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  • Young Carmen Dell'Orefice, New York, Early 1940s, Photographer Unknown, courtesy of Carmen Dell’Orefice

  • Tim Peterson, 2010, courtesy of the artist

  • Tim Peterson, 2010, courtesy of the artist

  • Norman Parkinson, The Bahamas, 1959, courtesy of Carmen Dell’Orefice

  • Norman Parkinson and Bronson Hartley, The Bahamas, 1959, courtesy of Carmen Dell’Orefice

  • Leonard McCombe, New York, 1947, courtesy of Carmen Dell’Orefice

  • Gleb Derujinsky, Paris, 1957, courtesy of Carmen Dell’Orefice

  • Ali Mahdavi, Paris, 2011, courtesy of the artist

  • Exhibition Installation View, Photography by Nuwan Wije

  • Exhibition Installation View, Photography by Nuwan Wije

  • Exhibition Installation View, Photography by Nuwan Wije

  • Exhibition Installation View, Photography by Nuwan Wije

Carmen: A Life in Fashion

16 November 2011–14 January 2012

Fashion Space Gallery presented the first major photographic retrospective of Carmen Dell’Orefice. At eighty years of age, Carmen has become one of the world’s most enduring supermodels and a celebrated icon of both twentieth- and twenty-first-century fashion imagery and culture. She began her modelling career at the age of thirteen, when she was discovered on a bus in New York on her way from the Park Central Hotel swimming pool. In 1947, having become a favoured model of photographer Erwin Blumenfeld, she appeared on her first cover of Vogue. It was to be the launch of a long and illustrious career in fashion, in which Carmen has and continues to work with many of the most iconic names in the industry.

The exhibition was a rare and intimate portrait of a young woman’s meteoric rise and sustained role as fashion’s muse. On display were photographs never before seen in public, taken from Carmen’s own personal archive, alongside key images kindly donated by photographers and their estates for the purposes of the exhibition.

These included a number of family portraits of Carmen as a young girl, as well as unpublished original photographs by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn from seminal stages of her career.

An astonishing selection of images by legendary photographers Norman Parkinson, Horst P. Horst, Lillian Bassman and others were displayed alongside quotes by Carmen, highlighting the personal subtext behind editorial fashion’s lens and revealing Carmen’s signature sense of humility, intelligence, sophistication and humour. Bringing the portfolio up to date was a set of photographs by Ali Mahdavi, commissioned by London College of Fashion to celebrate Carmen’s 80th birthday in 2011.

Carmen: A Life in Fashion was curated by fashion illustrator David Downton, Visiting Professor, London College of Fashion, and a close friend of Carmen. Exhibition design by Karen Morgan.