Carmen Dell’Orefice is one of the world’s oldest working models. At 81, she still walks the catwalk and has set the bar for aging gracefully. She signed her first modeling contract with Vogue magazine in 1946 at the age of 15.
Her childhood was difficult in the heart of the Depression. Her parents were Italian and Hungarian. They were very poor and they were constantly breaking up and getting back together. Carmen lived in foster homes and sometimes with relatives. In 1942, Carmen and her mother and moved to New York City. At 13, while riding a bus, she was approached to model by the wife of photographer Herman Landschoff.
While she says the first shoot was a flop, by 15 she had signed a contract for $7.50 an hour – however, there weren’t many hours of work. A year later, she appeared in the December 15, 1947 issue of US Vogue as Little Red Riding Hood in a group shot. More assignments followed but she and her mother remained very poor. She was undernourished and underdeveloped. They earned money by sewing clothes.
Despite her early successes, modeling agent Eileen Ford refused to represent her and Vogue lost interest in her. Eventually, doctors prescribed shots to start her delayed puberty. She began working for catalogs and lingerie companies, eventually earning $300 per hour. In 1953, she joined the Ford Modeling Agency.
During her career she worked with the most famous fashion photographers of the era including Irving Penn, Francesco Scavullo, Norman Parkinson, and Richard Avedon.
While she was no longer poor and has had an interesting life, it has not been an easy one in many respects. In 1958, she met photographer Richard Heimann and married him six months later. She decided to retire and he promptly left her. Her third marriage was to a young architect, Richard Kaplan, in the mid-1960s and lasted nine years. In the late 1980s, Carmen was engaged to television talk-show host David Susskind. He died before they were married.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s she lost most of her money in the stock market. Then in 1994, with what little money she had left – and with money from boyfriend, Norman Levy – she invested with Bernie Madoff. For twelve years, Ruth and Bernie Madoff, and Carmen and Norman Levy were a “foursome”, traveling and partying together on lavish yachts. Levy died in 2005 at 93. Madoff was the executor of his will, which had $244 million in assets. Madoff apparently used this money to lure in about 13,500 individuals and charities to his firm. Carmen contined to be friends with the Madoffs.
In June, 2011, a friend telephoned Carmen to tell her she had been swindled by the now infamous Madoff. Carmen said, “For the second time in my life, I’ve lost all of my life savings”.
See Carmen in a trailer of About Face: Supermodels Then and Now – a documentary about some of the most legendary supermodels in history, their thoughts on aging, and how they cope with the demands of the fashion and beauty industry.
Biography information credit: Wikipedia.com
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