to try SLT. My friends who do it look amazing. When I was pregnant, I would swim.
Do you have any self-care routines?
I have my two people who are amazing. One of them is an acupuncturist who I haven’t seen since I gave birth. The way I gave birth was because of him. I went to him, I started having contractions, I went to him the next day, I gave birth. I gave birth in 20 minutes. His name is James MacLean. I also have this shiatsu massage person that comes to my house. Her name is Apollonia. She comes once a week and does all types of bodywork. She’s incredible. There are no creams involved. It’s almost like exercise. She used to be a nun for 20 years.
What are your comfort foods?
Russian food. I love Olivier Salad, which is egg, pieces of potato, mayonnaise and chicken. It’s delicious.
Do you cook at home?
Yes, I discovered something amazing. Blue Apron! It’s amazing. I’m Blue Aproning every week. They send you a box of three meals with a recipe, the ingredients and pictures on how to make it. You never know what’s inside the box until you get it. There’s every ingredient that you need but the exact quantity that you need. So you don’t need to go around Dean & Deluca for hours looking for some weird paste that you’ve never heard of and have a jar of it that you’ll never use again and will throw out. Like mirin. I never knew what mirin was before.
That sounds amazing. So what have you cooked?
Last week, we made Mexican meatball soup. It was so amazing. It’s broth with carrots and kale and obviously meatballs, just super yummy stuff. It’s all organic and you feel like you’re eating healthy.
How often do you use it?
You get delivery of three meals on Monday so yesterday I got my box for this week. I don’t eat at home enough to do 3 meals but 2 meals we do and it’s cool because you learn a different recipe every time. They ask you if you’re allergic but for me I don’t have any. It’s cool cause every time it’s a surprise and every time you learn something new.