Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

Carmen with Norman Parkinson in 1959. This picture was taken by Bronson Hartley, who createted the diving helmets.
 Last night, I had an experience rather akin to meeting your Fairy Godmother. I popped into the preview of London College of Fashion's new exhibition 'Carmen: A Life in Fashion'. Despite the many people much more important than myself who were clamouring to have a moment with Carmen Dell'Orefice, whose career has spanned over more than 60 years, I did manage to grab a  few moments in the velvety presence of the woman who is called The World's Oldest Supermodel. I cannot put into words Carmen's beauty and luminosity; she is like a superior, superhuman creature; a Queen Bee.Yet, in conversation she is a purveyor of compassionate words and is not afraid to share all the wisdom she has gathered over a lifetime in fashion.
Carmen shot by Tim Petersen in 2010
Another recent Tim Petersen shot
 When I asked her which decade was her favourite, out of all those she has worked through, she said NOW is the most exciting time for her. I can see the logic of this; when most people her age are enjoying their dotage and slowing down, she is doing something very different by continuing to work (realistically, this is perhaps more out of necessity than choice).
Carmen with Horst P Horst 1947
 She is blazing her own trail without really knowing where it might take her, a feeling most twenty-somethings are probably used to, less so her eighty year old contemporaries. Despite the fact that her most recent return to work was due to losing her life savings to Bernie Madoff, she insists that rather than being financially motivated, the continuation is part of a her ongoing reinvention of herself. 'Eighty to 100 will be be my most fascinating years!'.

Carmen in the early 1940s
This attitude is also reflected in the story of LCF's exhibition. Carmen's friend, the fashion illustrator David Downton, was at her apartment in New York and came across boxes full of photos from her career, stuffed away beneath her bed. Somebody who was more nostalgic might have carefully filed all their work but Carmen is no such woman.
From 1959, with under the bed crumples.
 Some of the photographs in the exhibition have little tears or marks where sellotape has been ripped off them. These are all endearing signs that Carmen's mind is firmly in the moment, rather than fussing about preserving the past. She was also incredibly enthusiatic about the prospect of her photographs being exhibited in the LCF space where young creatives have access to her archive and can be inspired.
Carmen dell'Orefice, photgraphed by Cecil Beaton in 1946 (Image from
 One of my favourite images from the exhibition is the Cecil Beaton, above, from 1946. It struck me that this could easily have been an editorial from 2012, showcasing Spring/Summer Erdem or Louis Vuitton. When I asked Carmen for her thoughts about this, she dismissively pointed out that 'Fashion is always being recycled'. She often has people tell her that 'they want to be just like her'. This is unsurprising given how in her presence, one feels enveloped in a cashmere blanket of glamour, a highly inimitable trait. But she retorts 'You weren't like me twenty years ago, why would you want to be like me now?'.

Carmen values the individuality of Daphne Guinness, who she says has made herself into a 'walking object'. "Daphne knows herself and has uncompromisingly taken that all the way," she says. Carmen believes we should all adopt our own version of this attitude; she tells me that she is always refining herself and casting a critical eye.

I shall leave you with Carmen's mantras, which she told me as she squeezed my hand, a truly magic moment:

Her style tip: 'Always be eliminating elements of your look, but don't tell anybody what you've eliminated, so that you have a mystery'

Have Courage

Don't be a sheep; 'I don't admire Daphne Guinness as such, but I do value her point of view on herself'

Know yourself and be who you truly are.

Live for now. I'm excited about now, why would I look back?

Live fearlessly.

.... Amen to that. 

'Carmen: A Life in Fashion' is on at London College of Fashion on John Princes Street from November 16th until January 14th- best of all, it's free!

Unless otherwise indicated, all images are kind courtesy of London College of Fashion.

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