Interview with Carmen Dell'Orefice
Updated: Mar 30
Born in 1931, Carmen Dell’Orefice was already on the cover of Vogue at the age of fifteen and today she is known as the oldest working fashion model. She was Salvador Dalí’s muse and collaborated with brands such as Missoni and Thierry Mugler. Several times she ran out of money in her financial life and always got back on her feet. Although this could be her last photoshoot, she has not lost her critical vision. When asked what she would like to change in the fashion industry during Fashion Politique’s production with Albert Watson, she replied:
I would like to see all models protected legally, as is writers’ intellectual property is… with the Plagiarism Law!
Here is the full interview with Danilo Venturi, Director of IED Firenze and author of Brand Persona: The Four-Step Method.
Carmen Dell’Orefice by Albert Watson 2023
What is a typical day like for Carmen Dell’Orefice?
The joy when I open my eyes, I realize I’m still here and know for sure that today will not be like any other day I’ve ever lived. I consider every day is like a present I receive at Christmas and can’t wait to open!
Over seven decades of modeling, what has kept you motivated and driven?
Being able to support my family and friends who needed help. Motivation: to start with, the ability to make money and take care of my mother and father, and over the decades persons I came to care about who needed financial help. Because I made real money, by the time I was 14, by 17 because I did my job well and kept making money. The job I accomplished was “respectfully” withdrawing from the power of my mother’s tyranny, by continuing to pay her rent so she could finish her college education which she did at Hunter College. I moved into a one-room studio apart just before I was 18, DRIVEN I was NOT! You see it never felt like work to me. It was wonderful at 14 to understand enough what these adults expected of me, even as my body kept developing. My look kept changing as my body went from 5’9’and 99 pounds gradually up to 128 lbs. 5’9’, the weight I was from 1957 on.
You inspired Salvador Dalí. What did you feel at that moment?
Just happy to bring home to my mother the $7.50 I was paid for posing! I never paid much attention to him I kept looking at the wonderful charcoal drawings of horses scattered all over on the floor of the of the Saint Regis suites I was in. One day Dalí asked me if I’d rather have one of the drawings instead of the $7.50 and I said I’d have to ask my mother. He had signed and put aside my favorite till the next time I came but alas; mother needed the money! However, Dalí kept drawing me over the years, and more than made up for my first disappointment. My childhood friendship with Dalí grew over the decades till the day he died.
How has the concept of beauty changed over time?
As we became more and more industrialized, leaving the horse and buggy, society became busier and leaner… Well, I see it as cyclical, 19th century’s “plummy” was considered the standard. As 20th century unfolded, we were less sedentary, agreeing slimness was more desirable. Here we are in 2023 and finally because of the volume of heaviness in our present population we slipped into heavy. It’s OK if not totally beautiful. What in at given moment is.
Is there anything you would like to see changed in the fashion industry to make it more just?
My favorite question! I would like to see all models protected legally as is writers’ intellectual property is... with the Plagiarism Law! All actors are protected by Screen Actors Guild who have the mechanism in place documenting any reuse of any film or film commercial worldwide and must pay the actor some residual fee. Models contract and sign a release for their intellectual property, “their looks” to be used in a publication once. Usually, the release they sign is from the magazine. What happens, sometimes years later, the photographer re-uses the picture he took, to advertise a commercial product or publishes a book of his own photographs. Models have no power and are never compensated for the usage after the original usage! There is an organization that tries to protect models... Although well meaning, has not been able to affect the major change needed. No meaningful change can happen for models until the agencies themselves agree to stop being a “ma and pa” operation and unionize, which would protect all models, who presently are terribly abused. I believe, a law that would be strong enough to rectify this abuse, must be ratified by Congress which has the power to mandate punishment, when the law is broken. Now is the time to bring this issue of abuse to the attention of our local Congress person like, a Christian Gellibrand… It’s time for the model agencies to agree to unionize, this would help protect the intellectual property of the model from worldwide plagiarism of her image, which presently has no protection at all! As it stands right now, it is too difficult and expensive for a model to pursue justice on her own after the fact! If Congress put a law in place acknowledging her intellectual property, models might have a chance to collect residuals!