Carmen Dell’Orefice (born June 3, 1931) is an American model and actress. She is known within the fashion industry for being the world’s oldest working model as of the Spring/Summer 2012 season. She was on the cover of Vogue at the age of 15 and has been modelling ever since.
Dell’Orefice was born in New York City to parents of Italian and Hungarian descent. They had an unstable relationship characterized by frequent break ups and reconciliations. Dell’Orefice lived in foster homes or with other relatives during her parents’ clashes.
At the age of 13, 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 Dell’Orefice. In 1946, her godfather introduced her to Vogue and the 15-year old 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.
Dell’Orefice and her mother struggled financially, and her modeling income was not enough to sustain the family. With no telephone, Vogue had to send runners to their apartment to let Dell’Orefice know about modeling jobs. She roller-skated to assignments to save on bus fares. She was so malnourished that famed fashion photographers Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton had to pin back dresses and stuff the curves with tissue.
Dell’Orefice and her mother were accomplished seamstresses and made extra money making clothes. One of their customers was Dorian Leigh. Dell’Orefice later became best friends with Leigh’s younger sister, model Suzy Parker. Together they were bridesmaids at Leigh’s second wedding to Roger Mehle in 1948.
In 1947, Dell’Orefice’s rate was raised to $10–$25 per hour. She appeared on the October 1947 cover of Vogue, at age 16, one of the youngest Vogue cover models, (along with Niki Taylor, Brooke Shields, and Monika Schnarre). She was also on the November 1948 cover of Vogue. She worked with the most famous fashion photographers of the era including Irving Penn, Gleb Derujinsky, Francesco Scavullo, Norman Parkinson, and Richard Avedon. Dell’Orefice 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 Dell’Orefice obscures her face with her hand. She was painter Salvador Dalí’s muse.
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, and continues to work to this day. 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, W and Harper’s Bazaar.
In June 2011, Dell’Orefice celebrated her 80th birthday. On July 19, 2011 she was awarded an honorary 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.
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