By  on August 10, 2007

One glance at 5-foot 11-inch Daria Werbowy and it's clear why she is one of the most sought-after models in the world.

With legendary feline features, not to mention a figure of mythical proportions (34-24-34) and a sexy, tousled mane, the face of Lancôme has graced the cover of every major fashion magazine in the past four years.

But the 23-year-old Ukrainian beauty who was born in Warsaw and raised in Mississauga, Canada, almost didn't make it.

Arriving in New York City during its darkest hours post-9/11, a just-out-of-high-school Werbowy took a stab at modeling. Despite following advice to cut her hair and bleach it blond, she couldn't gain a foothold. After some months, Werbowy packed her bags and headed for Europe. Living in Paris for five months and London for three before traveling to Greece for a few weeks and Germany for a few more, she returned to America broke and without prospects.

"I had spent my life savings, $5,000 from my days as a sailing instructor," she recounts, "so I decided to go back to art school."

Well, a funny thing happened on the way.

To earn tuition money, Werbowy signed with modeling agency IMG and landed the first slot in Luella Bartley's autumn-winter 2003 runway show. Next, Prada scooped her up for that season's ad campaign. The rest is fashion and beauty history.

"I was 17 and in a different headspace when I first tried modeling," she says. "I needed that year away from home, to learn a lot and to be who I am. Confidence is what's attractive."

What's hard, she says, is not success, but the forced solitude that comes with it.

"I'm alone a lot," says Werbowy, the youngest of three children. "I appreciate having time to myself, but this is fast-paced alone time. It's amazing how much you have to do in a day. You make money and then you have to do something with it and then you realize that you haven't seen your family in three months! I lost those boring days when you stumble upon a bookstore. That's true luxury.

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