By and and  on January 27, 2009

Lucia Moreira Salles, a former Brazilian model famed for her handsome dark looks, died Saturday at the Sirio and Libanes Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, after a long bout with cancer. Her age and survivors could not be learned at press time.

A funeral was held Monday at the Cemetery of São Miguel and Souls, in Porto Alegre, her hometown in Brazil.

Salles, whose maiden name was Lucia Curia, walked her first catwalk in 1957 and in the Sixties became a muse for both Valentino and Coco Chanel. She had a long-standing friendship with Valentino and his longtime partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, frequently spending time with them at the designer’s vacation homes around Europe.

According to a spokeswoman for Valentino, the designer considered her a sister, to the point that he was too distraught over her death to talk about her Monday. Salles introduced Valentino to Carlos Souza, who became a key figure for the fashion house as communications director and part of the designer’s close-knit clan. Financier David Rockefeller was also reportedly a close friend of Salles’.

In addition to Valentino, her innate elegance struck a chord with Coco Chanel, for whom Salles became the exclusive house model in the early Sixties.

In 1986, she wed Walter Moreira Salles, a successful Brazilian banker, politician, diplomat and philanthropist who many consider the founder of Brazil’s modern financial and banking industry. He died in 2002. According to reports, he didn’t really approve of her modeling career, a reason for which she dropped her nickname “Lutia,” earned during her time in Italy.

“I met her when I was 18 in Brazil,” Georgina Brandolini recalled Monday. “I met Valentino through her at the Carnival in Rio and she was one of my closest friends. She was fun, she was amusing.”

“She was a much loved person,” said actress Marisa Berenson. “I had known her since our 20s in Paris and she was like a sister to me: a wonderful, beautiful person, elegant and refined.”

Diane von Furstenberg said, “She was a beautiful woman, inside and out.”

Salles, who also had an apartment in New York that was always filled with fresh flowers, recently donated a bound collection of Oscar Wilde’s letters and manuscripts to the Morgan Library and Museum. The red leather-bound volume, which includes the earliest manuscript of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” had been missing for over 50 years and will be on display starting in April.

Susan Gutfreund, who decorated Salles’ New York apartment, likened her to “the ultimate sable-lined raincoat” in that “everything was done quietly and in the best taste: The way she dressed, the way she decorated.

“For me, everything about her was like that,” added Gutfreund. “She would wear extraordinary jewels, but it was worn as if it was a piece of costume jewelry.”

Gutfreund also lauded Salles’ wide interests, knowledge of business and politics, and philanthropy.

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