Former top model Niane's body found in river
EmptyPARIS -- The body of Katoucha Niane, one of the first African women to attain international stardom as a model and a vocal opponent of female genital mutilation, was found in the Seine River, police said Friday.
Known simply as Katoucha, the former top model for Yves Saint Laurent and other top designers was found Thursday near the Garigliano bridge in Paris, judicial police in Paris said.
An autopsy showed no signs of foul play, pointing to the possibility that the 47-year-old may have fallen accidentally into the river, they said.
She had been missing since January and was last seen returning home from a party. She lived in a houseboat near Paris' Alexandre III bridge, and her handbag was later found on the boat.
The Guinean-born model told The Associated Press in 1994 that she ran away to Europe at 17 aiming to be a model. Her big break came when Jules-Francois Crahay, then the designer at Lanvin, spotted her in a line-up. The label hired her as a fitting model. Her first catwalk modeling was for Thierry Mugler at the start of the 1980s.
After quitting the runway, she turned to speaking out actively against female circumcision, describing her own experience at age 9 in a book, "Katoucha, In My Flesh," which was published last year.
"I will never get the incomparable pain out of my head," she wrote in the book, which she dedicated to her three children. In the book, she also detailed wild nights of partying, alcohol and drugs.
Vanity Fair's fashion and style director, Michael Roberts, said Katoucha was "one those girls who used her fame to spotlight the misfortunes of others."
"She always seemed so gracious and very lovely," he said. "She was sunny and she was bright, and I liked her a lot."
Katoucha set up her own label in 1994 after years of modeling for the likes of Christian Lacroix and Saint Laurent. Singers Cher and France's Johnny Hallyday were among the stars who turned out for her show.
"I don't pretend to be like Lacroix, Saint Laurent or the others," she said at the time. "But I was certainly in a great school by wearing their clothes and going to the fittings. I learned several basic lessons, including: Don't cut the fabric until you've got the 'toile,' or heavy linen prototype, just right."
Katoucha was the daughter of Djibril Tamsir Niane, an archaeologist and writer. She said that her father was initially disappointed that she didn't become "a professional intellectual, with a university degree," but later reconciled to her other successes.
In the months before her death, Katoucha took on her first film role, playing a beautiful and rebellious woman not unlike herself, said Leandre-Alain Baker, director of "Ramata." Filming is complete but a release date has not yet been set.
"She's marvelous in the role," Baker said.
He also said he sensed Katoucha could never entirely free herself from painful childhood experiences -- a struggle sometimes apparent in her emotional shifts.
"She could go right from laughter to anger," Baker said. "But she always came back ... and I attribute that to her past, what she experienced and lived through."