“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:
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."
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