“I’ve had great luck with men,” China Machado, the model who passed away on Sunday at the age of 87, told W just a few years ago from her waterfront home in Sag Harbor, New York. Her legacy can readily attest to that statement: Richard Avedon, whom she spent every single day with for years at a time, was just one of the noted names in Machado’s crew, along with designers like Halston, Oscar de la Renta, and plenty of Italian couturiers. (Not so lucky were more up-and-coming American talents, hardly up to Machado’s couture-cultivated standards:”“He was in the lower echelon,” she later recalled of one Calvin Klein.)
But the legacy of Machado, who was a stand-out model not just for her looks, but the barriers she broke in the industry as a person of color, was mostly of her own making. Born to a Portuguese father and a Chinese mother in Shanghai, she ran off with a bullfighter to Rome at the age of 19, where she broke into film before ditching her lover for Paris and none other than Hubert de Givenchy. Machado’s penchant for breaking conventions soon stretched over to modeling, too: she changed her name from Noelie to China and quickly became Europe’s highest paid runway model, which eventually led to teaming up with Avedon to star in a 1959 issue of Harper’s Bazaar — and becoming the first model of color to grace the cover of a major American fashion magazine, a move that almost lost Avedon his contract.
Revisit W’s shoot with China Machado at her home in Sag Harbor in 2010:
China Machado wears Alexander McQueen’s silk satin dress, to order, 212.645.1597. Tony Duquette earrings; Nicholas Varney bracelet.
Moschino’s embellished silk jacket, at select Saks Fifth Avenue stores, 800.347.9177; moschino.com; Tao’s cotton lace blouse and cotton pants, at Comme des Garçons, New York.
Yves Saint Laurent’s cotton crepe dress, at select Yves Saint Laurent boutiques, ysl.com. Tony Duquette earrings and necklace.
A trio of Machado’s favorite paintings, artists unknown.
Dolce & Gabbana’s silk jacket and silk chiffon blouse, at select Dolce & Gabbana boutiques, dolcegabbana.it. Philip Treacy London Couture Collection hat; Eloise Corr Danch paper flowers; Verdura earrings; Tony Duquette necklace.
That was hardly the only time Machado made waves in print. She eventually transitioned from cover girl to the title’s senior fashion editor and, later, fashion director, having cut her teeth with Avedon in an exclusive that lasted three years. (Also helpful in the way of experience: years of getting to know the big names through partying with Pablo Picasso in Paris and Andy Warhol in New York.) Over the next few decades, Machado also broke into TV, opened up a gourmet gift shop-turned-gallery, and tried her hand at designing.
Plus, even well into her eighties, there was always modeling: take a 2013 Cole Haan campaign that pictured Machado at ease as ever, leaning confidently over a line of text that read “Born in 1928.”
A Look Back at the Life of China Machado
China Machado at the Miguel Cruz Fashion Show at the Plaza Hotel in 1987.
Richard Avedon and China Machado at Avedon’s opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978.
China Machado poses in front of photographs of herself at Christie’s, 1997.
China Machado in New York, 1996.
China Machado and her husband Riccardo Rosa at the Guild Hall, East Hampton, New York, 2002.
China Machado at the Tribute to the Models of Versailles 1973 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011.
China Machado at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
China Machado at the “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2014.
Beverly Johnson, China Machado, and Carol Alt at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
China Machado at the “About Face: Supermodels Then And Now” New York Premiere in 2012.
China Machado at the “Battle at Versailles” New York Premiere in March, 2016.
China Machado at Barneys New York’s celebration of its downtown New York flagship in March, 2016.
A Look Back at the Life of China Machado
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