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March 16, 1994

Today's cover model, Larissa Bondarenko, knew she wanted to be a model from the time she was a child in the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. Then it happened, just like in the fairy tales: A Moscow photographer sent photos of Bondarenko to the Elite modeling agency in New York.

"Even in the Polaroids you could just tell . . . her lips, her nose, everything's perfect," said Elite president Valerie Trott.

So Bondarenko, who is nearly 6 feet tall, traveled to New York. She was just 18.

"I didn't speak a word of English. There was no one to speak Russian. So I guess you learn a language when you have no choice," she says. "But I was very happy, very happy, because I was the one girl that had a chance to leave."

It wasn't till the young model hit Los Angeles, though, that her star began to shine.

"When I received her (portfolio), I just thought, well, whatever," recalls Capucine Castets, director of print for the modeling agency Elite L.A. "But when I saw in her person it was like, wow. Larissa did some test shots and right away it just clicked. Now, everyone in town wants her."

Everyone includes Paul Marciano, discoverer of natural beauties, who will use Bondarenko for an upcoming Guess ad campaign.

She'll also be featured in a special about models later this month on VH-1, and she leaves this week for Tahiti and a shoot with Australian Vogue.

What's Larissa got that millions of other wanna-be models don't?

"She is a great natural beauty, very statuesque," said Castets. "And then there's an innocence about her being Russian." She's not jaded? "Not yet."

The only surprise Bondarenko said she has encountered is the business of modeling itself.

"When you do a job, the people--the photographer, the makeup person, the stylist--they already know what they want to see. I wanted to see myself as I saw myself."

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