This is American-born Carmen Dell’Orefice who, at 81-years-old with a modelling career that spans around 6 decades, is one of the world’s more mature supermodels (although the official title of ‘World’s Oldest Supermodel is currently held by 83-years-old British-born Daphne Selfe who recently whipped the title from the impeccably manicured talons of 81-year-old Shanghai-born China Machado) and, while we fight over including plus-sized/normal shaped women in catwalk shows, it’s wonderful to see that in the much overlooked area of fashion ageism it isn’t the sole domain of young, gaunt, willowy women living on a diet of cigarettes and air, keeping their bodies imprisoned in an eternal state of prepubescent boyishness.
I’m not sure if her daughter Laura (a psychologist living in California who, along with her brother Jeffery, was the product of Carmen’s union with 1st husband, entrepreneur and playboy William ‘Bill’ Miles) ever had children, so although her age leads many to dub her the most fabulous grandmother in the world, a more accurate title might be most fabulous octogenarian in the world.
Isn’t she glorious? And, to be honest, also a little terrifying.
Can you imagine living with this woman as your Mother or Grandmother? Would you ever be able to turn up at her house on one of your off days, dressed in the most slobbish and comfortable outfit you own, knowing that this glowing vision would open the door to you (or at the very least her oiled, muscular manservant Raoul would open the door to you, then escort you to where she would be reclining on a divan, illuminated in a ray of sunlight) dressed to absolute perfection, with paparazzi hiding in the magnolia bushes waiting to capture a glimpse of her. You just know that subsequently your drab, blobby image would end up in some celebrity magazine, caught by camera half eclipsed by your Grandmothers ethereal beauty, like a small troll making its first brave foray out from its home under a bridge. Oh the pressure of always looking your best around her.
My surviving Grandmother is in her eighties, was born in Burma/Myanmar, remembers the Japanese occupation with still raw emotions, comes from a family of 12 siblings and herself raised a brood of 6 healthy children. Nearly all of her children went on to raise children of their own, resulting in a busy house for her with grandchildren clambering over each other and squabbling for her attention. My fondest memories of my Nana are how she always has a pot of something hot, spicy and delicious bubbling away on the stove, ready to feed her extended family with; seeing her dye her hair in the kitchen sink and marveling at the before and after; and being the oldest grandchild I was obviously first on the grandchild scene, so my Nana used to look after me while my Mum went to work, so I spent many happy days following her around shops in the local town and gloriously having her all to myself.
As I’ve grown up so my Nana has shrunk down in size, changing over the years from the women I looked up at as she held my hand while we walked around, to the wrinkled old lady falling asleep on my shoulder while we waited for other family members to finish shopping. I’m happy to say that as I’ve got older she’s gone from being simply a grandmother – a permanent and occasionally taken-for-granted family figurehead – to being someone that I’ve had the pleasure of discovering as a person, friend and partner-in-crime with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, someone with a past, yes, an almost inconceivable life lived before she became a wife and mother.
Could I ever imagine my Nana daubed in makeup, draped in silk, dripping with jewels on the cover of Vogue magazine? Not a chance, she’s shorter than me and simply doesn’t have the bone structure of someone like Carmen Dell’Orefice. Maybe she could appear on the cover of magazines ‘Burma Today’ or ‘Upper Crust India’, but there’s no way she could stride down a catwalk in 10-inch heels.
However, can I imagine Carmen Dell’Orefice dying her hair in the kitchen sink, to the wonder of a tribe of onlooking grandchildren? Would Carmen be seen in anything less than haute couture perfection, and therefore could you imagine her allowing a small, grubby grandchild to climb all over her and knocking the perfect fall of her fabric out of place? Could Carmen drag a small army of resisting and oddly sticky grandchildren from shop to shop while at the same time she getting her family food shopping done? Could I imagine Carmen huddled over the stove, perfecting some sort of Asian masterpiece for a drooling, expectant family or would she instead jab a perfectly manicured finger onto speed dial and command a gourmet home delivery company to take care of her imminent dinner party needs? The answers are no, no, no and again no.
Therefore Carmen Dell’Orefice may well be the most fabulous grandmother/octogenarian in the world – and regardless of how she’s perceived on camera I have no doubt that she’s a funny, interesting person with an amazing life both behind and ahead of her – but I know beyond doubt that mine is the most fantastic.