Katoucha, the ever present fighter

Reading time 6 min.

Emotions are still running amok after Katoucha’s body was discovered floating on the seine last Thursday. Fashion personalities in both Africa and the diaspora share their precious memories of the “Princesse Peule” Yves Saint Laurent’s muse.

Katoucha left pain. Pain, not only for close friends and family, but also among those who worked with Katoucha. Katoucha left her beloved Africa to become a renowned model. The “Princesse Peule” became one of the first black models to grace international catwalks as Yves Saint Laurent’s muse.

Despite their ever present chagrin, some personalities in both Africa and the Diaspora honoured our invitation to share their most memorable thoughts of the brain behind the foundation against female circumcision.

Imane Ayissi, model, designer, dancer, Cameroun « She called me her other husband »

« It is difficult to use past tenses to describe her. I cannot accept her death, the great lady is still here. She will remain a fighter, a brave and active woman who did not only have great qualities, but no one is perfect ! I cling to her positive side. The professional and loving humanitarian… We worked a lot together. She supported me and wore a lot of my designs. I helped her with the Eben (Ebony) Top Model project. Our relationship was trasformed after years of knowing each other… I was practically her brother. We laughed a lot and she named me her other husband. Sometimes together with Michaël Kra [the jeweler] and Kimi Khan [a former model] we would act like two sets of couples. It was our way of overcoming life’s ordeals »

Michaël Kra, jeweler, Côte d’Ivoire « she’s a shining star,»

« Katoucha is the sunny side of my life. She’s a shining star and that is the memory i am going to keep of her. My strongest memory of her is when she wore the “lion coat” made by Yves Saint Laurent. That was a real depiction of Katoucha. We both have similar backgrounds. The two of us left Africa at the age of 18. She wobbled her way through and made a name for herself among top notch designers, while i was working in the United States. We met around 1990 in Paris where she introdiced me to big names in fashion. We started working together on her exclusive collections in 1995. We also worked on the Eben (Ebony) Top Model project both in the Caribbean and Senegal.

Alphadi, designer, Niger « Katoucha kept nothing for herself, she gave it all away »

« My memory of Katoucha is one of happiness. She was a generous woman. Everyone knows that : She kept nothing for herself. She gave it all away. She was exceptional, captivating, and a fighter. All my condolences to her family, her children and grandchild. We were great friends. She took part in several editions of FIMA, an african fashion festival that i created. She participated a great deal in african cultural creativity. Even at 47 her beauty had not waned, she still looked 18 and her African dignity stayed intact. Death has taken her away, but Katoucha will always remain in our hearts.»

Vincent McDoom, television presenter, actor and friend, Saint-Lucia « She accepted everyone as they were without judging»

« As a woman, Katoucha was a fighter. As a human being, she is the black lady who paved the way for other black women in the fashion industry. She did that for Iman (Bowie), Beverly, Naomi and all the other girls who came after her. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Thierry Mugler, Paco Rabanne, Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent for imposing this girl in a world that wasn’t yet ready for a black woman. She caused a stir everywhere she went. A good stir, i mean. This woman was of great generosity, she had dignity, and an unquestionable level of tolerance : she accepted everyone as they were without judging. She really loved people and knew how to magnetise them. She was equally honest. So much so that she was capable of writing her book (Dans ma chair: In my flesh) in which she tells it all. I hope her fight against female circumcision lives on. »

Kiane (formerly known as Kimi Khan), former model, Côte d’Ivoire « I told her she was the supreme model »

« It is not like i cannot accept her death, for me she was the symbol of life ! She was full of life and hope. In 2006 i paid tribute to her in Dakar where i described her legs as two vertical lines that linked heaven and earth. The “orange goddess”, (orange was her favourite colour), was extremely generous. I remember when i was once suffering depression, she helped me back on my feet into the world of fashion. This girl is adorable. I told her she was the supreme model and that i was glad it was a known and accepted fact while she was still alive. I do not know if she realised what she stood for, but we told her anyway. She will remain with us whatever the case. She always encouraged us to push forward, that is, Michaël Kra, Imane Ayissi and myself, to become the best and above all not to give up. And although she is gone, we will still keep on nourishing this friendship we shared»

Princesse Esther Kamatari, former model and an « intimate friend», Burundi « A great woman who covered her pain in style»

« I cannot forget her laughter. Katoucha’s laughter. She was a great girl, great sense of humour but hurt… she covered her pain in style. She was very very beautiful. She looked like her heart. It is tough thinking she is not to be seen alive anylonger. I get this unbearable lump in my throat anytime i think about it. Katoucha and i shared a unique story. I trained her in the begining. And she did the rarest thing by paying tribute to me in her book : Some forget what people have done for them, you know. I have something funny for you. Katoucha and I called each other “mgr” (pronounced “meugre” in French) after a senegalese newspaper shortened Monseigneur for “mgr”. It made us laugh our heads off ! I would also like to say that Katoucha was ever present whenever i organised anything for Burundian orphans. She was indeed very active in my first humanitarian fashion show. I still do not understand why the person who drove her home that fatal night did not walk her to her boathouse. I just cannot bring myself to forgiving that person. It was apparently raining that night and she could only access her boat via another. What is the essence of a freindship if we cannot accompany a needy friend under such unfavourable circumstances? »

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