MANY YEARS AGO DURING A PHOTO SHOOT IN CALIFORNIA, I BECAME CLOSE FRIEND OF ONE OF THE PRODUCERS, A CHARMING WOMAN CALLED EMMANUELLE LASALLE, MANNIE HER NICKNAME.
I DISCOVERED LATER THAT SHE WAS ONE OF THE DAUGHTER OF LEGENDARY CHINA MACHADO, THE WOMAN THAT WAS ONCE DUBBED AS ‘PROBABLY THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD’ BY THE PHOTOGRAPHER RICHARD AVEDON, FOR WHOM SHE WAS CHOSEN AS MODEL AND MUSE.
CHINA MACHADO’S EXOTIC FACE MADE HER THE FIRST NON-WHITE COVER GIRL IN THE WEST. BUT BEYOND THE COUTURE HOUSES AND CATWALKS WHERE SHE WAS PROTAGONIST FOR OVER 50 YEARS AGO, SHE TRAVELLED THE WORLD, FIRST AS A MODEL, THEN AS A FASHION EDITOR, LAUNCHED HER CLOTHING LINE, PRODUCED TELEVISION AND RAISED TWO DAUGHTERS, LARGELY AS A SINGLE MOTHER.
CATCHING UP WITH MANNIE ONE MONTH AGO, SHE PUT ME IN TOUCH WITH HER MOTHER. AND HERE’S PART OF THE STORY OF THIS EXTRAORDINARY WOMAN.
Dear Mrs. Machado, it was 1959 and you were the first non-Caucasian model to appear on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Do you think at that time that fashion changed somehow?
I was unaware of the fact that I was causing such a problem as I returned to Paris after three months in NYC in 1958. Before the photographs appeared in Feburary 1959. Richard Avedon threatened not to extend his contract if the photographs were not published. In Europe – where I was the highest paid runway model – I never had any racial problems. I guess I was just considered exotic. I was not on the cover in this issue but later i was the first non-Caucasian to be on the cover in 1972.
Diana Vreeland: can you describe her in few words?
Diana Vreeland was the most influencial fashion icon ever because she was an original in her thinking and always wanted to break barriers. I met her on my first day arriving in NYC and she immediately had me open the international fashion group show the same day, where Avedon first saw me. She called me “golden bones” and was a champion to me. She was a warm, kind and very clever woman. She was the one who completely changed the Metropolitam Museum’s fashion exhibit and made it what it is today… a hugh event.
You worked and have been the muse of Richard Avedon for a long time. Can you describe his photography style when you worked with him and later on before he died?
He made my career in America first as a model then at Haper’s Bazaar as Senior Fashion Editor. I also worked with him on most of his commercial ads as a stylist. This was during a seventeen year period. But I was a friend for almost fifty years.
Mentioned some great personalities that you met during your career.
This is too long a list but I will mention a few. Picasso. The Beatles. And Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird. Mike Nicols. Milos Forman, and of course all the great fashion designers American and European, especially Balenciaga, Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Galanos, Oscar de la Renta and Geoffrey Beene to name a few.
You seemed not to have problems to talk about ageing. Right?
Why should I ? It is not something one can do anything about. I never had the time and money to spend on expensive proceedures. I never had a face lift or yearly nips and tucks. I was a single mother with two daughters. Other things were more important. It is different if one is in the public eye all the time . I stopped modeling in 1962. I am now eighty-five and I was suddenly rediscovered four years ago! So unexpected… I am just happy that I am in good health and running around.
What’s your relation with fashion today and which magazines do you read?
I have been “in fashion” since 1954 in one way or another first modeling in Europe for Givenchy and then freelance modeling for all designers. Then photographic model, fashion editor for eleven years, fashion film maker for NBC and events all over America. Fashion designer of my own line, an hand made sweater company, five years in Lears magazine as fashon and beauty director. And finally retired rom fashion. I really do not read any fashion magazine though I sometimes check them out at the newsstands.
What do you think of the current models generation?
As I do not go to fashion shows that often it is hard for me to judge. I came from a school of models who knew how to sell a dress ( as it was made especially for you ) and since there are so many models in a show today, this is of course not manageable.
You are writing your biography. How do you feel to live your extraordinary life again in words? Will you have unpublished images coming together with the book? When will we have the pleasure to read it?
It is so kind of you to inquire. I did not want it to be a model’s book but an inspirational journey through life, the making of decisions at very difficult times. The racial issue and the sense that woman have to face finical problems depending only on themselves which make us strong. Being of Portuguese Colonial descent meaning that there is a mixture of races in my blood due to the fact of four hundred years of Portuguese colonial through Africa, India and China. It was not an easy childhood, living through the Japnese occupation of Shanghai and the consequent abandonment of all family ties and propertes to escape. Sailing to an unknown destiny and new life. And yes, there will be unpublished photographs, I am still doing the lay-outs. I never knew how slow or how long this book publishing process takes but will keep you posted!
Photo credit: Dan Jackson