Catharina “Toto” Koopman or Miss. K is living proof that a woman can be a fashion icon, a model, a spy, a bi-sexual, an academic and an art connoisseur in one lifetime. Stereotypically, these characteristics are so at odds with one another that it seems impossible for a woman to embody them in the same life. A gorgeous, stylish model, but also an openly bi-sexual, spy who is an art enthusiast? Did this woman truly exist?
While Miss. K’s multiple titles may make her seem like a surreal superwoman from DC Comics, she was one of the most independent, intelligent and beautiful woman of the 20th century. “The Many Lives of Miss. K” by Jean-Noël Liaut is a factual yet intimate account of Koopman’s incredulous and adventurous life. This legendary fashion icon was, as most fashion icons are, far from ordinary. Like Chanel, who was her mentor in the 1920’s, Toto wasn’t sipping from the same champagne glass as her contemporaries.
Though she graced the cover of French Vogue in 1930, Toto was hardly the feminine ideal. Koopman was a biracial model when prejudice was pervasive and segregation considered the norm. Being of Dutch, Indonesian and Chiense ancestry didn’t hold Koopmam back. Instead, she treated her mixed heritage as another exotic, enticing fact about herself.
Koopman’s life was limitless. She set no boundaries for her lovers in terms of gender and age. Infamous for having multiple lovers into her late 70’s, Koopman was not the monogamous type. Her panoply of significant others include the actress Tallulah Bankhead, Winston Churchill‘s son Randolph and the press baron Lord Beaverbrook. The closest Koopman became to being a loyal lover was when she devoted the second half of her life to Erica Brausen, the visionary art dealer, who, with Koopman’s help, launched Francis Bacon’s career from her Hanover Gallery in London. It was Miss. K’s unmarried status that made her one of the most controversial, well-known woman in Europe. Koopman’s independence and explicit relationship with Bankhead only added to her mystique and fame.
If you wish to read more about this strong-minded fashion model who defied a number of stereotypes then pick up Liaut’s book. “The Many Lives of Miss. K” is a historically accurate work that is chock-full of facts pertaining to Koopman’s along with Europe’s history. Though, don’t shy away from this in-depth piece of nonfiction. It reads like a fictional story since Koopman’s life is so surreal. I assure you that Toto Koopman will top your favorite female heroines from even the best novels.