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FRANCE/GUINEA: Paris Police Seek Missing Model, Former Saint Laurent Muse

PARIS (AFP) French police were searching Friday for a Guinean former catwalk model, one time muse of the couture giant Yves Saint Laurent, a week after she vanished from her Paris houseboat.

Nicknamed the "black princess", the 47-year-old Katoucha went missing from her home on a central stretch of the River Seine Friday night, according to relatives who reported her missing on Monday.

The mother-of-three disappeared after being dropped off near her home from a party and her handbag was later recovered nearby.

Investigators are exploring all lines of inquiry, including a fatal accident or suicide, and divers trawled the Seine in vain for her body this week.

Born in Conakry, Katoucha worked with the greatest couture stars at the height of her career in the 1980s including Saint Laurent who "loved her enormously", according to Dominique Deroche, head of PR for the designer.

"She was exactly like an Yves Saint Laurent drawing, a proud head on a long neck, very slim but with strong shoulders, made for haute couture."

"She looked magnificent on the catwalk and often wore very powerful outfits -- like a cubist navy blue dress with doves around the neckline."

Katoucha left the catwalk for good in 1994, but in recent years she made headlines as an outspoken campaigner against female circumcision, launching a foundation against the practice.

"Today at the age of 47, I want a woman's combat and I have chosen the battle against excision," she said in a recent interview.

Excised at the age of nine, in her home country Guinea, Katoucha recounted the ordeal in a recent book entitled "In My Flesh".

The daughter of the writer and historian Djibril Tamsir Niane, Katoucha spent an idyllic childhood in Conakry.

"I grew up surrounded byu hibiscus and ylang-ylang flowers. I used to get drunk on the richest perfumes and saw myself as a perfumer or a model," she wrote in the book.

But then her life changed forever.

"We lived in Conakry, life was sweet, then 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'," she said.

She said she saw her career as a top model, first with the designer Thierry Mugler, as a form of "revenge" for the horror of excision.

"I embodied the most arrogant and admired kind of feminity, I who was supposed to be diminished."

SOURCE: AFP

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DATE: 11/02/2008

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