In 1971, before Parisian ramps had seen women of colour, before Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell, a dark, 6’ 1” tall, sari-clad model waited in French designer Pierre Cardin’s salon for eight hours. Cardin’s assistant called a manager, telling him an Indian princess had come to buy clothes.
When Cardin finally met her, she was hired on the spot. He called her ‘a jolie’ (Anjali), and Anjali Mendes became Cardin’s muse for 12 years. She also modelled for designers such as Ungaro, Scaperelli and Givenchy. But the former supermodel remained a Goan girl who served her champagne with sorpotel in her Paris apartment.
Mendes, 64, passed away on Thursday in Aix-en-Provence.
Mendes was suffering from an unidentified stomach infection. She had just moved from Paris to a chateau in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France.
The tall and leggy model was largely rejected by the Indian fashion industry for being too tall, dark and skinny — for French eyes, that ugly duckling was a swan. “Going to Paris was her best decision,” said writer Shobhaa De, who has walked the ramp with Mendes.
Mendes rose rapidly to become something of a cultural icon, adored by the press in Europe, courted by visiting royalty, movie stars and the international jet set including the late Princess Margaret.
Mendes never married, but she met an English aristocrat in Paris who groomed her for Parisian high society. He succumbed to cancer shortly before they were to be wed.
Ad man Gerson da Cunha recalls though she spoke fluent French, she never attempted to hide her strong Indian accent. After Mendes quit modelling, she looked after the Indian side of Cardin’s operations for 18 years. Mendes also indulged her other great love—gastronomy. In 2004, she published a cookbook called Cuisine Indienne De Mere En Fille.