Born: 11 May 1978, Pont-Audemer, Normandy Nationality: French Lives: Paris Education: Model since age of 15
Rather fittingly for someone who has become one of France’s first lady of fashion and cinema, Laetitia Casta’s road to fame has been more like a romantic movie plot line than mundane reality. The great beauty’s rise to fame began at the age of 15 when she was discovered by photographer Frederic Cressaux, while building a sandcastle on a family holiday in Corsica with her parents and two siblings.
Her father took some convincing, but eventually allowed his middle child to be photographed for test shots by Madison Models in Paris. Unlike most other wannabe models, she appeared without makeup or designer clothes in the portfolio images, but they were still impressive enough for the agency to sign her and for Jean Paul Gaultier to cast her in his runway show just three weeks later.
By her Sweet Sixteen, Casta had already appeared on three magazine covers – the first of more than 100 over the course of her modelling career, including Rolling Stone, Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, iD and three consecutive Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editions. But her real rise to global stardom came at age 16, when Paul Marciano signed her as the face of GUESS Jeans in 1993, a role that had previously propelled Claudia Schiffer to stardom.
By her 21st birthday, Rolling Stone magazine had deemed her the hottest model in the world – no small feat for someone with extra-ordinary beauty but a relatively short stature (1.69cm or 5'6) by modelling world standards.
Still, in 1998 she was crowned Victoria’s Secret Angel, a label she held for just three years before being let go by the brand for, in her own words, being too rebellious. “It became not about beauty, but about sex, it was soft porn,” she has since said. “I didn't want to be just an object... They asked me to do interviews and I tried to say what I believed in and…
"So they kicked me out. I was too much of rebel."
Her strong sense of self, feminist opinions and subsequent rapid exit from Victoria’s Secret didn’t tarnish her runway career or image whatsoever. In fact, it likely propelled it further.
Again, despite her relatively short frame in runway terms, Casta appeared on numerous designer catwalks throughout her career – including that of Australian designer Collette Dinnigan at Paris Fashion Week – and fronted dozens of commercial campaigns for the likes of Bulgari, Dolce Gabanna and L’Oreal Paris, which announced her as a brand ambassador alongside Kate Moss and Jennifer Aniston in 1998. Indeed, her runway career continued well into her thirties; as recently as 2010, she opened the Louis Vuitton’s Autumn/Winter runway show.
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In the same year she was tapped by GUESS Jeans and Victoria’s Secret, the French nation as a whole came knocking with what many consider the greatest honour bestowed upon her. In a national survey ordered by the French Mayors Association she was chosen to model for the bust of ‘Marianne’ (the allegorical symbol of liberty and the French Republic) housed in every town hall across the country. The only other women to receive the decade-long honour before her had been Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve.
"I don't believe in God, but I might change my mind when I see Laetitia Casta," Dame Vivienne Westwood famously said of the model at the time. Yves Saint Laurent was also a great friend and fan, and to this day, Casta still favours the brand for public appearances.
"Saint Laurent said to me once, 'I hate models' and I didn't know what he meant, but now I do,” she’s since admitted. “He wanted models to be real women – being cultivated, fighting for what I believe in and giving a point of view.
Those strong feminist values that saw her ousted from Victoria’s Secret eventually drove her from modelling altogether. After making her debut in Asterix & Obelix Take on Caesar in 1999 – the most expensive French film ever made – she turned her back on the modelling almost completely.
"This was my liberty," the Brown Belt in Judo has said. "I needed to be honest with myself. I never asked to be a model. I never wanted to be one.”
Today, Casta has 27 movies to her IMDB biography credit, including 2010 film Gainsbourg (A Heroic Life) in which she played the young, fragile Brigitte Bardot so beautifully it attracted her first Cesar Award nomination.
Add to that her starring roles in almost a dozen stage plays, plus music video clips for Rihanna (Te Amo) and Chris Isaak (Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing), and it’s clear her acting has equaled if not eclipsed her earlier modelling career.
In 2012, Casta served as a jury member at the 69th Venice International Film Festival. Last year, she was appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador on 9 December 2016, committed to help the 250 million children living in conflict areas. She is also the creative director for French spirits brand Cointreau, where she heads up an impressive list of global influencers labelled the Cointreau Creative Crew.
Her personal life appears to have been as charmed as her professional. Having originally married French photographer Stephane Sednaoui and subsequently split after the arrival of their daughter Sahteens (born 2001), she became engaged to Italian actor Stefano Accorsi. The couple went on to have two children – son Orlando (born 2006), daughter Athena (2009), who live with her in Paris. She is now settled with French actor Louis Garrel, who is five years her junior.
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