British beauty Daphne Selfe, 83, is still walking catwalks, starring in campaigns and hasn't indulged in any cosmetic enhancements - setting the world record for the Oldest Supermodel
Looking around the headquarters of the Models 1 agency in Covent Garden, there are giant posters showing the most famous girls (and I mean girls, not women) on their books — Amber Le Bon, Bar Refaeli, Noemie Lenoir.
But there is one poster that shows a woman who is very different from the rest. A mane of silver hair, an etiolated neck, high cheekbones, bright, intelligent, lively eyes, and all 83 of her years etched upon her face.
This is Daphne Selfe. She is certainly one of the most beautiful women on the wall, and also one of the bravest — because she has just agreed to pose as Madonna in her prime. And if that were not enough, she is wearing only the iconic conical bra and corset made by Jean Paul Gaultier for the singer’s Blonde Ambition tour in 1990.
It’s a replica, but it’s still ‘terribly unforgiving. I thought they might have done a bit of airbrushing!’ says Daphne, joking. ‘I’m not that brave. I used to pose nude, you know, for artists including Barbara Hepworth.’
For a woman who has spent a lifetime in front of the camera, Daphne is surprisingly without vanity. She pulls up her bobbly sweater to show me her arms. ‘It’s these, you see,’ she says, rubbing at the brown speckles.
‘So dreadful, which is why I normally wear long sleeves. My body is OK when I lie down, it settles rather. But, hey, what the hell, it was all for a good cause.’
The cause is Oxfam’s Big Bra Hunt. Apparently, the average woman in the UK owns nine bras, three of which she never wears. And while we readily donate clothes to charity, most of us don’t realise that women in developing countries need our bras, too.
Oxfam hopes the photograph of Daphne, taken by star fashion photographer Perou (everyone on the shoot worked for no fee) will change all that. Oxfam is sending its first batches of bras to Senegal, West Africa, where, traditionally, women ‘just flop around’, according to Sarah Farquhar, head of Oxfam Trading. ‘A good bra makes them feel more elegant.’
‘I’ve never had anything done to my face,’ Daphne says, pulling it this way and that. ‘Not that poison, not a facelift. I think it’s a waste of money. Anyway, I couldn’t afford it!’
So how on earth does she do it, remain so fit, so lively in her slacks and flats, so amazing!
‘I think it’s partly down to good genes. My mother was a livewire, she lived until she was 95. I’ve never really bothered with skin cream or anything like that, although I might use a bit of Boots. I hate anything you can’t take the top off and dig around for what’s left in the bottom.
‘I did dye my hair at home for a while when I started to go grey in my early 40s. Occasionally, I would go into L’Oreal as a guinea pig, but it became too much of a bother.
My hair is long now because it’s cheaper, I don’t have to do anything, but put it in a topknot or a French pleat. It avoids that old lady permed look, lengthens the neck and lifts the face. I’ve got so many friends who don’t touch the make-up pot. You should keep looking nice, it makes you feel so much better.’
Then I remind Daphne of another photograph taken of her in barely anything but a bra: she is in a floral bikini in the early Fifties. She looks beautiful, but so very different to today’s models: she has a tiny waist (‘It was 24in, today it’s 27in! At least I haven’t got fat’), but rather chunky thighs, and wide shoulders.
‘I would never have made it starting out today,’ she admits. ‘I was too short, just 5ft 7in, with wide shoulders from all the riding I did as a young girl. But no one ever asked me to lose weight. Rationing was in place until 1954, so you were always grateful to get good food.’
Was she waxed in preparation for that bikini photograph? ‘No! Of course not. There was nothing like that. I do feel sorry for young girls today, all the things they do to themselves.’
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