To Win a Supermodel’s Hand, 4 Goats and a Cola Nut

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Vincent M. Mallozzi
, New York Times

Chidegar Liberty, a Brooklyn bachelor and businessman who was born in Liberia, was frequently asked by family and friends on two continents when he would settle down and get married.

Tired of the never-ending nagging about nuptials that were of no one else’s concern, Liberty decided on a standard response that was equal parts sarcasm, comedy and fantasy: “I’m holding out for a supermodel.”

On March 18, 2017, he ended his holdout.

That was the day he met Georgette Badiel, an international model who was raised in West Africa. She began her American career a decade ago, working for such clients as Louis Vuitton, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs and Zang Toi.

“She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen,” said Liberty, now 39, who was introduced to Badiel by Peter Jallah, a mutual friend.

“I saw her on Instagram and figured I didn’t have a chance,” Liberty said. “But I wanted to go on at least one date with her — just one date — so I could put those bragging rights in my back pocket and be able to say I once dated a supermodel.”

It took a while for fantasy to become reality, as Badiel, 33, who is known as Georgie, frustrated him for several weeks with a series of cancellations and no-shows.

Liberty, who is known as Chid, had just about given up hope when Badiel, who was baby-sitting in her Upper East Side apartment for a friend’s 7-year-old son, agreed to meet him at a nearby restaurant.

Jallah was also in tow that night, as was the boy, who had already been throwing a tantrum in Badiel’s apartment.

“The kid went wild,” Liberty said. He said the child ran out of the restaurant toward snow-covered streets, where he was soon corralled by members of the dinner party.

Through all of the mayhem, Liberty and Badiel saw enough potential in each other to agree to go out the next day. This time just the two of them.

They attended a Mass at a church in Badiel’s neighborhood, then went to dinner at the Mark Hotel before finishing with a nightcap at the Carlyle hotel.

“Everything that I thought about beauty growing up, Georgie was,” Liberty said. “But the most interesting thing about her was that she was baby-sitting, and that obviously communicates a ton of kindness and unselfishness.”

Badiel, who speaks with a French accent, said she noticed something about Liberty that she had not seen in other men she dated. “Chid was a God-fearing man,” she said.

“Yes, he was very handsome and successful,” she added, “but he talked about needing God, and we prayed together before dinner. That was the difference; it meant the world to me.”

The next day — their third official date — they talked at length at a Shake Shack in Manhattan, and signs of a whirlwind began registering on the romance radar.

“The more we talked, the more we realized we wanted to be together,” Liberty said. “Though we had just met, we felt like we already belonged to one another.”

In just 72 hours, each had become so taken with the other that Liberty listed Badiel in his cellphone contact list as “future wife,” and she listed him as “lover, husband and best friend.”

“He was so sweet, I loved everything about him,” Badiel said. “The spirit inside me said he was the one, and my love for him grew quickly to the point where I knew I wanted to marry him and have children with him.”

“I never felt that way about anyone else, ever before,” she added, her strong voice beginning to soften. “He became someone I couldn’t live without.”

She proved that by moving into his Brooklyn home just three days after their third date.

“I knew from the first day I saw Georgie that I wanted to marry her,” Liberty said. “So the fact that she moved in with me so quickly really made no difference.”

Two weeks later, they traveled to Liberia, where Liberty was born on May 24, 1979, to Doris Liberty, a retired nurse who now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and Dr. C.E. Zamba Liberty, a former Liberian ambassador to Germany and a vice president of the University of Liberia.

“Georgie met some of my family, but mostly it was a working vacation regarding projects for my clothing brand,” said Liberty, a founder and the chief executive of Liberty & Justice, a retail and fashion group based in New York with manufacturing headquarters in Liberia. His apparel line, Uniform, sells T-shirts, cargo pants and other casual clothing.

Liberty was 18 months old when his parents moved to Bonn, Germany, and 5 when they came to the United States, first to Palo Alto, California, where his father took a job as a professor of history, and then to Milwaukee, where the family settled and where the elder Liberty taught history at Marquette University.

Liberty graduated with a business administration degree from the University of Wisconsin, and eventually found his way to Brooklyn in 2015, where he built his company.

