Tao modeled for famous couture houses.
Half-Indian, half-French, Tao had an exotic look for the Paris fashion scene after World War II. She had one of her first modeling jobs with famous French designer Jeanne Lanvin, founder of the Lanvin fashion house. However, since they were promoting another “exotic” girl from an island in the Indian Ocean, Tao didn’t get a lot of attention. Tao’s friend, actress Marlene Dietrich, brought Tao out of the shadows.
Dietrich came straight to Lanvin and said, “I want a dress and I don’t want it on any other model except Tao.”
Marlene Dietrich wore the dress for an event at the Olympia Theatre that evening. In addition to Jeanne Lanvin, Tao modeled for all the major couture houses at the time including Jean Dessès, Coco Chanel, Marcel Rochas, Jean Patou and Elsa Schiaparelli. The dress of Prince Phillip’s mother – Princess Alice of Battenberg – for Prince Phillip’s marriage to Queen Elizabeth II was draped on Tao.
Tao had a seventeen-inch waist and could “walk like a panther.”
Tao was quite shapely – with a seventeen-inch waist and lots of “girls in the balcony” as she says meaning she was full-busted. Her innate body and breath awareness gave her an advantage. The artist and interior designer Christian Bérard, or Bébé Bérard as his friends called him, said Tao could “walk like a panther.”
He saw me and exclaimed so the entire street could hear, “Darling – vous marchez comme une panthère.”
Tao did a lot of work for Jean Dessès. He always gave her clothes that nobody else could walk in because they were very tight. The other girls didn’t like those type of dresses but Tao didn’t mind. Later, she was voted “Longest Legs in Europe.”
Tao was one of the first nine French models to tour America after the War.
Tao’s best friend was Maggy Sarragne, one of the top models in the world at that time who did a lot of work for French designer Christian Dior. Maggy recommended Tao for a special tour for Marcel Rochas. Tao became one of the first nine French models to tour America for Lever Brothers after the war. It was her first time here in America – a multi-city tour on chartered Pan Am planes including New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and Boston. Macy’s was one of the event sponsors in each city.
I was the only one of the French models that could say more than two words in English but it still got me in a bit of trouble.
Given Tao’s limited English, she often got into comedic and sticky situations. In Boston, she was quickly ushered out of the city after calling Mayor James Michael Curley – who had just come out of prison for mail fraud – a “cinema-beach” not understanding what she was saying. She thought it was safe to repeat what she heard others saying.
Tao could still strike a glamorous pose at 100 years old.
Tao was featured in magazines around the world and the camera loves her! The photo on the cover of her autobiography was the now famous red dress photo taken by photographer Robert Sturman.
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