Carmen Dell' Orefice was born before Fashion Week even existed. The 81-year-old, who walked the runway for Norisol Ferrari at NYFW on Monday, is the oldest working supermodel in the industry and proud of it.
"It's what I enjoy doing, and I'm able to do it," she told the Today Show before stepping on to the runway in a mocha-colored floor-length gown.
Discovered at 13, while riding a New York City bus with her mom, she landed the cover of Vogue only three years later. That was back in 1947, when $7.50 an hour was the going rate for the gig.
"It meant nothing to me," she recalls of seeing her first cover, "except that I thought I looked like a little boy."
The octogenarian beauty has long shed any hint of tomboyishness. Her iconic white hair, which she's left dye-free for decades, has set the highest bar for aging gracefully.
She's had a little help, according to Today show correspondant and interviewer Jenna Bush Hager (yes that, Jenna). Dell'Orefice admits to using fillers for "cracks in the ceiling," but it takes a lot more than an injection to be one of the most in-demand models after 66 years in the business. Her shoulders thrust back in triumph on the runway, projecting a couture-worthy regality uncommon on the runway these days.
It's the kind of peacocking pride only a veteran of the business can pull off. It's also a throwback to the days of before slump-shouldered models, minimalism and Kate Moss made high fashion more bone-dry.
That may be why Dell' Orifice still works so much. When a designer or advertiser wants to convey true luxury, they call Dell' Orifice. In recent years, she's been the face of Rolex and Issac Mizrahi's Target line, between runway shows for Heart Truth, Adrienne Vittadini and Qasimi, among others.
"I think America may be growing up and accepting the fact that the bulk of life exists beyond 50. Because demographically ... the vast population is over 50," says Dell'Orifice.
She's onto something: Older women with cash to spare have become a coveted demographic for marketers of luxury products. As a result, fashion has started is taking cues from women once considered past their prime.
At 71, supermodel Veruschka stole the spotlight at Giles' runway show during London Fashion Week in 2010. That same year 45-year-old model Kristen McMenamy let her long hair go totally gray, and nubile style commentators like Tavi Gevenson and Kelly Osbourne followed suit (with the help of gray hair dye.)
Even outside fashion's tiny bubble, women, not girls, have taken the reigns of style. The most powerful cross-generational trendsetter in America today is a 48-year-old mother of two. That'd be Michelle Obama, as if you couldn't guess.
Still in the world of modeling, youth is remains the beauty standard. While models as young as teenagers still share the stage with the likes of Dell'Orifice, there isn't much competition. She's already been the teen model and done the 'it' girl thing. She's also posed for Salvador Dali, married and divorced multiple times, had a child, quit modeling, raked in millions, and lost it all to ponzi con-man Bernie Madoff, her ex-boyfriend's best friend. Dell'Orifice has personally intersected with some of modern history's most famous and infamous cultural touchstones, and she isn't slowing down at 81.
At a Fashion Week event on Friday she was photographed linking arms with 28-year-old Olympian Ryan Lochte, looking every bit the model of the moment.