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Andrée Acouri, the World’s First Arab Model: “I Was the Master of My Own Decisions”

Now 80, Andrée Acouri – the first Arab model to walk the international runways–reflects on a remarkable life of glamour, beauty, and (almost) no regrets. 

Andrée Acouri wears gown, Valentino; necklace, stylist’s own. Photographed by Kiki Xue for Vogue Arabia November 2021

Her shoulder-length blonde hair is swept back in waves, accentuating her angular face and almond-shaped eyes. From Rome, where she currently lives, Andrée Acouri smiles wistfully. Now 80 years old, she looks back on her years as the world’s first Arab model.

At a fashion show for Lebanese designer Jacques Cassia in Beirut in the 60s

Acouri’s story begins in 1962, two years after marrying Italian diplomat Italo Livadiotti. “I was not planning on entering the fashion world, despite the fact that my father was a fabric merchant, and I was attracted to materials like lace and guipure,” she recalls. “It all started by chance. I was with my sister-in-law at a restaurant in Switzerland–I vividly remember that I was wearing a Chanel suit–when a well-known designer offered me the chance to model his collection.” Despite her frankly admitting to him her lack of background in modeling, he insisted. His intuition was not wrong. The 1.78m slender young woman confessed that she experienced fear for a moment before entering her first show, but she soon overcame it, mesmerizing the audience. While her husband supported her new career as a model, her father strongly disagreed, and removed himself from her for two years. Much later, she discovered that he used to attend her shows secretly, finally confessing his pride after a show in St. Tropez. “It has been my favorite gift yet,” she says of his support.

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As a young girl growing up in Beirut, Acouri recalls that her parents separated when she was nine. “At the time, divorce was rare,” she shares. “I was deprived of seeing my mom. My dad sent me to a boarding school. I was a troublemaker to the extreme, not caring about school. I was the master of my decisions, and never liked being told what to do.” Greatly affected by her disconnection from her mother, Violette, Acouri underscores that she inherited beauty and femininity from her mother. She admits that one of the main reasons she chose her career path was to showcase her strong resemblance to her mother.

Acouri wears trench, shoes, Michael Kors Collection; pants, stylist’s own. Photographed by Kiki Xue for Vogue Arabia November 2021

After her first show, one came after another and she became one of the most coveted models for global fashion houses, from Dior to Nina Ricci, Chanel and Saint Laurent. Adored for her charisma and bright nature, Acouri entered the fashion world through the big door and met big names, including Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, and Coco Chanel. “I was like a butterfly on the stage, as if I was flying,” she reminisces. Ricci played an integral role in her career. Acouri did not just model for the brand, but soon became the house’s muse and fitting model for seven years. She continued to work as a model until the age of 35, considered an unusual age for modeling at the time. She also took part in advertorial films with Sylvio Tabet and Rodrigue Dahdah, among others.

Andrée Acouri walking in a Dior show in Beirut, 1965

Acouri and Georgina Rizk

Riding above and beyond societal restrictions, Acouri launched a modeling school from her home in Beirut. Georgina Rizk was one of the young women who joined the school, and was accompanied since the age of 14. Acouri mentored Georgina Rizk’s pageant journey, from becoming Miss Lebanon in 1970 to Miss Television, Miss Europe, and finally Miss Universe in 1971. She balanced her role as a socialite, mother, and model, proving that women can achieve their dreams. Acouri, who was deprived of her mother’s embrace and affection, had a daughter with her first husband. She describes Paola as her one and only precious treasure. “My daughter is the most beautiful gift in my life. I’m proud of her and her achievements. We are very close,” she says. Acouri’s two favorite compliments are that she is an amazing mother and friend. “Paola accompanied me to the shows until she was nine; people used to call us Caline and Calinette,” Acouri shares, referring to the runway name–Caline–that Sylvio Tabet gave her to use as a model instead of Andrée, which represented her life off-stage.

Acouri with her daughter, Paola

Her career later slowed down after her marriage to her second husband, Bruno Livadiotti. Despite the hustle of life and fame, Acouri faced a painful phase in her life when she was diagnosed with cancer at the peak of her youth, but it did not stop her from loving life–rather, it increased her determination to live in the present, always looking forward. “I decided to live day by day, and always positively,” she says, adding that destiny blessed her despite the suffering. Now, she is full of life and glowing energy, and her eyes still sparkle.

Acouri wears dress, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini; earrings, Jil Sander. Photographed by Kiki Xue for Vogue Arabia November 2021

Today’s fashion does not appeal to the model who witnessed first-hand the work of the design masters of the past. She favors the Saint Laurent suits and Dior dresses of the 60s, and loves classic pieces–her current favorite brand is Armani. As a glamorous woman and an expert in fashion, she declares, “Today’s models are so skinny. They do not smile and walk without presence. This is sad. They must walk and turn their heads gracefully with an elegant smile beaming through.” Acouri believes that the ideal woman is always beautiful, elegant, and feminine, as she freely controls her life with independence. She then dedicates a message to herself: keep going and never look back. “I do not regret the past. What I regret is that I’m no longer in my twenties to walk for Elie Saab and Armani.” Yet one decision that Acouri regrets is that she had to decline novelist Auguste Le Breton when he offered her a role in the project Rififi. She yielded to her husband’s refusal for participation in the project, which still saddens her.

Acouri wears trench, shoes, Michael Kors Collection. Photographed by Kiki Xue for Vogue Arabia November 2021

Acouri will always remain the first Arab model and an icon of Lebanon’s golden age. “I do not know if this era will one day return,” she says. “The 60s were wonderful and prosperous, and we were fast-forwarding in fashion. In those days, I traveled a lot, and every time I came back to Lebanon, I told myself that we had nothing to envy the west for.

Acouri wears gown, shoes, Valentino; necklace, stylist’s own. Photographed by Kiki Xue for Vogue Arabia November 2021

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Originally published in the November 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

Style: Michele Bagnara
Hair: Alessandro Rebecchi at Green Apple Italy
Makeup: Mary Cesardi at Julian Watson Agency
Production: Interlude Project
Photography assistant: Viatceslav Senkevic
Style assistant: Rujana Cantoni

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