China Machado moved to Paris and found work modelling for Givenchy. She was asked to model for Balenciaga, but he was out of town so they sent her to Givenchy instead.
“They thought I was filling-in for a sick girl, so they grabbed me, put me in clothes, and threw me into the room where they were showing the collection. I barely knew anything about walking like a model, so I just copied the girl in front of me. At the end of the show, gorgeous Givenchy comes up to me and says,
‘Would you like to be in the cabine?’
—that’s what they called the group of models who worked for the house. That’s how it all started.“
China Machado was born in Shanghai, China. Her Portuguese father was from Macau, her maternal grandmother is from Goa. Her father met her mother in Hong Kong. At the age of 19, she met the Spanish bullfighter, Luis Miguel Dominguín. She moved with him to Rome, where she had bit-roles in films. After the relationship ended, she changed her first name to China (pronounced CHEE-na) and later worked for Christian Dior and Balenciaga. She became the highest-paid runway model in Europe, earning $1,000 a day.
In 1957, she married the actor Martin LaSalle. and the couple settled in New York City where Machado met Diana Vreeland. It was through Vreeland she developed a very close friendship with photographer, Richard Avedon. She called him the,
“great mentor in her life.”
Avedon said that she was,
“probably the most beautiful woman in the world. It was 1958, and the publishers were saying, ‘We can’t put this girl in the magazine [Harper’s Bazaar]. Everyone in the South will quit subscriptions and no one will want to advertise with us!’”
But they were published in February 1959 because Avedon had threatened to not renew his contract with the magazine if they didn’t use them. Machado’s subsequent modeling success opened the door for generations of models of ethnicity, from Iman to Naomi Campbell.
Machado worked for Avedon exclusively for three years before he got her a job as Harper’s Bazaar‘s Senior Fashion Editor where, eventually, she became the Fashion Director and ventured into other endeavors in publishing, fashion, and television.
In 1989 she was added to the International Best Dressed List.
I was lucky enough to be a Facebook friend of hers, along with nearly 5,000 other fashion editors, photographers and admirers. She posted these photos there in the last several months of along with this this quote in November just after the election of Donald Trump,
“I am an American, I love this country. I immigrated to this country in 1960. It has given me everything! The American people gave me kindness, a career, a warm welcome and most of all my American family. Three generations… Please do not change…..This is the America I know.”
China died Sunday at Stony Brook University Hospital, one week before her 88th birthday.