March 2, 2008
By Peter Allen in Paris
Last Updated: 2:18am GMT 01/03/2008
The lifeless body of Katoucha Niane, the former supermodel muse of fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent, has been fished out of the River Seine near Paris.
Detectives are investigating whether the beautiful 47-year-old - nicknamed "The Black Princess" - was the victim of a murder plot, although all the signs point towards an accidental death.
Supermodel Katoucha Niane's body found in Paris
Once a muse of Yves Saint Laurent, Katoucha became a campaigner against female circumcision
Seen as a forerunner of Naomi Campbell - the world’s most successful black model - Katoucha once commanded hundreds of thousands of pounds for her appearances on the catwalk.
In the 1980s she modelled for Christian Lacroix, Paco Rabanne and Thierry Mugler.
Until Thursday's gruesome find, she had not been seen since disappearing from her upmarket houseboat on a central stretch of the river by the Alexander III Bridge on February 1st.
The mother-of-three disappeared after being dropped off from a late night party organised by others from the world of Paris fashion, in which she still worked as a consultant.
Police believe she had been drinking heavily, and may have fallen into the water after losing her footing in a tragic accident.
Katoucha's handbag was later recovered near her houseboat.
Her body was pulled from the Seine in Boulogne, just west of the capital, according to one detective, who said investigators were yesterday afternoon still at the scene gathering evidence.
"This may have been a tragic accident after a night out with friends, but we cannot rule out any form of foul play at this stage, up to and including murder," the detective added.
He said the body, which was spotted under a bridge by a passer-by, and which was thought to have been in the water for close to a month, was still clothed in a designer dress.
An autopsy was in progress, with numerous people attending Paris Fashion Week being spoken to about Katoucha's disappearance.
Although a French national, Katoucha was born in Conakry, Guinea, and was hugely proud of her African background.
Her father was the playwright and historian Djibril Tamsir Niane.
Katoucha worked with the greatest haute couture stars at the height of her career in the 1980s, including Saint Laurent, to whom she was always close.
Katoucha left the catwalk for good in 1994, but in recent years became an outspoken critic of female circumcision, launching a foundation to campaign against practice.
Excised at the age of nine in Guinea, Katoucha recounted the ordeal in a recent book entitled "In My Flesh".
She said she saw her career as a top model as a form of "revenge" for the horror of excision.
Katoucha wrote: "I grew up surrounded by hibiscus and ylang-ylang flowers. I used to get drunk on the richest perfumes and saw myself as a perfumer or a model.
"But one day, mother said we were going to the cinema. And I found myself the victim of a horror movie. An unimaginable trauma that I had never managed to talk about, until I found love and wrote 'In My flesh'.
"I embodied the most arrogant and admired kind of femininity, I who was supposed to be diminished," she wrote.
The Seine, despite its beautiful bridges and cobbled riverbanks, is a legendary dumping ground for the bodies of murder and suicide victims.
Last year, 55 corpses were retrieved from its murky depths, and around 150 people were rescued alive.
-this story can be found in the Daily Telegraph