She chose a career in fashion over one in sport, but things could have turned out very differently for model KARMEN PEDARU. Wearing summer’s stylish office pieces, she talks to PAUL FLYNN about split-second decisions and finding a work/life balance.
On their first date at a steakhouse in Tribeca, New York, the influential art director Riccardo Ruini told the then 21-year-old ascendant model Karmen Pedaru that she would become his wife. “I laughed,” Pedaru recalls, “and said to him, ‘But what if I don’t want to marry?’”
But his premonition was right: the day after I meet Pedaru, now 24, in a hotel overlooking London’s sunny Trafalgar Square, she and Ruini move into their new marital home; a “super-cool” two-storey residence in Rome. She has Ruini’s name tattooed on her right forearm; he has hers on his person, too. She’s not saying where.
The couple met in 2011 on the first of a succession of Gucci campaign collaborations: Pedaru the face, Ruini the creative vision. “I’ve done eight or nine now,” the Estonian model says of the prestigious shoots. And what of the director? “I always thought he was handsome, but at the time I had a boyfriend. It just happened.”
Early into their courtship, the couple fell in love with Es Cubells, an idyllic inlet on the southwest coast of Ibiza. It was on a trip there two years ago that Ruini placed an engagement ring in the fridge before they went out to the grocery store, believing Pedaru would find it on their return. “When we came back,” she recalls, “he said, ‘Load this stuff in the fridge while I go take a shower.’ But he didn’t take a shower; he was sneaking around. Then he said, ‘You didn’t see anything?’”
The story is pure rom-com. Had she missed her moment? “There was a little box in the fridge that I threw in the back like it was nothing. Ten minutes went by and he was like ‘Doh!’”
She laughs. “I found it and it was like, ‘Ah, that’s what that box was!’ So embarrassing.” And they say romance is dead. The botched proposal, as it transpires, was a precursor to the wedding itself. The bride wore a white Yves Saint Laurent suit, a split-second decision. “I had asked Michael Kors at the last minute if I could get a dress,” Pedaru recounts (she is the star of the brand’s current campaign). “[The press office] sent one to me and it was beautiful, but it was see-through!”
Pedaru was raised by her grandmother in the tiny Estonian village of Kehra (population: 3000), so she was understandably worried what her family would think of the revealing dress. “My *** was out! In the morning we were running around and I was like, ‘I can’t wear it! What am I going to wear?’ I went to my closet and saw the YSL suit, but it was dirty from the last event I wore it to. I just rolled up the sleeves and went with it.”
In comparison, Pedaru’s career has been a smooth sail. At a Tallin theater at the age of 15, she was asked if she’d be interested in giving modeling a go by a woman she still refers to as her “best friend”. In a twist of fashion folklore, she had to make another split-second choice as she had just been offered a place, believe it or not, as goalkeeper on Estonia’s women’s soccer team.
“I chose modeling,” Pedaru says, “but I just wanted to get out of Estonia. I would have got out if I’d joined the national team, but only to Baltic countries, not far away. And I wanted to get really far away from Estonia. I was just sick of it.”
As it turns out, Pedaru’s early teenage years had not been kind to her. “My self-esteem was very low as a young girl. I wasn’t confident,” she admits. “Boys found me ugly. Then suddenly I was in fashion and people were looking at me, telling me how great I looked… It was really uncomfortable for me for a couple of years. But now I have a husband. Someone loves me!” she continues, laughing.
Ten days after signing her first modeling contract, Pedaru found herself on her first-ever plane journey to India to shoot for Teen Vogue. Her career quickly moved her to New York, London, Paris and Milan. Then, after she met Ruini, she moved to his native Rome. “In the beginning I loved New York. But with all the traveling and the craziness of work and the craziness of the city, it just didn’t suit me. I’m still a village girl; I like calmness. So I moved to Rome. Life is too short not to.”
Not that the craziness stopped in Rome. After the clothing crisis, her wedding day got even more farcical: “The [wedding certificate] signing was a disaster. I was crying because I had left my ID at home and they said we couldn’t get married. Luckily my witness had hers, so we used that. Then my family arrived, and they’re all so little that when I bent down to kiss them my breasts fell out of my jacket and everyone was like, why didn’t you cover yourself?”
Thankfully, married life itself is a breeze. “People say you’ll feel different, but we have the same amount of fun, maybe more,” says Pedaru. “It’s just a ring. Being together is about sense of humor and understanding each other.”
The age difference (Ruini is 51) doesn’t matter a jot – “People who don’t know us don’t get it, but he’s the coolest person ever” – and finding her perfect fit at home has also made her happier in her job. “I didn’t like [modeling] at first but now I enjoy it,” she says. “It’s not easier, but I’m happier and more relaxed personally, which gives me confidence. I’m more comfortable with myself.” Now that’s what you call a work/life balance.
Photographer: Hans Feurer
Styling: Natalie Brewster