Fashion legend China Machado died at the age of 86 on Sunday morning, a week before her birthday, after suffering cardiac arrest on Thursday night, per WWD. The model, muse, and editor, ever a champion of diversity, had one of the most unique and extraordinary careers in the fashion industry. From being discovered by photographer Richard Avedon in 1958 to signing with IMG Models at age 80, Machado was a compelling example of being an exception to the status quo.
And exceptional she was. As a muse to Avedon, the Shanghai native started out in the industry as a runway model, not an editorial model, she made sure to clarify. Because back then, you were one or the other — never both. But in 1959, just one year after moving to New York, it was her talent on the runway (and a little help from Vogue editor Diana Vreeland) that led her to become the first non-Caucasian face to ever grace the cover of Harper's Bazaar. Machado was also a muse to Jackie Onassis' costume designer, Oleg Cassini.
Machado's multi-ethnic background (her lineage was Portuguese, Chinese, and Indian) was showcased in editorials and campaigns for decades, proving that there was a space for non-white models. And Machado's bond with Avedon would change the industry for women of color forever. Avedon threatened to breach his contract with magazines if they discussed not printing his images of Machado. She went on to become senior fashion editor and then fashion director at Harper's Bazaar, spending a total of 11 years at the publication.
Her personal life was pretty illustrious, too. At 19, Machado dated Spanish bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín. After that relationship ended and Machado had cut her teeth modeling for Hubert de Givenchy and Cristobal Balenciaga, she married French-Uruguayan actor Martin LaSalle in 1957, with whom she had two children, Blanche and Emmanuelle. She later married Riccardo Rosa, a furniture importer, who survives her, along with her daughters. Ahead, we're taking a look back at Machado's recent years as a red carpet firecracker, or, as Avedon once referred to her, "the most beautiful woman in the world."