Luke Blackall: An 81-year-old model with a doctorate in living

Man About Town

The queues were for James Franco. Scores of people packed into a tiny screening room to hear the actor, writer and thinking woman's crumpet. It seemed that even the rarefied crowd at last weekend's Liberatum cultural festival in Berlin, could get a little starstruck. In the end, he was only there for a few minutes, answered no questions from the crowd and granted no interviews to the handful of press there.

This sort of elusiveness (combined with his textbook handsomeness) probably only helps to maintain his creative appeal.

Franco was in fine company in a list of speakers that included the Nobel Laureat Wole Soyinka, directors Stephen Frears and Jonas Akerlund, actress Kim Cattrall, and musician Marianne Faithfull.

To me, the most interesting speaker was Carmen Dell'Orefice, an 81-year-old model. I stumbled into the talk – held in one of the apartments in the local outpost of members' club Soho House – almost by accident, but she kept the room enthralled for an hour.

Warmer than many fashion grandees, but no less authentic, Dell'Orefice's career began in November 1945 (before pretty much everyone else in the room had been born), with her first Vogue cover in 1947.

During her career of being shot by the best in the business, such as Beaton and Parkinson, she should have money enough to have long retired, but has lost all her savings twice, first in the 1980s and then again more recently when she was caught up in her friend Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme scandal. She has since had to start earning again as "money is the muscle of old age," she says.

She was, in her own words, "too old to sell my body" , so she chose instead to sell photographs of it and started modelling again. Her stories ranged from growing up impoverished in the 1930s to acting in Woody Allen movies and were punctuated with a stream of quips, bon mots and humour: "Plastic surgery? I think it's terrific."

Using her "doctorate in living", it was as much a talk from a motivational speaker as it was a discussion about post-war fashion.

By the end, the women in the room wanted to adopt her as an extra grandmother/best friend, while the men were trying to act like they didn't fancy her.

Either way, Franco had some serious competition.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all