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Grand Plans: Inside Elisa Sednaoui's Foundation

"WHEN I was little, I really wanted to be a cultural attaché," Elisa Sednaoui nodded, smiling. "A friend of my parents in Egypt was a diplomat and his job just seemed so interesting. I started modelling very young, and I shot my first film when I was just 18, so I didn't really have a chance to begin that path - but now I'm very fortunate to be able to take on projects that interest me."

Known in the UK first for her modelling - with campaigns for Chanel, Roberto Cavalli, Diane von Furstenberg and more under her belt - Sednaoui, who is signed with Storm Models, is a film star foremost in several European countries, and has laterally turned her hand to direction. Still with her delicate fingers in several pies, what interests her most right now is her Foundation, launched with the aim of providing children with a wide range of life skills through after-school classes. The Elisa Sednaoui Foundation will begin its first project later this year in Luxor, Egypt - a place close to Sednaoui's heart, and the place that she spent her formative years - providing workshops for children using the arts.

"My dream is to launch a cultural centre where children can learn values - like equality, listening when others speak, empowerment of women: the arts has proven itself as an incredible tool to teach values - starting in Egypt and then expanding to other places," she explained. "Even some so-called developed countries have huge problems in the way children are being raised. So, I'm starting where I know; Egypt and Italy."

Much is made of Sednaoui's cultural background - she has a "100 per cent" Italian mother (with all its connotations of beauty and passion) and a French-Egyptian father - and her exotic looks are often credited to her gene pool. But what else her upbringing gave her - besides the ability to speak five languages (English, Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic - in case you were wondering) - is a keen sense of herself as a "citizen of the world", and an urge to change things for the better for all people.

"Bill Clinton once said, 'Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not' - and that was one of the things that really made me think about what we could do," she told us. "When I was in Egypt recently filming a documentary, a group was asked, 'What would the child you were think of the adult you've become?' No one wanted to answer. The country has a lot of problems, but some of the difficulties could be changed by working with children to change the mindset."

Sednaoui is a passionate person; leaning in as she speaks, using her hands to emphasise points, occasionally looking up contemplatively as she searches for the right word from her internal multilingual thesaurus. Aside from being beautiful, which of course she is, she possesses a behind-the-eyes sparkle that captivates the onlooker. Whether she's modelling, acting or just chatting - as she is today - about something she believes passionately in, Sednaoui's connection with her subject is unarguable.

"Pregnancy made me so active​," she laughed. "Like, labelling everything, organising everything: I just wanted to get everything done. It made me really productive - and it also made me think a lot about what I could do; working proactively to try and change things in the world that my baby would grow up in. I think now, as a parent, motherhood has made me more relaxed with other people and myself. I'm less judgmental. More focused too."

Aside from her time spent in London, where she lives with boyfriend Alexander Dellal and nine-month-old Jack, Sednaoui still travels widely for the select projects that excite her. Whether in front of or behind he camera, she finds something that she enjoys about all facets of her working life - and only takes jobs so engaging that they justify time away from her boys.

"What I love about directing is the control," she deadpans, raising an eyebrow. "Modelling and acting are both incredible, but both involve being chosen. Filmmaking - and the editing part too - fascinates me. I love to be able to tell that story. In the same way, acting is part of a process that is really democratic. It occurred to me that, on set, if that guy doesn't move the wire, or the light, at just the right time, the take is ruined. So it's just as important that he gets his role right as the actor learns his lines. And modelling - wow - it's like a spa for me now! Having a baby means someone else taking care of your appearance for one day is really nice."

But, despite her new focus and philanthropic aims, Sednaoui is in no hurry to dismiss the fashion industry that helped her make her name the world over.

"Modelling has given me the occasion and the means to produce my own film, to start the Foundation," she said. "I definitely want to continue directing - there are stories that are important to tell - but I also try to look at what I do project by project. People are very keen to say, 'she's an actress now' or 'she's a director', but I'm just trying to do things that I believe in."

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