By Alison Syrett Cleary
Updated Dec 13, 2017 @ 9:00 am
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Credit: Tom Allen

If you look at model Nataša Vojnović’s impressive career as a before-and-after story, the turning point was a late-night call from Karl Lagerfeld in 2000. “He wasn’t satisfied with the images for a look book, so he asked me to come in around midnight for a redo,” says the 38-year-old fashion veteran, who until then had mainly done catalogue gigs. But she was game to keep pace with the notoriously nocturnal designer. “I walked in there on a mission to express myself. Karl totally wanted to play with that.”

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Credit: Tom Allen. In a Fendi dress and Elizabeth and James earrings.

Sheer determination has fueled the runway star’s success from a young age. After the unrest following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early ’90s, her family moved from Brčko, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Serbia’s capital city, Belgrade, where she entered a local Elite modeling competition and parlayed her finalist spot into representation by a Vienna-based agency. "I had to beg them to give me a chance," she says. It took three more hustle-filled years and a move to Paris before big legacy brands began to take notice of her chameleonic features—soft and sensual one moment, androgynous the next—but the grind paid off. In addition to lining up regular work with Chanel, Vojnović became a frequent collaborator of Nicolas Ghesquière’s throughout his Balenciaga tenure, a partnership that did wonders for her personal handbag collection. “They gave me small ones when I started, and the styles got bigger and bigger over time,” she says.

Credit: Tom Allen. In a Bottega Veneta sweater and skirt.

As for the rest of her wardrobe, Vojnović likes to mix it up. She arrived at the InStyle shoot in a black jumpsuit from Joe’s Jeans that she snagged from Marshalls for $40, paired with a cozy red Maasai blanket from Kenya draped across her shoulders like a shawl. Her interests outside fashion are equally eclectic and run the gamut from updating Eastern European recipes with unexpected ingredients (like bison from the green market near her New York City apartment) to kitesurfing in Hawaii. Yet nothing sparks so much passion in the model as discussing her craft of the past 22 years. “I love transforming myself for this job,” she says. “It’s what gives me life.”

Credit: Tom Allen. In a Max Mara sweater, camisole, and pants, Dinosaur Designs necklace and Céline ankle boots.
Credit: Tom Allen. In a  Michael Kors Collection blazer and pants.
Credit: Tom Allen. In a Proenza Schouler turtleneck, tunic, skirt, necklace, cuff, and slingbacks.
Credit: Tom Allen. In a Balenciaga dress and earrings. Céline ankle boots.
Credit: Tom Allen. In a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC duster and dress and Céline ankle boots. 
Credit: Tom Allen. In a Céline coat, top, trousers, earrings, and ankle boots.

Fashion editor: Ali Pew. Hair: Dennis Devoy for Art Department. Makeup: Stoj for Streeters. Manicure: Yuko Wada for Atelier Management. Set design: Cooper Vasquez for The Magnet Agency.

For more stories like this, pick up the January issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download now.