Fashion-A-Bell: Carmen dell’Orefice



Carmen dell’Orefice is one of the iconic models in fashion history, most famous in her older years for her unmistakable white coiffure. The fantastic image above is from British Vogue, July 1959, and shows her as a young model with renowned fashion photographer, Norman Parkinson. Loving the adventurous “Style of Sport” spirit of the image, we were curious about the story behind the picture.

While Parkinson was the photographer on the shoot in Bermuda, this image was actually taken by Bronson Hartley who ran a local helmet diving operation. Bell or Helmet Diving is a very old concept and the precursor to scuba diving. Using the same principle as a glass turned upside down underwater, water pressure keeps air trapped inside an open-bottomed metal helmet. Fresh air is then pumped in through an attached hose allowing divers to walk around the sea floor, with no training required.

Bronson was an esteemed marine biologist who had first come to Bermuda from New York City in 1930 with his family as a child to escape the Depression. At age ten he built his first diving helmet and continued to evolve his model. His hobby would later become his profession as he began taking adventurous tourists, and later celebrities like Charlton Heston, on the underwater adventure of a lifetime.

Continuing his zeal for invention, Bronson started making his own cameras and underwater housings. A pioneer in undersea photography, he made the first ever color 35mm underwater movie, “Mainstreet Undersea”, starring his wife, Martica, a model and actress. Hartley and the making of the film were featured in the December 15, 1952 issue of LIFE. For those who remember the show, Martica was a guest on “Whats My Line.”

Bronson’s family continues to run the helmet diving operation in Bermuda today. Bronson’s son Gregory owns Hartley’s Undersea Walk Bermuda, where you can still experience old fashioned helmet diving and the undersea world that has become a part of their family. For example, check out this clip of Bronson’s other son, Christopher, and “Queenie”, a local trigger fish who he trained to perform on command.