The living legend, Carmen Dell’Orefice, has been a supermodel for over 60 years.
She was born in New York in June 3, 1931 to a violinist father. Her mother, who was of Hungarian decent, was a dancer. Though her family was poor, Carmen was rich in beauty and had a bright future ahead of her.
As a child, she contracted rheumatic fever. Once fully recovered, she began studying ballet. One day as she was riding the 57th Street bus to her ballet lesson, a woman approached her and asked her if she would like to model. That chance meeting in Manhattan was all Carmen needed to reconsider her future career options.
Carmen posed for the woman’s photographer-husband. Even though she was deemed “totally un-photogenic” from that first test, she had the modelling bug in her system.
In 1945, her godfather then elected to introduce her to Carol Philips, a staff writer at Vogue. Philips took Carmen in to be tested again. The results were dynamite and less than a week later, Carmen was being photographed by Erwin Blumfeld for her first Vogue magazine spread of 7 pages. That began her 6 decades long collaboration with the world’s top fashion reference.
She began working immediately with the definitive photographers of the day: Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn, Horst P. Horst, John Rawlings, etc. She was only 14 at the time and was placed under contract with Vogue (USA), earning $7.50 an hour. In 1946 and at the age of 15, she captured the first of her six Vogue covers. Carmen went on to make the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. She posed for the covers of other prestigious magazines and posed for their fashion pages.
Carmen became a Revlon girl and appeared in numerous campaigns for the company. Among her best campaigns for the company are White Sable, Queen of Diamonds, Touch & Glow, Lanolite and Aquamarine Lotion. She also scored contracts with other major players including Clairol.
At 21, Carmen married William Miles. The couple had two children together (Jeffrey and Laura) and later divorced. The roles of housewife and mother meant sacrifices for Carmen. She retired in 1966, but returned to modelling with a vengeance after she and Miles divorced. She later married the photographer Richard Heimann, whom she divorced before marrying and divorcing Richard Kaplan.
Carmen went back to work after her first divorce and hasn’t stopped since. She began working again with Richard Avedon, with whom she worked before her retirement. She also posed with the new hot photographer talent too including Helmut Newton and Nick Knight. They all loved her because Carmen was one of the best posers in the world.
Her return to modelling represented something groundbreaking. Models of Carmen’s younger days were a thing of the past, swept away by the prevailing Mod fashion of the day and new, far younger supermodels such as Jean Shrimpton, the very British Twiggy, the California girl Cheryl Tiggs and the exotic Veruschka! Carmen was closer to forty than most of these girls were to twenty, yet here she was still making it as a high profile model. She then began travelling new ground that she had never treaded upon during her pre-retirement career. She began working with new designers, posing for new magazines, working with younger photographers, and she even hit the runway – a thing photo and advertisement campaign models of the 1940’s and 1950’s would never have considered!
In 1985 and in her 50’s, she authored her best-selling “Staying Beautiful: Beauty Secrets and Attitudes from My Forty Years As a Model”. She says that she doesn’t diet but confesses to have received a little help “here and there” from the surgeon’s knife. Whatever it is, Michael Gross called her “sexier than ever” when he interviewed her for his book, “Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful People”. That was just over a decade ago and at that time, Carmen was 63. Still in the loop at all levels of fashion modelling, Carmen continues to be without a doubt one of the best posers in the business.
As the industry gradually changed, models were no longer considered as objects or as “coathangers” as the early supermodel Lisa Fonssagrives once noted. Their personalities were placed under the spotlight and, they became celebrities on an equal footing as Hollywood stars. They were now sought after by big time film director and Hollywood producers. Carmen would have her share of the new limelight too.
In 1993, she appeared in Martin Scorcese’s The Age of Innocence. She followed that up with a role in 1996’s The Sunchaser, and then with an appearance in the 1998’s Celebrity. In 2001, she appeared in Woody Allen’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Today, Carmen continues to act and make appearances in motion pictures and on television series.
Author Michael Gross interviewed Carmen for best-selling, tell-all book, Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful People. In it, Carmen revealed her insecurities. “I’d always been the ugly duckling of my crowd. I was the tallest and the skinniest and I had braces on my teeth. The boys couldn’t stand me”, she said. Today at over 70 years old, Carmen is stilled revered as a great beauty for all times.
Now after more than 60 years in the business, she has the distinction of appearing in Vogue over six decades. She is ranked N° 20 on Channel 5’s “World’s Greatest Supermodel” list. And in 2001 for her 70th birthday, all of New York’s society people turned out for her birthday bash.
In 1999, she signed a spokesperson’s contract to associate her beauty to Lancaster Cosmetics. In July 2000, she modelled for John Galliano in his haute couture presentation for Christian Dior. In 2004, Jean-Paul Gaultier called upon her talents for his debut show for Hermès. She has also modelled for Donna Karan and Moschino. In 2004, she also obtained contracts to represent Gap and Target. In September 2005, Town & Country did a feature on her.
She is the honorary chairwoman of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. In February 2005, she modelled a red gown by Marc Valvo during the New York Fashion Week to raise money and awareness for the Heart Disease Charity.
Height: 5′ 9″ (1.75 m); Measurements: 35C-26 1/2-37
The curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2004) (TV ); The Guru (2002); Celebrity (1998); The Sunchaser (1996)
The Age of Innocence (1993)