Marie-Therese Houphouet-Boigny


From a Time magazine on comely first ladies. June 8, 1962
African Orchid. No caged bird, but a delicious, capricious worldling, the Ivory Coast’s sensuous, luxury-loving Marie-Thérèse Houphouet-Boigny, 31, delights Parisians even more than Jacqueline Kennedy or the Empress Farah. Sinuous and creamy-skinned (her grandmother was white), Marie-Therese was one of six children of an Ivory Coast customs official who sent her to France to finish high school. There she soon caught the eye of Félix Houphouet-Boigny, an able politician who even in 1956 was plainly destined to lead his country after it won independence from France.
Houphouet-Boigny stirred a scandal and risked his career by divorcing his wife and marrying Marie-Thérèse, who is 25 years younger. Today the Ivory Coast’s First Lady is coifed by one of the most exclusive Parisian hair dressers (Carita), and dressed by Dior, whose salon is strategically located across the street from the Houphouet-Boignys’ apartment. She prefers pastels and bright colors and, says her Dior salesgirl, “would never touch anything black.” The affluent Houphouet-Boignys also have a villa in the stylish Swiss resort of Gstaad (her six-year-old adopted daughter, Hélène, is attending school in Switzerland), an Ivory Coast beach house, an ultramodern five-story tower in the fashionable Cocody sector of Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s capital.
Thérèse loves orchids and sables, pilots a fast Lancia. She writhes with impatience at official occasions when her position restrains her from doing the twist. Asked her opinion of France’s then Premier Michel Debré after the Ivory Coast’s Independence Day Ball, Thérèse allowed that “He’s nice,” but added that “he doesn’t cha cha half as well” as another statesman at the party. Frenchmen, who call her the Ivory One and see her as the forerunner of a new, Europe-influenced African woman, delight in her exuberant, ultrafeminine wit. It did not go unappreciated at a recent luncheon party at Bobby Kennedy’s house, at which, latching on fast to New Frontiersmanship, she switched tables after every course. Murmured Thérèse, raising male expectations: “I suppose I’ll be in the swimming pool for dessert.”
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