Carmen Dell’Orefice’s beauty has always been striking. Even at an early age of thirteen, her beauty has caught the eye of the wife of a photographer as she was getting off the bus.
And a year later, she became the muse of artist Salvador Dali. The young Carmen filled Dali’s canvas with her elegant poses, her sweet smiles. It was the same smile that captured the eye of some of the famous photographers of the 20th century – Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson, and Richard Avedon.
And at 15, Carmen landed on the cover of the prestigious Vogue magazine.
“I never really understood what it was they were looking at, what they saw in me,” humbly admitted Carmen to the Daily Mail.
A decade passed. She was then 26 at that time. Not old, but definitely no longer young in the fashion industry. It is an age foreshadowing the end of her career, as other models of her time have. But for Carmen Dell’Orefice, it marked a new beginning.
Carmen told Harper’s Bazaar of her experience when she first posed for their magazine. It was all thanks to Diana Vreeland, the fashion editor at that time. Mrs. Vreeland wanted Carmen to pose for the September 1957 issue. She wanted to bring her to Paris for her shots. But the photographer, Richard Avedon, opposed. He wanted a younger muse.
“At the time he was besotted with model Suzy Parker, who was a close friend of mine and a year younger,” Carmen told Bazaar.
But then, Mrs. Vreeland persisted. Carmen set foot in Paris, together with Suzy. The first few days of the Paris sojourn saw the photographer’s distaste. Said Carmen, “[Avedon] focused on everything he thought was wrong with me, including the length of my hair.”
Fortunately, the shoot went well. Both Carmen and Suzy were featured on the September 1957 Harper’s Bazaar. Among Carmen’s well-loved shots is her standing midair under an umbrella.
More than five decades later, Carmen Dell’Orefice still makes herself significant in the fashion industry. For an industry that traditionally limits representation based on race, size, and age, Carmen herself is a mold-breaker. Her thriving career in the industry proves that she is not afraid to break more boundaries. That women of all ages deserve representation.
“I did what I had to do because there was no role model showing me any different. I made it up as I went along,” stated Carmen to The Telegraph.
Ageism has been existing in the fashion industry. Historically, models past 24 have no future in sight. It meant the end of their career. But for Carmen, it is not. And will no longer be.
“Today I am in a territory that business considers unmarketable: age and white hair,” admits Carmen as she sat for an interview with CNN. “Slowly, however, I started to own that territory little by little because I stood up for age.”
That is true enough. Carmen’s long experience in the fashion industry is testament to how she stood up for age. After retiring from modeling in 1958, she made a comeback two decades later, at the age of 47.
Since then, Carmen graced the covers of different fashion magazines. One is in Quarante, where she appeared in 1984. She had also modeled for Target, Cho Cheng, and Rolex. She had also been featured regularly in Vogue, W and Harper’s Bazaar.
Now, at the age of 87, Carmen is still active in the fashion industry. As a matter of fact, Carmen Dell’Orefice has been dubbed as “the world’s oldest working supermodel.” She is also recognized as one of the most famous octogenarians in the industry.
And there is no stopping Carmen. She still appears in glossy magazines. She still walks for the runway. Just recently, Carmen closed the Guo Pei Spring Summer 2017 show during the Paris Fashion Week. Donning a blood red gown and a crown of crystals, Carmen proved herself a queen.
Indeed, beauty transcends age. The 15-year-old Carmen who first struck a pose in Vogue is no different from the 26-year-old Carmen who paved her way to Harper’s Bazaar. It is no different from the present Carmen, 87 years of age, still strutting the runways. Confident in her silver hair. Swaying her admittedly fragile hips.
She is Carmen Dell’Orefice. A muse who once caught the eye of Dali. A muse breaking boundaries.