In an era when fa­mous mod­els tend to be om­nipresent, Daria Wer­bowy re­mains elu­sive, pre­fer­ring to es­cape to the wild coast of Ire­land to sail or surf in free­dom. Yet, as an in­de­pen­dent-minded fem­i­nist, she is more in de­mand than ever be­fore. By Avril Mair

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents - Pho­tographed by Nico Bus­tos. Styled by Mi­randa Al­mond.

Daria. Dar­rrri ... ah. Her name says it all: a per­fect purr of a girl. Was there ever a beauty like this? So care­less of her ge­netic gift, so re­sis­tant to celebrity, so re­luc­tant to em­brace suc­cess, so com­fort­able in her own skin. Fem­i­nist, artist, tomboy, ad­ven­turer: this 32-year-old Cana­dian-Ukrainian may still be one of the world’s top mod­els —an am­bas­sador for Lancôme since 2005 and the face of their rev­o­lu­tion­ary new sk­in­care range Én­ergie de Vie, a star of cat­walk and cam­paigns, now styling and pho­tograph­ing her own ad shoots for se­lect fash­ion brands—but she’s also an ex­plorer, a free spirit, a rest­less soul. “I have al­ways been a seeker,” she says. “I’ve al­ways been look­ing for some­thing. When my ca­reer got good, I was like, ‘Is that it?’ Your dreams have come true, you can’t buy any­thing else to make you happy, so then you think: what else is there? There has to be more. Af­ter you’re ma­te­ri­ally suc­cess­ful and se­cure, you start try­ing to fig­ure out what it’s about. But all that re­ally mat­ters is that you’re do­ing want you want to be do­ing.”

She ar­rives late to our shoot in a Barcelona stu­dio, tanned and lean, tat­tooed with tal­is­manic sym­bols (in­clud­ing two an­chors to com­mem­o­rate sail­ing across the At­lantic with her fa­ther), tot­ing a ny­lon ruck­sack, ca­su­ally dressed in jeans and a hoodie with a bruised lip and un­brushed hair, but com­pelling and sen­su­ous none­the­less; a charis­matic force, for­mi­da­bly phys­i­cal at 5’11”, unashamedly vo­cal, com­pletely ir­re­sistible. If Daria Wer­bowy is do­ing any­thing, it’s ex­actly what she wants—even be­ing here with a hang­over, hav­ing stayed up most of the night be­fore to drink beer and watch Madonna per­form live. She throws her­self into the day with com­mit­ment and a calm en­ergy—as you think she must with the rest of her life— col­lab­o­ra­tive, laid-back, but fo­cused, check­ing the pho­tog­ra­pher’s dig­i­tal mon­i­tor to see if her an­gles could be im­proved, yet oth­er­wise not much both­ered by van­ity. “I lose con­text of what I look like in pictures,” she says at one point. “I feel to­tally de­tached. The per­son in them is com­pletely for­eign to me. It’s very strange.” She moves un­self­con­sciously to the mu­sic that plays in the back­ground (a mix of reg­gae, re­laxed house, and soft ’70s rock; her choice). Her armpits are un­shaven, her fin­gers raw from sea salt. It only adds to the con­sid­er­able al­lure.

This is the thing about Daria: she does ev­ery­thing on her own terms. Cat­a­pulted to star­dom in 2003 thanks to a Prada show and Steven Meisel cam­paign, hit­ting the Forbes rich list shortly af­ter­wards, still hold­ing the record for open­ing and clos­ing the most shows in one sea­son, she sud­denly left the in­dus­try in 2008, without fan­fare or farewell. “I was com­fort­able with be­ing a model for so long,” she says. “I didn’t un­der­stand why I was do­ing it, be­cause it didn’t make me feel good. I had ev­ery­thing I could want but I was still in­se­cure. Phys­i­cally and men­tally, I couldn’t han­dle it any­more.” She laughs, arches one of those iconic eye­brows. “I’m fine now. I am su­per happy to be alive and to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence life. That wasn’t al­ways the case. I think it’s some­thing that comes with age.”

