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Photo by George Hoyningen-Huené/Courtesy of Condé Nast Archive/Corbis

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The Many Lives of Miss K.: Toto Koopman — Model, Muse, Spy

editorial & artbooks

29 August 2013
0 Comments

It is said that well behaved women don't  make history. So true! All the feminine icons like Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Marylin Monroe and so on, all of them were either big names lovers, had deep connections with many influent men or even were spies.

So is the case of Catharina Koopman, alias Toto. She was a model born in Java , turning from haute couture model to spy for the Allies during the War, close to Ravensbruck and to art dealer Erica Brausen with a passion for archaeology.

It is the Frenchman writer, Jean-Noël Liaut who discovered her story and turned it into a novel: "The Many Lives of Miss K.: Toto Koopman - Model, Muse, Spy" (Rizzoli Ex Libris), translated by Denise Raab Jacobs. The writer also wrote about Hubert de Givenchy, Karen Blixen, Natalie Paley, Madeleine Castaing. Now, Liaut was fascinated by Toto: "She was a free spirit," says Liaut. "She was fascinating for many different reasons. She spoke five languages fluently, she was a brilliant wit, she was beautiful, but it's much more than that. All her friends are still completely captivated by her - the glamorous outsider."

During the thirties, when all the prejudices and stirs were out loud, Catharina Koopman, alias Toto, was not afraid to show her passions, to speak clearly her thoughts, to live her fantasies. She had Asian roots (her father was Dutch, her mother was Indonesian) and an openly bisexual orientation. Among her lovers we count Winston's Churchill's son, Randolph, the press baron Lord Beaverbrook, actress Tallulah Bankhead.

Model for Coco Chanel, fan of Schiaparelli:

She worked as a model for Coco Chanel, Mainbocher and Madeline Vionnet. She was a fan for Schiaparelli's couture wearing it very often. She was very active in the high society and her open minded and lack of inhibition made her presence being sought at different events.

During World War II, Toto became a spy for the Allies, in Italy. She was caught and escaped twice then caught again and sent to Germany where she was imprisoned for a couple of months. There she told she was a nurse, speaking a perfect German which impressed and made her being assigned to the medical team there. After the War, Toto met Erica Brausen to whom she attached very much and started to work for art galleries. In the fifties, she followed for her passion, archaeology, working also on a few excavations.

"She was a living mystery, at the same time as she was a social animal," says Liaut. "Toto was full of interesting contradictions. She embraced tradition while also rejecting it. While working on this book, I began to think that, much of the world is gray, goody-goody and sadly limited."

The "The Many Lives of Miss K.: Toto Koopman - Model, Muse, Spy" book promisses to bring a breathtaking story to us and, who knows, maybe a successful screening of it. The price for the book is about 18 euros.

Also read more on celebrity biographies:

Marlene Dietrich, controversial destiny

Jackie Kennedy, money and power

Editor Andra Oprea