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Daniela Cott


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Nationality: Argentinean

Height: (EU) 1.77


Hair: Dark Brown

Eyes: Green

Born: Buenos Aires

Age: 16

Not so long ago (2005), Daniela Cott - fifteen years old, one of ten siblings - was one of Buenos Aires' 'cartoneras', one of the many people scavenging through rubbish on the streets of Argentina's capital. But now she's being hailed as one of her country's most beautiful women and is hailed as an up-and-coming fashion model (having won the Elite Model Look Argentina 2007 Contest). She never thought about being a model but now she dreams about being like Valeria Mazza.

In 2005, when she had just turned 13, Daniela Cott went to work scavenging trash on the cobbled streets of a prosperous neighborhood. She endured insults from motorists, cuts from broken glass, and hordes of flies.

Today, she is one of Argentina's most talked-about new fashion models.

Ms. Cott, now 15, recently defeated 1,000 other contestants to earn the right to represent Argentina this spring in the Elite Model Look final, a major competition for young models from around the globe. Elite Model Management is one of the world's largest modeling agencies, and past pageant participants include Gisele Bündchen and Cindy Crawford.

As New York's Fashion Week moves into high gear this week, Ms. Cott's story shows how the fashion industry is casting an ever wider net for hot talent. Ms. Cott's unlikely journey from cartonera, or trash scavenger, to model began one night in mid-2005, when a young woman on her way home noticed her carrying garbage. The woman, a necklace designer named Marina González Winkler, gave the trash picker some clothes, and the two became friends. Ms. González later took photos of Ms. Cott and sent them to a modeling agent.

In Argentina, there's already talk of a film and book about the miracle makeover. Ms. Cott, 5 feet 8 inches tall with green eyes and a creamy complexion, recently traveled to Spain for magazine and TV features.

Ms. Cott made headlines before the Elite competition with the help of her agents, who pitched her Cinderella story to the local press. Television appearances followed. Denise Dumas, a model who hosts a TV fashion and health show, had Ms. Cott as a guest last year. "I saw her in the studio and she was divine, tall with wonderful skin," she says.

Then Ms. Dumas got closer and saw Ms. Cott's hands. "There were calluses, cuts, scars, dark blotches and dry patches," says Ms. Dumas. "That's when I really began to understand what Daniela had been through."

Ms. Cott has since undergone extensive dermatological treatment on her hands to help heal the scars of scavenging. She says she wants to use her celebrity to press the government to supply all trash pickers with protective gloves. The young model says she's not ashamed of having worked as a cartonera, "because that gave me a very strong character and taught me not to be afraid of anything."

Salvador Jaef, Elite's president in Argentina and one of the three judges of the November competition, says Ms. Cott's background didn't affect his vote one way or another. Her past doesn't matter because "she's got attitude and charisma," says Mr. Jaef, who has since taken over as Ms. Cott's manager.

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