Thursday, August 23, 2012

..... with a lot of plastic surgery

Shades of Grey
At 81, Carmen Dell'Orefice Still Has Sex Appeal - And The Dating Life To Prove It!

By Maureen Callahan
Wednesday, August 22, 2012

She was born into poverty on Welfare Island, New York City, on June 3, 1931, and went on to become the epitome of American glamour and optimism. Today, at 81, supermodel Carmen Dell’Orefice is more beautiful and relevant than she was in her youth, and this made her an odd choice for the recent HBO documentary “About Face,” which exploited her fame in its study of iconic models who have aged out of the industry.

Dell’Orefice, you see, has never aged out. She is a survivor, in love and in work. She was never huge in her prime, largely because of her era; it wasn’t until the ’60s, when Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy came along, that models became stars. Yet Dell’Orefice never stopped working, and today, she is wholly unprecedented: our first octogenarian supermodel, signed to Trump Legends.

She will tell you it’s because she has to work. (Bernie Madoff stole all her money, but it’s not that big of a deal; she lost her life savings once before.) But really, Dell’Orefice loves what she does. She’s very good at it. She sees absolutely no reason why she should stop. She thinks that women could do worse than to look to her as an example of how to age, because no one is as surprised by her third act as she is.

“I have had a lucky life,” Dell’Orefice says in the Dior Suite at the St. Regis Hotel, where, at 13, she posed for Salvador Dali. As payment, he offered her $7 an hour or an original sketch. She wanted the sketch, but she and her mother desperately needed the money. “There are choices and hard work,” she says. “But it’s always a lot of luck.”

When Dell’Orefice was born, her mother, a Hungarian immigrant, was 19; her father, an Italian violinist, was 39. She does not describe it as a great love: “He knocked her up, and he married her.” At 13, Dell’Orefice was living with her mother in a fifth-floor, cold-water flat at 900 Third Ave. The rent was $30 a month. She had just emerged from a year spent in bed with rheumatic fever and, one day, happened to be on a bus with the wife of fashion photographer Herman Landshoff.

Three years later, in October 1947, she made her debut on the cover of Vogue. From the start, Dell’Orefice worked with legends — Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst — and she was terrified. “There were all these men who lived life in a very sensual, developed way,” she says. “They knew everything. I never went to school long enough to have intellectual or verbal skills. I don’t think I started talking until my third marriage.”

In love, Dell’Orefice has not been so lucky. She thinks her beauty has been as much a hazard as a gift, and she picked men who pretended it wasn’t there because she felt guilty about it. The men in her life were very different, but they all served one purpose: to punish her for it.

When she was 16, Dell’Orefice fell in love with a playboy named William Miles. During their courtship, she had more than one abortion. “I didn’t want to entrap him,” she says. They married and had a daughter, Laura. Dell’Orefice bought him racehorses and training sessions and knew even then that she was trying to buy his love. Of course, he cheated on her. “It’s not nice to come home and he’s in bed with someone else,” she says. They divorced.

She met her second husband, photographer Richard Heimann, on the job. She walked into his studio and was so overwhelmed by his beauty that she made fun of him. “At the time, I didn’t know how much his teeth were going to cost me,” she says. They got married, Dell’Orefice bought him his own studio and then Heimann left her for his manager, to whom he’s still married.

Dell’Orefice spent the next year on her sofa, icing her face in the wake of unrelenting crying jags. “I was beside myself with grief,” she says. She met Richard Kaplan, who would be husband number three, at a dinner party. “I was so happy, until Richard drank like an old truck driver,” she says. “A bottle of scotch a night, like it was nothing.” There were drugs, too, and money problems, and it was he who inspired Dell’Orefice to stop dying her hair and let it go white — her one-woman revolution.

“He leaned over in bed,” she says, “and he pulled out a white hair. I thought, ‘No. No! I am your wife that you love so much? How dare he?’ So I let my hair grow in.”

After Kaplan, she vowed never to remarry, but that hasn’t protected her: Norman Levy, Dell’Orefice’s late boyfriend, was a close friend of Bernie Madoff, and it was he who convinced her to invest everything she had with the Ponzi king. She can’t talk about that situation for legal reasons, but she doesn’t hold grudges — a framed photo of Madoff still sits on her piano, dead center — and she stays in the game.

Take the man she’s been dating: “I have to tell you, I helped him realize that the person he had been dating for seven years before he met me — I helped him realize how deeply he loves her. He’s about to marry her.” He broke the news to Dell’Orefice three weeks ago. He’s still the screensaver on her iPad. “He couldn’t crush me,” she says. “No event can.”

Dell’Orefice doesn’t fear much, and that extends to aging: She is typically deadpan when she speaks of the indignities of it, making fun of the beard she has to pluck, the stiffness of her hips. She is rueful about the sun damage she accrued in her youth, and grateful that her doctor was able to “save” her face. She has survived a hysterectomy and other calamities, including a brutal fall on her 75th birthday that resulted in a torn knee. She hates Botox and Restylane, but has done silicone injections for years, and as a young girl had electrolysis to push back her hairline, which she swears is creeping back in. “The body does what it wants,” she says.

She never worried about losing her looks, she says, because she thought she was getting better with age, and she doesn’t just mean outwardly. What Dell’Orefice most wants to communicate is this: That nothing is as it seems, including the way she looks and the attendant qualities people have ascribed to her life. “I have worked so hard to get where I am,” she says. “If you get over your parents and your education and your church, and you can make it through and discover who the hell you are — that’s a lifetime education. And I’m always willing to try.”

Luxuriate in another timeless beauty

In a so-good-it-astonishes pairing of iconic luxury brands, the Christian Dior Suite at the St. Regis New York sets a new standard for sophistication, glamour and elegance. Inspired by the Dior ateliers in Paris, designer Caroline Rippeteau embraced the legendary designer’s signature gray, along with muted pinks and warm whites, in haute couture fabrics, including lace, silk, tulle and leather. The one-of-a-kind, 1,700-square-foot suite boasts a foyer, one bedroom, 1 ½ baths, a dining room and a living room with a fireplace. Fashion illustrator Bil Donovan (Dior Beauty’s first artist-in-residence) painted the striking watercolor featuring four Dior silhouettes, which appears on the cover of Alexa. There’s also the knockout view of Fifth Avenue and Central Park framed by floor-to-ceiling windows. The suite is available for $9,500 a night. For reservations and more information, visit

Photos: Elizabeth Lippman
Fashion Editor: Serena French
Stylist: Anahita Moussavian
Makeup: Yuko Takahashi for MAC
Hair: Kyra Dorman for Artists by Timothy Priano
Stylist Assistant: Anna Schuste
Photographer Assistant: Alec Holst
Location: Dior Suite, The St. Regis New York
Watercolor Painting: Bil Donovan


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