looking woman with a quiet smile, amazing hazel eyes and a crown of silver hair. I read her name, Carmen Dell'Orefice, in a corner of the page, but my mind didn't register it.
It was just a name back then. A few months later I read a book called Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women by Michael Gross and saw the name again. The problem is that my visual memory remembered the face, but couldn't put the two together, so I just finished the chapter and moved on.
I guess, my fashion fate had a different path for me and I was destined to learn more about Carmen because just a few days later I read about her again. This time I finally I realised that THIS woman and THIS name are the same person. I was stunned, then stared at the photos and, a few minutes later, run upstairs to get the book and re-read her story.
Carmen Dell'Orefice may not have been as popular as some other iconic models including Suzy Parker or Lisa Fonssagrives, but she is definitely the one who stayed in the business the longest. She is even featured in the Guinness World Records. "I am the least important model of my time" she said in her interview in 2008.
She worked with the greatest photographers of the golden age of fashion including Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn (who she had a crush on), Erwin Blumenfeld, Francesco Scavullo, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Victor Skrebneski and Frances McLaughlin-Gill. She has modeled gowns for Mainbocher, hats for Mr. John and evening dresses for Galliano and the Emmanuels, who designed Princess Diana's wedding dress. She is still so busy and in demand that the Ford has to have a full-time agent to keep track of her bookings.
"I don't call what I do a career. I am just working. I refer to myself as a body for hire", she said to Pamela Fiori, the Town & Country magazine's editor in chief.
Carmen didn't have an agent at first, but then she found out that Powers was trying to reach her. She visited the agency and saw her full-length photos on the wall in Power's office behind his desk. She joined up.
She was so undernourished that Penn insisted she get medical treatment and plenty of sleep. After a regimen of iron and B vitamins for her anaemia and hormone shots to force her into puberty prescribed by a Condé Nast doctor, Carmen blossomed into a nymph. "I was 17 and looked 35", she says. Soon after that Mr. John, a milliner, gave a party to introduce her to eligible bachelors. She suddenly realised that she was attracting a number of café society names including DeCicco, the Long Island playboy and Gloria Vanderbult's first husband, Igor Cassini and Joseph P. Kennedy.
She returned to modeling because it "was only one thing I was qualified for, one thing I had experience at, one thing I loved doing" and succeeded.
Her life story is not a fairy tale, but more of a beautiful haute couture philosophy of living a stylish life and remaining true to yourself no matter what life throws at you. Perhaps, this is her secret of her amazing ageless beauty? Who knows...
References: "Town & Country" travel magazine, 2008, Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women by Michael Gross
Photo source: Carmen Dell'Orefice Rolex campaign, Carmen Dell'Orefice Madame Germany October 2010 (photography: Bryan Adams / Tim Petersen), Carmen Dell'Orefice by Irving Penn in Vogue 1946, Carmen Dell'Orefice by Richard Avedon in Harper's Bazaar October 1957, Carmen Dell'Orefice by Frances McLaughlin in 1946, Carmen Dell'Orefice by Richard Avedon in Harper's Bazaar October 1957, Carmen Dell'Orefice in Chanel ad, Carmen Dell'Orefice by Norman Parkinson in 1946, Carmen Dell'Orefice by Horst P Horst in Vogue 1946, Carmen Dell'Orefice by Horst P Horst in Harper's Bazaar, Carmen Dell'Orefice in WestEast magazine Winter 2010