Byline: Daniel Peres
The photographer asks Guess model Larissa Bondarenko to smile. She says no.
It’s not that she’s irritable, even though she was just caught in traffic for nearly an hour; it’s just that she’s not too comfortable with her grin.
“I don’t like it,” she says coyly. “I don’t think it’s pretty enough. I’m weird, what can I do?”
The Russian-born model — equipped, incidentally, with arrow-straight pearly whites — is the newest member of what has become, one could say, a modeling dynasty. A number of her predecessors — most notably Claudia Schiffer and bombshell bride Anna Nicole Smith — have used Guess as a launching pad, transforming themselves from little-known faces into household names.
While Bondarenko, 21, doesn’t have grandiose expectations, she recognizes the importance of the exposure.
“I don’t expect a million-dollar career,” she says, struggling with her English. “I like the recognition, though. People couldn’t find me in the magazines before, but I was there. Now, they can find me. When I came to America to model, I learned what was a good job and what was bad. Guess represents prestige. I wanted to get this job since I’ve been in the business. Now, people come to the promotion events and wait in line to meet me — for my autograph.”
Having shot two Guess ads already — in Montego Bay and Paris — Bondarenko is anxious to do more, and perhaps, like those before her, she will be catapulted to the top. Along the way, she’d like to pursue another ambition. Guess which one.
“I know every model says she wants to be an actor and it doesn’t sound interesting or important, but I like acting,” she says confidently. “I’d rather become an actress than a supermodel.”
It’s a far cry from where she was four years ago. Growing up in Tashkent in Uzbekistan, in the former Soviet Union, Bondarenko was more inclined to run around the high-school track than walk down a runway.
“My father always told me, ‘Just wait, one day you’ll have a line of people after you.’ He meant men. I never thought of myself as a beautiful creature, though. I was also much more interested in sports than I was in beauty,” she says.
While she misses her hometown, and hardly has the time to run seriously, she felt at home in New York from the day she arrived two years ago.
“I always knew that I would leave my home. Even though it is a beautiful town — warm, sunny and lots of roses, I just didn’t see my future there. I didn’t want to get married and have kids by the age of 20. I love the energy in New York,” she adds. “There aren’t many roses though.”