Carolyn Murphy tells Windy Aulia about her life as a model, her secrets to success and her passions beyond fashion.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel


It was the summer of 1990 and my mother had put me in a finishing school because I was a tomboy. During the graduation ceremony, they made me look pretty and I was very grumpy about it. A lot of people from the modelling agencies were there and the next thing I knew, I was going to Paris.

I was only 16 and my parents let me go only if I could live in the house of the agent. I had never been away from my family before this. I was miserable. Long story short, I cried so much as I couldn’t understand the industry. They wanted me to wear short skirts and tights, and that wasn’t my thing. I hung out a lot at Les Halles, which was one of the roughest areas in Paris.

I wouldn’t say that fashion really set in for me until the early ’90s in New York. I was still trying to go to college then. I was intrigued by the grunge look of that era. It was how I dressed normally, and the music was what I was listening to, so the whole thing was really relatable.

I saw Kate Moss in New York and I thought, “Oh, she’s shorter than I am.” And this was after I had been told that I wasn’t tall enough. So I thought if I plucked off my eyebrows, I would look weird and could work more! That was my first memory of trying to get into fashion: plucking my eyebrows and dressing grungy.


Mario Testino once said at a shoot that I looked like actress Romy Schneider, whom I had never heard of. I started to learn about fashion through him and other photographers that I started to work with from 1993 onwards. 

My fondest memory in fashion was when I got the contract with Estée Lauder because I grew up with the brand and its products were part of my youth. At that point, I’d been modelling for a few years, but the contract made me feel like I’d arrived. And this was even after I had walked 17 shows during Milan Fashion Week, which was a really big deal.

But I can’t say that I love doing shows anymore. I still get really nervous although I love the energy in the room, I love the process and what the designers created. Talking about fond memories, I love John Galliano—the performance and the set, they were just epic. And he gave us the freedom to move around, to act and even sit on people’s laps! Pretending I was in a ’20s cabaret was very exciting.

I still love doing photo shoots. Having Steven Meisel show me references from old films and books, and telling me to watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—these parts of fashion make me feel the creativity and the artistry of the industry, which is what I love. I did a lot of shows in Milan around 1995 or 1996, and I booked the Max Mara campaign a year later with Meisel. It was such a big deal. I remember I was nervous about it. But the team made me look and feel beautiful. As a woman, I can relate to the sensibility of Max Mara. And as a consumer, there are pieces that I want to have in my wardrobe. I still have a Max Mara coat from the ’90s and I still wear the coat that was given to me from the campaign that I did in 2014.


I have to give credit to the great team behind me for my long-lasting career. They believed in me and saw things in me that I didn’t see. I’ve been with my agency for 28 years. (She’s now 45.) There are not many models who do that. You have to find people that you really love because they’ll support you in whatever you do.

It’s also really important to take some time off and take a step back. I don’t live and breathe fashion. I appreciate it and I respect it wholeheartedly, but I have so many other interests. It’s important to do things that you love outside of the industry. Because here’s a quirk about the fashion industry: People like to miss you. They love a comeback. I don’t know how many comebacks you can have, but they love a comeback.”

My Reading Room



I start my morning with a cup of hot water with some collagen, glutamine and probiotics. And then I let my dogs out and feed them. Meditation is important to me, even if it’s just five minutes, just to centre myself. 


It’s pretty basic. I use the same things forever: cream cleanser, serum, moisturiser. I’m not into fancy stuff. It’s easy for me to get dressed because I keep everything pretty minimal.


If I stay home, I spend some time on my art. I like to paint and sculpt and draw. I cook a lot and I tend to my garden. 


I work with a couple of foundations and philanthropic organisations, namely ones that deal with ocean preservation, such as No More Plastic and Oceana, because I surf; and several shelters such as Animal Haven, because I foster a lot of dogs. I take a lot of random classes online, such as one on mindfulness. It’s a little esoteric, but I like learning. I’m curious and I like to be around interesting people. I’m hoping that I can become a teacher one day.


I’m a homebody and introvert. I’m not the kind of person who goes out to lunch or dinner all the time. I cook at home. But I like going to yoga classes, because there’s something about the collective energy. Double cashmere coat; mock croc boots, Max Mara

OPPOSITE: Double cashmere coat; cashmere turtleneck top; cashmere skirt; leather boots, Max Mara Makeup: Tyron Machhausen

Hair: Rolando Beauchamp Manicure: Eri Handa Production: Leekyung Kim

Photographed by Hong Janghyun . Styled by Lee Jinsun