Jacquie Tajah Murdock in the Lanvin advertisement
On a warm afternoon near New York University, the slim, elegant Jacquie Tajah Murdock is recalling the shoot that she has just undertaken for Lanvin’s autumn advertising campaign.
ber Elbaz, the label’s creative director, raved: “Look at the way she walks, she’s like a princess.” Murdock, imperious and 82 years old, corrected him: “I beg your pardon, I’m a queen.”
She walks with a stick: she is blind in her left eye because of glaucoma. But she is also 5’9” and a size six.
Murdock was first “spotted” three years ago by Ari Seth Cohen, who takes photographs of fashionably dressed older people for his blog, Advanced Style. “He told me he had a website. I told him he’d need my permission, then, ta-dah...” She started posing. She features in the Advanced Style book that Cohen has written and he has invited her to New York Fashion Week.
She is not the only older model to feature in a high-profile campaign this year. American Apparel used 60-year-old Jacky ’Shaughnessy in its summer shoot, while 83-year-old Daphne Selfe works more now than she did in her twenties — she has been photographed by Mario Testino, Rankin and Nick Knight over the past decade.
“I may be 82, but my head is still in my twenties,” said Murdock. “I’m not an overnight discovery, I’ve had a long, adventurous life. I was brought up with Marlene Dietrich and Sophia Loren. I like glamour. What looks better than a young lady in a dress and high heels?”
She loves Jil Sander and Carolina Herrera but scours discount designer shops. She doesn’t eat much meat and stretches every day.
Her father first owned a restaurant then, after it went bust, worked as a head baker. As a toddler she loved the music of Count Basie and Benny Goodman. She first performed, aged 5, in white blouse, satin gloves and “Shirley Temple curls”. By 17, Murdock was dancing in a Count Basie show; later she played Dora Dean who popularised the “cakewalk” (today she lectures children about Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s at the Jazz Museum there).
She also took other jobs, becoming one of the first black typists at Universal Films. At 17, Murdock met her “true love”, who she calls Bootsie. “I thought, when you met someone, you fell in love and lived happily ever after. I didn’t know how cut-throat people could be. Bootsie got involved with other girls and was a cokehead.”
At 22, Murdock gave birth to their daughter Patricia, now 60, and knew that she couldn’t live Bootsie’s fast life. At 28, she married another man (whom she asked The Times not to name), who she says left her while she was pregnant with her second child, Michael, now 44. “I was devastated.”
Murdock has had “friends” since, but never married again. She worked in the maths department of NYU until 1998 (today she lives in faculty housing there), studied for three liberal arts degrees and carried on dancing.
When Murdock met Elbaz and the photographer Steven Meisel, who shot the Lanvin campaign, they expressed amazement at her figure. “I said I had wanted to go to Paris at 18 to be the next Josephine Baker, now we just had to swap the 1 and 8 of my age around.”
She has “no jobs booked”, although hopes that the campaign leads to new catwalk adventures. She may have 10 grandchildren, but says: “This granny don’t rock in a rocking chair.”