Dur­ing her self-im­posed ex­ile, she went sail­ing, started surf­ing, got into yoga (she cred­its that lithe body to daily ash­tanga prac­tice), helped build a school in Peru, back­packed across con­ti­nents, then fi­nally, found a home on the south­west coast of Ire­land with her car­pen­ter boyfriend. “It’s mag­i­cal,” she says. “I feel very con­nected with the land­scape; it’s al­most as though I knew it when I first ar­rived. I’d rather be there than any­where. I like feel­ing a part of the world be­cause this life just isn’t nor­mal.” Hav­ing some­how come to terms with the fash­ion in­dus­try, in part due to her own im­proved sense of self, Wer­bowy started modelling again. “I al­ways re­garded my­self as a fem­i­nist, even as a kid,” she says. “I was al­ways try­ing to break the bound­aries of what it is to be fem­i­nine, what it means to be a girl. When I started work­ing, I def­i­nitely saw it as an op­por­tu­nity to break those stereo­types and be a voice for women. It’s an in­ter­est­ing di­chotomy be­ing in­volved in fash­ion, while also hav­ing cer­tain views about fem­i­nin­ity and wom­an­hood. It’s quite ironic do­ing this job with some of the be­liefs that I have. Now, I just try to fol­low my heart—as much of a cliché as that is—and do what feels the most truth­ful and hon­est.”

She spends a cou­ple of months shoot­ing each year in New York —“I work hard, do ev­ery­thing back to back, then I’m off. I feel more present that way. I like to go as far away as pos­si­ble as of­ten as I can”— and last ap­peared in a show in Septem­ber 2013, for Ba­len­ci­aga. Her elu­sive­ness is part of her ap­peal, of course: she se­lects work care­fully, el­e­gantly. “There’s such a huge world out there, so for me to just lock my­self into one job for the rest of my life seems very small, in a weird way,” she rea­sons. Celiné cam­paigns, shot by Juer­gen Teller, were a con­stant for a few years; mostly cap­tured without make-up, star­ing straight at the cam­era, she of­fered a mod­ern, off beat beauty that de­fined the brand’s iden­tity un­der its de­signer Phoebe Philo (“The Celiné lady is not me,” Wer­bowy as­serts. “But she’s a good lady and I like her!”). Nowa­days, she works with the French shirt com­pany Equip­ment, tak­ing self-por­traits for its pro­mo­tional im­agery— most re­cently, a provoca­tive se­ries of her­self naked with Kate Moss. Pho­tog­ra­phy is a pas­sion, though she says she couldn’t do it full-time; her In­sta­gram ac­count, @dotwil­low, is the op­po­site of most high­pro­file so­cial me­dia mod­els’s and tends to fea­ture land­scapes, dogs, and the de­tails of her trav­els. “I only started it be­cause my fam­ily wanted to know where I was,” she says.

Hers is the kind of sched­ule only af­forded to the most suc­cess­ful mod­els; that is, those with beauty con­tracts to fall back on. “I was signed up by Lancôme quite early in my ca­reer,” she says. “They have been in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive of me as an in­di­vid­ual—not just as a model, but as a per­son. I don’t think I’d have lasted as long oth­er­wise. I prob­a­bly would have crum­bled.”

She wouldn’t, though; for she is de­fined as much by her im­pres­sive willpower and de­ter­mi­na­tion as her beauty. “I sound like a masochist,” she says. “But I like to be chal­lenged. I want to put my­self in sit­u­a­tions where I feel as though I’m not com­pletely out of touch. I want to know that I’m not just self-ob­sessed. From the start, I al­ways un­der­stood that modelling was just a way for me to get out into the world.”

Em­broi­dered cre­pon dress, Phi­los­o­phy di Lorenzo Ser­afini. Ear­rings (worn through­out), Daria’s own.

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