Her Glamorous Beauty Spans Decades
This American supermodel and actress holds legendary status in the fashion industry for being the world's oldest working model. With a classic beauty the camera loves at any age, the power of her pearl lies in its strength and longevity, instead of a fleeting glimmer. This is another installment of the Living like a Pearl series. Find the other stories here.
As one of the youngest models to grace the cover of Vogue in 1947, she established her niche for decades to come in a competitive industry known for short-lived careers.
Born June 3, 1931 in New York with Italian and Hungarian family lineage, Carmen Dell'Orefice would inherit the best from both parents and possess a classic, stoic beauty that would gracefully mature with age.
Her childhood however, was not privileged or stable, but fraught with her parent’s tumultuous relationship, causing young Carmen to live with other family members or in foster homes for periods of time. Her family suffered financial hardship as well, leading to malnutrition and a thin frame that she struggled with in years to follow.
Her delicate beauty was discovered early by the wife of photographer Herman Landschoff, when Carmen was just 13, riding the bus to ballet class. Not long after, her godfather connected her with Vogue magazine in 1946, and at 15 years old, Carmen secured a $7.50 per hour modeling contract, with her first of many appearances to come, in the December 15, 1946 issue.
In addition to working with her mother as a seamstress making clothes for extra money, Carmen’s new modeling work provided an opportunity to rise out of poverty. But they still struggled and scratched by in her early modeling years. Because they didn’t have a telephone, she would only be alerted of modeling jobs from runners that Vogue would send to their apartment. Instead of taking the bus, she roller-skated to modeling assignments to save money. Clothes would fall off her underweight frame and photographers had to pin dresses and stuff curves with tissue.
With her rate increased to $10–$25 per hour in 1947, Carmen continued developing her skill, working with the top fashion photographers of the time, and at 16, she was one of the youngest models on the cover of Vogue.
Still struggling with a thin frame and delayed puberty, she sought medical assistance which helped in developing weight gain and curves. Her maturing look brought her new work in modeling lingerie at $300 per hour, and joining the Ford Modelling Agency in 1953.
After a short first marriage in 1952 that gave her a daughter, her second marriage in 1959 led to her retirement from modeling but a divorce soon after, although they remained life-long friends. After a third marriage in 1963 which ended in divorce eleven years later, she stepped out of retirement. The fashion world welcomed her back when she returned in 1978, now 47 years old but with a timeless beauty the camera still loved. The next chapter of her career began.
Throughout the next decades of the 80s, 90s and 2000s she not only graced magazines, runways, and advertising campaigns, but also the screen. Between 1966 and 2010 she appeared in five films, and multiple television appearances, was featured in documentaries and also a 2004 role in ‘Law & Order’.
In 2011 Carmen was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of the Arts London, for her contribution to the fashion industry. In the Guinness book of world records for having the longest catwalk career, Carmen, who turns 90 this year, still lives with her daily motto which is “to enjoy herself, at no-one else's expense.”