According to David Downton, Carmen Dell’Orefice is “the sine qua non of beauty, but that’s just her opening play.” The illustrator first discovered this model and muse in the late 90s, when he saw David Bailey’s documentary Models Close Up. He quickly arranged a meeting through Dell’Orefice’s agency, Ford Models, and has been drawing her with gusto and ardor ever since—mostly in London and New York, around the time of the couture shows, but occasionally even on-camera for the BBC.
Now, in his new book, Drawing Carmen, Downton draws this fashion luminary in even greater detail. It is rich with anecdotes about her work ethic—“If you provide reliable door-to-door transport and shoes that fit, you will have her undying gratitude,” he writes—and her Dalís, which were given as a form of payment when she modeled for the artist back in the 40s.
In addition to the illustrations, Downton’s interviews provide fresh insights into a character who counts her ability to remain “anonymous” as one of her greatest achievements. “My dear, I have a doctorate in self-isolation, I have lived alone so long,” she says. “I am most gratefully following Buddha’s directive ‘Don’t just do something, sit there.’” —Ashley Baker