China Machado wearing a dress constructed of Richard Avedon’s photographs of herself
“I was born to be a model. I don’t mean that physically because, as Dick (Richard Avedon) once told me, “You’ll never make a lot of money in this industry because you’re too special”. But like models now, from an early age I was accustomed to moving a lot. I was born in Shanghai in 1929 and lived there till I was 16. We were forced out (during the Japanese occupation) and then I lived between Argentina and Peru before I came to Europe.
I fell in love with a bullfighter, Luis Miguel Dominguín, which was a very big scandal. My family didn’t speak to me for 15 years. But I don’t regret it. He was 27 and gorgeous, like Mick Jagger. In Paris I sang in a nightclub, and I met Hubert de Givenchy and started to work in his atelier. There were two types of models in the early ‘50s: photographic models and runway models, which is what I was. It was different then. I would work with a designer for three months, as they would create dresses specifically for me. It was couture. I made $100 a month, and I was the highest-paid model in Europe at the time. I had a very distinctive walk.
In September 1958, I arrived in New York. Diana Vreeland cast me in a group of fashion show, which I opened wearing a fabulous Balenciaga dress. Dick saw me, and the next thing I knew I was in his studio. I worked exclusively with Dick and Bazaar for the next three years. I stopped in 1962 because, frankly, I couldn’t give a damn. A model had so much to worry about: we had to get our own hair done and do our own makeup. I was happy to become a fashion editor at Bazaar (from 1962 to 1972).
I eat all the time. My favorite food is rice, and I eat it at least once a day. I’m always active. Perhaps that’s what keeps me in shape- I’m always moving. In 1972 I was on the cover of Bazaar, and I said the same thing: I don’t exercise, I don’t diet, and I dye my own hair. People thought I was lying. But it was true then and it’s true now.”
Yves Saint Laurent’s cotton crepe dress. Tony Duquette earrings and necklace
China Machado wearing Alexander McQueen’s silk satin dress; Tony Duquette earrings and Nicholas Varney bracelet. All Photographs by Bruce Weber