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When the discovery of her exquisitely beautiful looks catapulted her onto the cover of Vogue magazine at the tender age of 15, there was not much she could do but ride the wave of success. Take this sustained career seven decades on and at 85 years old, Carmen Dell’Orefice is regarded as the oldest working model in the world.
With her silver hair framing her perfectly chiselled features, she is every photographer’s dream. Her piercing hazel eyes seem to look right into your soul. Carmen’s rise to fame and not much fortune is well documented. From humble beginnings when she was discovered by a photographer’s wife at the impressionable age of 13 to signing an exclusive and lucrative contract with Vogue earning her $7.50 per hour, she has what it takes to continue this legacy for many more years.
The longevity of her career stems from hard work and perseverance. As the product of an Italian violinist father and a Hungarian dancer mother, her too tall and overly skinny physique could have resulted in just another gangly teenager tale, but instead she became the muse of Salvador Dali. She posed topless for him at age 13, earning her $12 per hour. Dismissing any sleaze or exploitation, she was pleased to be able to put food on the table. Her penniless upbringing was anything but a walk in the park.
‘I was a sad child,’ she recalls. ‘We were so poor that my mother would often leave me in a foster home until she could raise enough money to rent rooms for us.’ With an absent father, Dell’Orefice’s modelling certainly helped alleviate their impoverished situation. Earning $60 a week, she put herself through private school and paid for her own orthodontic braces.
Three marriages and one daughter later, she is outspoken about a lot of things, including ageing and the benefits of plastic surgery. In a Vogue interview a few years back, she was quoted as saying ‘if you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, would you not go and have a repair?’
In an interview published in Luxury London last year, she told Olivia Sharpe ‘Age means nothing to me. I am, however, aware of the responsibility that comes with representing an aging generation. A child of The Depression, my mother supported us with work in the theatre until she lost that, too. Then she would take me down to 80 Wall Street where she would pay $0.50 for a job kit—a card with an address on it and the description of a job that was vaguely within reason of your skill-set. And since we couldn’t afford a babysitter, I went with my mom on every job, whether that meant working for a wedding caterer or cleaning an office. It showed me how terribly unglamorous life can be.’
Despite the many upheavals and loves lost, the supermodel has always been comfortable in her own skin. “I’ve always been mindful of my age and how I earn my living,” she says. “When I was 40, I was 40. I didn’t want to be 20. I’ve always done my job – to mirror the look of that respective year. That is precisely why it has always felt wonderful to stand in front of the camera.”