Today is the 85th birthday of Carmen Dell’Orefice (born June 3, 1931), an American model of ironic status and actress, known within the fashion industry for being the world’s oldest working model was on the cover of Vogue by the age of fifteen and has been modeling ever since.
Carmen Dell’Orefice (Click photo to enlarge).
In her own words Carmen says of her spectacular career; “I projected a strong personality for a gray-haired again population – I gave them the permission to be themselves. Then my career was on the high road again, and it did not really stop. Now I consider myself a cover girl. I am 80-years old.”
Springing from Italian and Hungarian ancestry, Carmen’s parents had a tempestuous and unstable relationship characterized by frequent breaks and reconciliations, punctuated with periods of time where Carmen lived in foster homes or with other relatives during her parent’s clashes.
In 1942, Carmen and her mother moved to New York City. At the age of thirteen, while riding a bus to ballet class, she was approached to model by the wife of photographer Herman Landschoff. Her test photos, taken at Jones Beach, were a “flop” according to Carmen. In 1946, her godfather introduced her to Vogue and fifteen-year old Carmen signed a modeling contract for $7.50 an hour. She became a favorite model of photographer Erwin Blumenfeld who shot her first Vogue cover in 1947. She appears in the December 15, 1947 issue of US Vogue as Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Cinderella along with model Dorian Leigh, actors Ray Bolger and Jose Ferrer.
Carmen Dell’Orefice, Vogue cover, Februari 1948 (Click photo to enlarge).
Carmen and her mother were poor, and her modeling income was not enough to sustain the family. With no telephone, Vogue had to send runners to their apartment to let Carmen know about modeling jobs. She roller-skated to assignments to save on bus fares. Carmen was so malnourished that famed fashion photographers Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton had to pin back dresses and stuff the curves with tissue.
Carmen and her mother were accomplished seamstresses and made extra money making clothes. One of their customers was Dorian Leigh. Carmen later became best friends with Dorian’s younger sister, model Suzy Parker. Together they were bridesmaids at Dorian’s second wedding to Roger Mehle in 1948.
Carmen Dell’Orefice for Vogue America (Click photo to enlarge).
In 1947, Carmen’s rate was raised to $10–$25 per hour. She appeared on the October 1947 cover of Vogue, at age sixteen, one of the youngest Vogue cover models to grace the magazines cover. Carmen was also on the November 1948 cover of Vogue.
Carmen Dell’Orefice by Richard Avedon, 1957
Pictured above is a Chanel No.5 perfume ad from 1958 featuring Carmen Dell’Orefice.
Carmen Dell’Orefice by F. C. Gundlach, 1958
She worked with the most famous fashion photographers of the era including Irving Penn, Gleb Derujinsky, Francesco Scavullo, Norman Parkinson, and Richard Avedon. Carmen was photographed by Melvin Sokolsky for Harper’s Bazaar in 1960. The iconic image titled Carmen Las Meninas has been collected internationally. Sokolsky also photographed her for the classic Vanity Fair lingerie campaign in which Carmen obscures her face with her hand. She was painter Salvador Dalí’s muse.
Carmen Dell’Orefice (Click photo to enlarge).
Despite her early successes, modeling agent Eileen Ford declined to represent her and Vogue lost interest in her. Her thin frame required medical attention: doctors prescribed shots to start puberty, and her new curves brought her work in catalogs modeling lingerie at $300 per hour. She joined the Ford Modelling Agency in 1953. She retired from modeling after her second marriage in 1958.
After her third divorce and in need of funds, Dell’Orefice returned to modeling in 1978. In the late 1980s, Dell’Orefice was engaged to television talk-show host David Susskind. He died before they were married. In 1993, a neighbor introduced her to Norman F. Levey, who was Bernard Madoff’s best friend. Levy was her boyfriend for several years. In the 1990s and 2000s, she modeled for Isaac Mizrahi’s clothing line at Target, as well as Cho Cheng and Rolex. Dell’Orefice is featured regularly in their advertising campaigns appearing in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and W
In the 1980s and 1990s, Dell’Orefice lost most of her money in the stock market. She was forced to auction off her famous modeling photographs from the 1940s to the 1980s through Sotheby’s,
Carmen Dell’Orefice by Tim Petersen, Madame, October, 2010 (Click photo to enlarge).
In 1994, with what little money she had left, and with money from boyfriend Norman Levy, she invested with notorious financial fraud Bernie Madoff. For twelve years, Ruth and Bernie Madoff and Dell’Orefice and Norman Levy were a ‘foursome’, traveling and partying together on lavish yachts. Levy died in 2005, at age 93, and Madoff was the executor of his will. Levy had $244 million in assets at the time of his death, according to Dell’Orefice. Madoff’s fraudulent investment scheme drew on these funds to lure over 13,500 individuals and charities to his Ponzi scheme. She continued to socialize with the Madoffs after Levy’s death.
In December 2008 a 68-year-old friend, who invested her life savings with Madoff, telephoned Dell’Orefice to inform her that she too had been bankrupted by the scheme. Dell’Orefice said, “For the second time in my life, I’ve lost all of my life savings.”
In June 2011, Dell’Orefice celebrated her 80th birthday. On July 19, 2011 she was awarded an honoray doctorate from the University of the Arts London, in recognition of her contribution to the fashion industry. The university sponsored a retrospective exhibition curated by illustrator and long-time friend David Downton, featuring Dell’Orefice’s Vogue covers, career highlights, and photographs from her personal archives.
Carmen Dell’Orefice on cover of New You (Click photo to enlarge).
We want to wish Carmen Dell’Orefice a happy, healthy 85th birthday!!