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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.
“I have déja vu on a daily basis,” she continues.
“There are moments when I wake up and I think: ‘Where am I? How did I get here?’ When you travel, time flies and years go by.”
Fortunately, when Werbowy flies for work these days, something besides her time gets erased—her carbon footprint.
The cornerstone to Lancôme’s 2007 eco initiatives is a partnership with Carbonfund.org. The company has committed not only to finding ways to reduce its impact on the environment, but to making donations to offset the “carbon footprints” of its five spokesmodels, who include Selena Breed, Shalom Harlow, Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann and Ines Sastre, in addition to Werbowy.
The idea for the partnership came about when new spokesmodel Rossellini Wiedemann helped a friend reduce the climate impact of his hair salon and approached Lancôme about offsetting the environmental impact of all the air travel she would be doing for the brand. “
[Carbonfund.org] does the carbon calculations and then they plant trees,” Werbowy says, adding, “I fly once or twice a week.”
Aside from photo sessions in Los Angeles and the fashion capitals of Europe, the New Yorkbased model has traveled to far-flung shoot destinations including Argentina, Japan, South Korea and China.
“I have a lot of energy,” she says. “I try to eat organic when I can. I cook. I have never been a water drinker, but I force myself. I’ve gone days without a bottle. It’s terrible. I ride my bike when I can. I take vitamins. I also try to stay positive. That’s the most important thing—having a good mentality.”
Werbowy is also a major snowboarder. “I started seven or eight years ago in Toronto because I hang around a lot of boys. I got a black eye once, but that didn’t stop me. You can’t live like that. You can’t let your job run your life.
“It’s good to have drive, to push yourself, but to have fun too; to have outside interests,” she says.
Werbowy walks her talk. Recently, she served as executive producer of a snowboarding movie.
“It’s in the vein of Blue Crush and Lords of Dogtown. It’s being finished now and hopefully, we can get it into a film festival by the end of the year. It’s a drama full of teen angst about second chances, finding yourself and turning things around.” Sound familiar?
“I learned a lot from the experience,” Werbowy says. “I learned that I want to be a director!”
Not surprisingly, that’s just one of many job descriptions catching her fancy these days.
Currently, the model is also sporting a lab coat and dabbling as a product developer for Lancôme. “I’m playing with ideas and shades for a charitybased project to launch in spring 2008. I went to the labs outside of Paris and saw two French boys making lipsticks. It was so cool! For me, it’s really important to get involved and understand the business side, too. It’s a huge business worldwide. The research they do is amazing. Lancôme is such an emotional brand.
“Makeup is fun,” she adds. “When I was younger, in high school, it was something new. I experimented with it. Now, I see makeup as something to enhance your own features or to completely change your identity. I think any woman could be nine different women if she wants to be.”
Asked to list the nine women she would like to be, Werbowy starts out strong:
“Number one: I have a really maternal side where I just want to have babies,” she says. “Number two is my rock side. You know, rebelling against my parents. Number three: I want to be like Ava Gardner, whom I was dressed as for a Vogue shoot last year. She’s chic, glamorous without fail. Number four is my tomboy side. We’re talking the WNBA! Number five is art school. I still want to go. I could live in a room and paint all day. Number six: Acting is on my list too. I’ll try anything once. Then I’ll get to be one of these nine women.” Here, Werbowy trails off. She can’t immediately come up with three more personae. Then again, she is only 23. She has plenty of time.