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Farida Khelfa

It takes a strong woman to say no to Helmut Newton. Farida Khelfa did. Too busy dancing at Paris' Le Palace and working as the bouncer at Les Bains Douches in the late seventies. "I remember that Farida never even followed up on an offer Helmut Newton made—more than once—to pose for him," her friend and one-time roommate Christian Louboutin said. (They lived together at his parents' place.) "She'd have to get up too early, and we just weren't interested back then."

The statuesque Khelfa lived the life of a demimondaine. It was at Le Palace that Frédérique Lorca, a designer from Gaultier's studio, "discovered" the French-Algerian 16-year-old and brought her in to model. "I didn't know who he was, but it was love at first sight," she says of the designer. That's a common tale where Khelfa is concerned. She has remained a muse and favorite of Gaultier's for decades, but he's hardly the only one to fall under her spell. Later on, she met the famed French photographer Jean-Paul Goude; shortly after, she moved in and became a major muse of his, too. Through Goude, she met Azzedine Alaïa, who cast her in his supermodel-stuffed presentations of the 1980's and has remained a steadfast friend and supporter ever since.

Khelfa has worked her way through various jobs in fashion, from mannequin to press attaché to collaboratrice, ventured into film acting (working, as always, with the best: Robbe-Grillet, Schnabel, Breillat), then directing. Now she's preparing to take on spokeswoman duties at the revived house of Schiaparelli, for which she was personally picked by its new owner, Diego Della Valle. (He appreciated her "modern and provocative elegance," he said recently.) Her new post finds her at Schiap's original Place Vendôme atelier. From the underage underground to fashion's hautest echelons: Shocking! Le mot juste. And also, not unrelatedly, Schiaparelli's favorite word.

—Matthew Schneier
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