At 80 years old, Daphne Selfe is the UK’s elder stateswoman of the model landscape. Rediscovered by Models1 in 1998, Daphne has featured in campaigns for D&G, Ralph Lauren and Gap, and appeared in Vogue and Marie Claire.
Originally discovered in the fifties working in John Lewis, she received three weeks of training from her modelling agency, including lessons in how to do hair and make-up, get in and out of a car, and what she describes as “learning how to behave”. According to her, “the top models don’t behave very well anymore because that’s what sells papers”, with agencies nowadays less responsible, allowing girls as young as 14 to live alone with little guidance, often with the result that they fall into bad company.
Perhaps like the majority of her generation, she links this “bad behaviour” to alcohol. “I used to get drunk, but not to the point that people do now. I could at least always get home. I think it’s because in the sixties they suddenly discovered sex and everyone became much more open. The parents did what they liked so the children had no guidelines, and it will continue like that. I see all these young children wandering the streets at night and I think ‘where are their mothers, why aren’t they at home?’ Its terrible.”
Daphne also describes our generation as more sexually provocative and discusses how this has changed the industry. “I preferred things then. The clothes were much more glamorous and the people were much more professional, everybody had better manners. Clothes have got more and more bare, and I think the sexual freedom in the sixties marked the change. I think there’s a limit myself, a bit of mystery goes down a lot better.”
Yet on other topics surrounding modelling, Daphne’s opinions are perhaps controversial. When discussing airbrushing, she erupts into laughter, exclaiming, “Why not? Especially now”. Despite admitting that it can give young women unrealistic expectations, Daphne says it has been around since the fifties, and that creating the perfect picture is, after all, what advertisers are aiming for.
When discussing weight too, Daphne’s opinions are frank and honest. She reveals that whilst there is definitely more pressure on modern models to be thin, trying to encourage larger girls into the industry is perhaps unrealistic: “The fact is that clothes do look better on thinner people, and you want to see people looking nice otherwise you don’t want to buy them! You don’t want to be any old frump. But, people definitely make much more effort now to be thin. When I was modelling in my twenties I did exercises and things to keep slim, but I wasn’t that slim, I was probably a 37-50 in those days. I couldn’t be that size now”.
Despite admitting there is some truth in the rumours which surround the industry, Daphne is quick to point out the change in the media since the fifties, and the extent to which things are exaggerated. “I think the media is responsible for a lot of misappropriation, in every sphere. They always spice things up a bit, because they want to sensationalise something in order to sell it. One article said I did circuit training, can you imagine! People assume that modelling is dangerous, but then you are taking your clothes off. There are problems in any career, you just don’t hear about them. The media is much more acerbic now, it’s everywhere”.
According to Daphne, modelling isn’t always the drug fuelled, anorexic circus that the press would have us believe – or if it is, it’s just that we’ve only just started to hear about it. Undoubtedly though, Daphne emphasises that an increase in the number of models has led to an industry in which it is becoming harder and harder to succeed, and for those who can’t handle the pressure it can easily lead to a rapid downwards spiral.
Despite defending a career which she intends to continue until she physically can’t model anymore, Daphne seems relieved not to be in the thick of things, and admits that at eighty years old, her experience of the fashion industry now is perhaps not typical. “Because I’m older people treat me a bit differently – I’m no threat to anyone anymore because no one’s going to want to go to bed with me are they?! It’s great now because I can say what I like and do what I like. If I don’t get a job I think ‘so what? next one’, but it’s not so easy, especially when you’re young. You’ve got to learn that it doesn’t matter how gorgeous you are, you aren’t going to get every job, and you can’t change that. It’s a harder job than people think”.
How then, has Daphne managed to maintain six decades of work, in what she herself describes as a famously challenging industry? “A lot of it is luck. The camera likes some people and it doesn’t like others, no matter how good you look in real life. A lot of people give up too, they either get fat or they don’t want to do it anymore. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Looking at Daphne Selfe in person, the reasons for her success are evident. Strikingly beautiful, she holds herself with a grace and dignity which almost certainly carries through on camera. Her attitude, combined with her elegance, has made her a symbol of how to age gracefully, and undoubtedly lead to her more recent success.
Whatever Daphne’s opinions of the industry, we could all learn from her philosophy on growing old. “I don’t believe in facelifting or £100 moisturiser or anything like that. Eat properly, sleep properly and wash your face. Don’t worry about it because you are who you are, you get old you get old!”.
Evidently, it is not only Daphne’s striking appearance that has lead her through six decades of modelling, but her attitude. Enthusiastic, determined, cheeful, and open, Daphne’s strong hold on reality has carried her through the fifties twinset onto the thigh scraping mini skirts of the sixties, all with the utmost dignity. Naughtier than the queen and more elegant than Janice Dickenson, Daphne makes getting old seem a hell of a lot more fun.