Fashion photography collectors are in for a treat: Carmen Dell’Orefice’s personal collection is up for auction at Phillips on Sept 30th (evening sale at 6pm, lots 1-32) and Oct 1st (day sale, 10am lots 32-139 and 2pm lots 140-264). The exhibition opens this Tuesday the 24th. The Carmen photographs will be 15 lots offered in the afternoon session during the Oct 1st Day Sale. The vast majority were printed around the time of the negative and there are some really wonderful never-before-seen shots of her.
In recalling her foray into the world of modeling in 1944 at the age of 13, Carmen Dell’Orefice confides that her first professional photographs “were not successful. A letter came home from Harper’s Bazaar, [stating] that I was a charming child but at this moment, in my development, totally un-photogenic.” At the time, the world of modeling was still in its nascent stages, decades before it would turn into a multi-billion dollar bonanza whose practitioners were closely scrutinized and idolized.
The disappointment, therefore, did not stem from the denial to enter a world of glamour and style, but rather from the denial to prove her relentless work ethic and unwavering discipline, one that Carmen had been exercising from her childhood, steeped in poverty. The only child of a professional dancer mother and a symphony violinist father, Carmen’s early years were marked by fierce independence and precocious maturity. Like her mother, the young Carmen vigorously pursued dance, and following a year- long bout with rheumatic fever, moved to professional swimming, all the while attending school and contributing where she could to the household. Therefore, when the rejection letter from Harper’s Bazaar arrived, the driven teenager turned to her godparents and their friends for solace. As luck would have it, Carol Phillips, a staff-writer for Vogue at the time, was among those present.
“Well,” commented Ms. Phillips, a visionary in her own right who would later found cosmetics giant Clinique, “I think she would be very photogenic, [and] I can’t imagine why the pictures didn’t turn out. Why don’t we bring her up to Vogue?” The next day, to save on bus fare, Carmen made her way roller-skating to the Vogue offices, where she was photographed by Clifford Coffin. The next day she posed for Horst P. Horst, and it was shortly thereafter that the blooming teenager collaborated with other masters in photography, including Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, whose works are among the photographs offered in this section. By the time she turned 15, the lanky girl from Manhattan was photographed by Erwin Blumenfeld for the cover of Vogue, which would become the first of five covers for the magazine, and one of endless others that she would come to grace over an illustrious career whose end is invisible.
The meteoric rise of Carmen in the fashion world coincided with the booming of the publishing industry and improvements in mass-printing, both of which facilitated the reproduction of photographic images in newspapers, and, in turn, engendered a growing demand for models in commercial and editorial work. Carmen’s success, however, was not merely circumstantial, as the young model was determined to learn from the best. Recalling her experience with the leading photographers of the 1940s and 1950s, she says, “their aesthetic development was so classical and so refined… so I picked up by osmosis their taste, their sense of how to put things together, how to think about what was going on. I was part of their imagination, I was part of something I couldn’t see but I could feel.” The synthesis of model and photographer is wondrously apparent in the works offered in the current selection. In each of the photographs, the iconic supermodel offers a different pose— from whimsical and coy to stately and confident—but still exuding the timeless elegance and supreme polish that she had come to perfect.