Supermodel Carmen Dell’Orefice
during Pitti Immagine Uomo 79 in Florence, Italy.
Darlings, the term may have been coined for other, lesser beings, but for our money, there really is only one SUPERmodel, the fabulous, unique, stunningly beautiful and chic Carmen Dell’Orefice, who has been showing the world what chic is for SIXTY-FIVE FREAKING YEARS.
“Journeying back from a dance class in New York, she was spotted by a woman whose husband was a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. Test pictures were duly taken, after which a letter was sent to her mother. ‘It said I was a very polite young lady but, unfortunately, at this time, I was totally unphotogenic,’ she recalls. But her godfather was having none of it. He contacted a friend who worked for Vogue. ‘Two weeks later, I did my first shoot for Horst.’
“She recounts a meeting, when she was 14, with the legendary editor Diana Vreeland. ‘She stood behind me, ran her hands through my voluptuous chestnut locks and said, “Grow your neck another inch and I’ll send you to Paris.” The rest is history. ‘My life has been amazing,’ she sighs. ‘How many other ladies of 76 can say that the snapshot on their senior citizen’s card was taken by Norman Parkinson?’
It’s not her cheekbones or her ice-blue eyes or supernaturally long and lean frame that makes her so legendary. These things helped, of course, but it’s her grace and her strength in the face of a life that wasn’t always as pretty or as glamorous as the many magazine covers she graced.
“She was forced to grow up quickly, under a cloud of disapproval and casual violence (‘My mother was, shall we say, very hands-on,’ she says, drily). The mother, a Hungarian, was ambitious for her daughter to achieve success, first with ballet (cut short by illness), then later as a swimmer (scuppered by a foot broken while skiing with a boyfriend). An ex-dancer herself, Carmen’s mother was not pleased with the way her daughter was shaping up, and never lost an opportunity to demonstrate her displeasure. ‘I was a sad child,’ she recalls. ‘I just wanted her to love me.’ But life was hard. ‘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 extraordinary candidness she details her teenage years, which seem to have featured all sorts of unsuitable men and unsavoury situations. She met, or in her words ‘bought’, her first husband – ‘a lout’ – at 16. ‘I bought racehorses for him, and after a few abortions I married him at 21. I had my daughter, Laura, and by the time I was 24 the marriage was over.”
“While she may have enjoyed close friendships with the men she worked with, the same can’t be said of her relationship with her daughter, now in her early fifties and working as a therapist in California. Things were never going to be easy for a girl who had a goddess for a mother. As Laura has put it, ‘My mother always said, “You have your good looks in your own right,” but I never believed her. Because why didn’t I have those long legs? And how come my hips and bosom weren’t in proportion the way hers were? She was like a Barbie doll to me, and I was just not there.”
“[H]er big beauty secret boils down to nothing more complex than a unpromising-sounding product called Bag Balm, an ointment developed by a dairy farmer for softening cow teats. Now it’s mainly used for equine purposes, ‘and if it’s good enough for horses, it’s good enough for me.’ She says it’s like Elizabeth Arden’s cultish Eight Hour Cream, but a fraction of the price. ‘Three dollars ninety-nine for a year’s supply!’ she exclaims, jubilant.”
“In recent years both a long-term partner and her mother have passed away, along with many close friends. But she’s not one for mourning and regret. ‘I’ve been busy trying to help people die a good death. I don’t believe in funerals. I believe in celebrating life, and showing people, while they’re alive, how much I care about them. And I don’t believe in this business of burial. I’m an organ donor. Whether its my skin or my eyeballs, use whatever bits are intact and put the rest in the garbage.”
LUV. HUH. Dammit, “supermodel” just doesn’t cut it, especially if she has to share the title with a bunch of gals who had careers less than HALF the length of hers. We propose the term MEGAMODEL.
But “goddess” will suffice.
[Photo Credit: various sources, including getty, wireimage]