Body of Top Model Katoucha Niane Found in Seine River

The body of the former top model Katoucha Niane has been found in the Seine River, police in Paris said today.

The model, one of the first African women to attain stardom on the catwalk, disappeared on Jan. 31 as she returned late at night to her houseboat moored near the Alexander III bridge in central Paris.

There were fears that the 47-year-old may have fallen into the river after a heavy drinking session. Police said today that her body was found yesterday and a subsequent autopsy showed no sign of foul play.

”She fell into the water and went straight to the bottom,” a source close to the investigation said.

Katoucha, as she was known in the fashion world, was born in Guinea and became the face of Yves Saint-Laurent, the French haute couture guru, in the 1980s before stepping off the catwalk to launch a campaign against female genital mutilation.

When her handbag was discovered by the front door to her boat there was initial speculation that the woman dubbed the French-speaking Naomi Campbell could have committed suicide. But police thought it more likely that the mother of three lost her footing and slipped into the river accidentally.

Her success as a model was largely credited to Saint-Laurent, who turned her into a global icon nicknamed the Peul Princess after the Peul ethnic group of Guinea and eight other West African states.

“He loved her enormously,” said Dominique Deroche, head of PR at the fashion house. “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.”