The Spanish King: Meet the 91-year-old grandfather booking major fashion campaigns

The Spanish King
Celine van Heel began photographing her grandfather while staying with him during Covid-19 lockdowns. Now he has tens of thousands of followers online. Photo credit: Celine van Heel

By Jacqui Palumbo of CNN

He's louche and sun-kissed, effortlessly cool and 91 years old. The Spanish King - real name Andrés García-Carro - became a model somewhat accidentally thanks to his granddaughter, Celine van Heel, who began photographing him three years ago and chose the moniker for his Instagram.

García-Caro has a face made to be photographed, with the steely gaze and angular face of a classic cinema star. Today, with a sizable social media following and major campaigns for Zara and Adidas under his belt, The Spanish King is one of the oldest working models in Europe.

"He knows how to pose. I think he was born knowing how to pose," van Heel said in a phone call from Gran Canaria, where she and her grandfather were photographing a new, yet-to-be-released campaign. "You can put anything on him and he looks amazing."

Over email, García-Caro said he felt at ease from the first time Celine photographed him. "I regret not to have started this career 20 years before," he commented.

One of The Spanish King's most striking images to date appeared around Europe last year, as part of a campaign for moto outerwear brand Schott NYC. Photographed by van Heel in a retro bowling alley, Garcia-Carro drapes a red varsity jacket around his shoulders, thumbs behind his belt buckle and waistband of his slouchy khakis as highlighted strands of hair fall across his face. "It's all about attitude," Schott wrote in captions accompanying social media posts promoting the image.

"His look, the way he looks at the camera - it's simple, but it really defines him," van Heel said of the image. In other shots from the campaign, García-Caro poses with younger models, standing out with his formidable presence. But behind the scenes, her grandfather was playful, bowling for real when they weren't photographing. "It was so much fun. He always surprises me," she said.

'A new life'

Van Heel says she's always been close with her grandfather, but their relationship grew during COVID-19 lockdowns in spring 2020, when she stayed with him and her grandmother in Spain for an extended period so they wouldn't be alone. At the time, she was an executive assistant at the French fashion magazine L'Officiel and had never tried her hand at photography (It is now her full-time career). But shut in their home, she began styling and shooting García-Carro, curating an Instagram account for him that soon began attracting followers.

"He's always been super stylish," she commented. "When he was young, he was already wearing these long fur coats like Macklemore… and aviator sunglasses."

García-Carro has lived many lives: a rancher in Argentina, restaurant owner in Uruguay and real estate agent in Spain among them. As a model, his first editorial - with Van Heel's images - landed in L'Officiel China's print edition in 2020. Soon, opportunities with other publications and brands followed suit, including Zara, with which he collaborated on a capsule collection that included a silk robe, pyjamas, jeans and sunglasses.

The Spanish King may appear much younger than 91 - van Heel jokes that "he's made a pact with the devil," especially since he still smokes and tans regularly - but he credits his late-in-life career with giving him "a new life, and so much energy."

"I look even younger than before! What I find most rewarding about modelling is to meet young people, to learn new things, to be active," he said. "I don't want to be sitting in my living room watching life go by."

Van Heel believes his look and energy is resonating with the fashion world right now as it embraces more models in their golden years - Carmen Dell'Orefice, considered the oldest working supermodel at 91, is still appearing on magazine covers and memorably closed out Guo Pei's Paris couture show in 2017; 101-year-old textile and interior designer Iris Apfel has become a fashion icon.

Van Heel believes her grandfather is the perfect example of why no one should feel the need to act their age.

"When you're 70 or 80 years old, it doesn't mean your life is over and you have to act like a sweet older grandma and do nothing else," she said. "You can do anything at any age."