It all started with the last rites. Pino Montesdeoca lay in a hospital bed in the Bahamas, where she had moved to work in the financial sector. She was gravely ill with dengue. The doctors were so certain that she would not survive the night that they began looking for a Catholic priest. But she lived. Much has happened since then. Her time awaiting a priest in a hospital bed became merely a prologue for what would come next.
Today, the woman with long gray hair, who walks barefoot through her small apartment in the Madrid neighborhood of Embajadores, is one of Spain’s most important senior models. Almost a decade has passed since that night, and seven years since a team —consisting of her youngest daughter, Carlota; Carlota’s partner, photographer Coke Riera; and a hairstylist friend— convinced her to take some pictures. “I think they wanted to take nice photos of me because, as I was about to die, they thought, ‘Let’s see how long this woman lasts. We should have something nice to remember her.’”
Those photos, which her son-and-law showed to several agencies, brought Montesdeoca her first modeling job, a Mercedes advertisement. During the shoot, she caught another photographer’s eye, then a stylist’s. From advertising she moved to fashion. At 53 years old, she found herself in a new universe, where she was both a veteran and a debutante. “I have an apartment in Almería, and every time I wanted to get away for a few days, I would get a call: ‘This job came up.’ I haven’t had any plans, and I don’t think I will have any. I’ve learned to not plan further than June,” she says one afternoon in mid-May. “The important thing is that I can make a living, because I take care of my mother and a niece. I want to spend as much time as possible with my daughters, who have lost their father.”
Her husband was a Swiss man, almost two meters tall, who didn’t like the cozy apartment in downtown Madrid because he felt he didn’t fit inside. He died seven months ago. “He said I was like an ostrich that hides under its wing when something bad comes up. I know that among the good things in life there are also bad things. I’m positive, but I have my negative streak, and I’m not oblivious. I enjoy life, but I’m not an idiot.”
In Montesdeoca’s case, her personality is key to understanding her professional path. Everything she does, from walking down the runway for Teresa Helbig and Juan Duyos to participating in H&M and Estée Lauder campaigns —the latter alongside her daughter Carlota— is the expression of a woman who entered the modeling world in maturity and will not move a finger to look any younger. “I don’t participate in the circus. I don’t do the influencer thing. When you hire me, you know what you hire. So if they ask me for something that doesn’t fit me, I get serious and I say, ‘No, dear, that will not happen. If it bothers you, call my agency.’ That happens a lot to young models. They have to swallow and swallow. On the other hand, I can be me. Look, a little while ago I didn’t like a gig because no one had told me that it was in a bikini and alongside an older man that I had to kiss. There are people who fetishize that, ‘Look, the old man and the old lady, how cute.’ Not with me.”
Her gray hair, she recalls, is the result of the difficulty of finding a hairstylist to dye her mane in the Bahamas. She decided to keep it, alongside the marks of time on her face. “Sometimes you look in the mirror and see something new and you get scared. Then you look again, and you get used to it. You like it. This jowl is mine, that one too. The key is to look at yourself a lot. I won’t get surgery because I’m afraid of not recognizing myself. Every time I meet a plastic surgeon, I tell them the same thing: ‘Stop looking. You’re not getting a cent out of me.’ The idea of touching yourself up so that your husband doesn’t look at younger women is as perverse as it is sad.”
She is aware that her success gives her the power to do what she wants. It also brings the responsibility to embody a series of ideas that the fashion industry has struggled to embrace for years. “I’m not naive. I know this is a business. But I think that everything that is about making visible disabled people, over people, racial minorities, people who were outside of this until recently, is good. I don’t care at all about the brands’ motivations, I care about the result, and if that’s more inclusive, perfect. I remember that some time ago, I was lined up to go out onto the runway, and in front of me there was a male model and a female model. She said to him, ‘They put me with the old lady.’ I had the bad luck of hearing it, I’m not that old. I couldn’t help but tell her that thanks to the old lady, maybe she can keep doing this for the next 30 years. And the girl started crying. I felt awful.”
That has been the only time that Montesdeoca has felt a generational clash. But hers is not a profession designed to foster intergenerational dialogue. “There are a lot of talented young people, and I love working with them. If I can help them out, I do. You can’t arrive at those jobs where you’re surrounded by kids thinking that you know everything and that you’re going to teach them a lesson. You have to know how much of a diva you can be. Recently I went too far with a guy on the set. He started to tell me about everything he had done, and I waved him off. It’s impossible for that guy to have that resume. But that night, at home, I googled him and saw that he hadn’t lied. The next day, I got to the set, I kneeled before him and asked for forgiveness. Today we’re friends.”
Film and television are the next frontiers for the model, originally from the Canary Islands. She has participated in Jaume Balagueró's Way Down and in the Netflix series Sky Rojo. Coming soon is her role in Joan-Marc Zapata’s Color of Heaven. “I don’t want to miss a thing,” she says.
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