His success has been no secret in the African-American community and beyond. In 2013, Liberty was named by New African magazine as one of the top 50 African Trailblazers under 50, and last year, Quartz, a news website, named him one of the top 30 African innovators.

"Chid is quite an accomplished guy,” said Jallah, a digital media executive. “He and Georgie are two people who have had success in the world of fashion, which is why I thought they should meet.”

Badiel took a more hard-scrabbled road to success. A self-described “village girl,” who was born in Ivory Coast on Feb. 7, 1985, she was one of 10 children who grew up in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa where French is the official language, though many indigenous languages are also spoken by the nearly 14 million people who live there.

Badiel’s father, the late Kanzier Eboubie, was an independent carpenter. Her mother, Badiel Bali, sold bananas and cakes at a local market.

Hoping to attend a highly regarded secondary school but unable to afford it, Badiel, whose stunning appearance did not go unnoticed during her early teenage years, was encouraged by locals at the age of 14 to try modeling at an agency in the town of Abidjan.

“There is money in it,” Badiel recalled one man telling her. “You can maybe become famous, like Naomi Campbell.”

Badiel took that advice. In 2003, she was crowned Miss Burkina Faso and the next year she was voted Miss Africa.

She finished high school, and started working toward a college degree in accounting when she was pleasantly interrupted by a number of big names from the fashion industry — including Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Martin Margiela and Emmanuel Ungaro — all of whom summoned her to Paris for modeling work.

In 2008, Badiel arrived in the United States. She has used her status as a successful model to create the Georgie Badiel Foundation, which builds wells in Burkina Faso and Liberia.

Along the way, she was an author of “The Water Princess” (2016), a children’s book based on her childhood experience walking three hours a day to find clean water. Last year, she was awarded Burkina Faso’s highest civilian honor, the Chevalier de Mérite Burkinabe.

“I’ve known a lot of very attractive, successful women who were not what you hoped they would be when you first met them,” Liberty said. “But Georgie’s different. Despite how far she’s come in her career, she has no ego, and she still manages to retain her small-village African values.”

Anne Friedman, a longtime friend of Liberty, said, “Georgie is everything Chid ever wanted in a woman: She’s beautiful and fashionable, warmhearted, God-loving and philanthropic.”

“Since she has come into his life,” Friedman added, “he has become happier, more peaceful and much more centered.”

Five months after their trip to Liberia, the couple were engaged. Liberty, Badiel and Jallah traveled together to Burkina Faso to partake in a long-standing tribal tradition in which the groom must prove his love for the bride and hope to be accepted as a suitable partner by answering questions posed by several of the bride’s uncles, all while negotiating a dowry with them for her hand in marriage.

Liberty was accepted into Badiel’s family after he paid a settlement that included four goats, tobacco, fabric, cash for Badiel’s mother and a cola nut from which each took turns eating (a cultural wedding tradition).

They were married Sept. 8 at First Corinthians Baptist Church in Harlem, its stage decorated with white roses, hydrangeas and lemon leaf for their 200 guests, who were treated to a ceremony that felt more like a Broadway production.

It began with the M2 Music Movement choir delivering a stirring rendition of “Come Holy Spirit,” as members of the couple’s wedding party started walking down an aisle littered with white rose petals and candles. Kylie Fox, a classical ballerina, then performed a “praise dance,” to “How Great Is Our God,” by the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.

After Fox exited the stage, the groom’s mother, Doris Liberty, 73, offered a prayer for the couple (her husband is deceased). Guests then learned how the couple first met through a video entitled “To Have and to Hold,” that played on two large screens.

The Rev. Kyndra Frazier, a Baptist minister, walked beneath an arbor decorated with floral arrangements and watched as the bride was escorted down the aisle by fashion designer Zang Toi. “Always continue to practice sweetness with one another,” Frazier told the couple, “even when the season may feel a bit salty.”

The cocktail hour and reception were held at the Manhattan Penthouse, where guests were served hors d’oeuvres and listened to the soundtrack of a balafon, a percussion instrument that resembles a xylophone.

Seema Manohar, a friend of the couple who made the trip from Liberia, smiled as she walked past the balafon and into an adjacent ballroom, where dinner was to be served. “Chid and Georgie are just a magical couple,” she said. “He definitely held out for the right woman, and as it turned out, she held out for the right man.”

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