China Machado was born in Shanghai , China. Her father was Portuguese and her mother was Chinese. After World War 2, her family settled in Argentina and then Peru. At the age of 19, she met the Spanish bullfighter, Luis Miguel Dominguín She was with Dominguín for almost two years.
When the relationship ended, she moved to Paris and found work modeling for Hubert de Givenchy. At this time she changed her first name to China (pronounced CHEE-na). She later worked for Christian Dior and Balenciaga. During this time, she became the highest-paid runway model in Europe, earning $1,000 a day
China (pronounced “cheena”) Machado was born Noelie Dasouza Machado and grew up in Shanghai, China, moved to South America and eventually ended up in New York in the 1950’s. Muse to Richard Avedon.
Became one of the most requested runway models in the 50’s, then was one of Harper’s Bazaar senior fashion editors and styled many of Avedon’s ads including the Revlon “Unforgettable Women” campaigns.
In 1956 China Machado became the first non-white beauty to break through fashion’s apartheid system when she secured a job as a fitting model at Givenchy in Paris, after first being spotted at a cocktail party.
It just happened to me,” she recalled. She knew nothing about modelling, and had never even read a fashion magazine. Nevertheless, within two years she was doing runway for Valentino, Dior and Pierre Cardin.
Her big break came in 1958 after she was spotted at a Balenciaga runway show in New York by fashion photographer Richard Avedon, who was introduced to her by Harper’s Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland.
He was so struck by her that he later declared her ‘probably the most beautiful woman in the world.’
He photographed her at his studio the following day, and the images subsequently appeared in theFebruary 1959 edition of Bazaar. It was the first time an East Asian model had ever featured in a mainstream fashion magazine.
But this was no easy accomplishment, because in order to get the images published Avedon threatened to quit the magazine after the Hearst corporation objected to Machado’s ethnicity.
He later revealed the specifics of the incident — that Robert F. MacLeod, the magazine’s publisher at the time, told him, “Listen, we can’t publish these pictures. The girl is not white.”
But despite China’s success at Bazaar, this era of all-white models meant that there were limits to just how far the first beauty of non-Caucasian ethnicity could go. “Dick [Avedon] once told me, ‘You’ll never make a lot of money in this industry because you’re too special,’” said China. In this instance, “special” meant Asian
Ultimately, modelling held little lasting appeal for Machado, who found the whole business frivolous. She quit abruptly in 1962, instead taking a job as fashion editor at Bazaar, where she would remain for 11 years.
These days, at 83 years of age she is still active, having recently written her autobiography.
She also still models, and signed up with the IMG agency at the age of 80. In the 2012 HBO documentary, About Face, she talked along with a number of other “vintage” beauties, about how ex-models cope with aging.
“A woman can be active until this age,” she stated. “And, you know, not look so bad without plastic surgery.”