Life Health & Wellbeing

Saturday 30 August 2014

Is grey the new black? Are real women finally becoming all the fashion?

Amid the young models of the beauty world are a few women still modelling into their 60s, 70s and 80s.

Suzanne Harrington

Published 08/06/2014 | 11:42

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85-and-a-half-year-old Daphne Selfe, you can be elderly, so long as you are skeletal.
Actress Jessica Lange (64) has appeared in Marc Jacobs Beauty campaigns. Photo: Mark Davis/Getty Images
Irish model and mum of five, Breid Morris, aged 65, regularly features in fashion and beauty campaigns, and says it makes sense to use older models
Irish model and mum of five, Breid Morris, aged 65, regularly features in fashion and beauty campaigns, and says it makes sense to use older models

WHAT do models have in common, other than being thin? Youth. Often extreme youth. The minimum age for modelling at big events like London Fashion Week is 16 — that is still legally a child - and when Kate Moss’s 40th birthday was reported recently, you felt like you were reading her obituary.

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The prevailing attitude seems to be that models like Moss and Cindy Crawford, who is 46, while goddesses, are nevertheless veterans, the modelling equivalent of footballers like David Beckham — great figureheads, but no longer really that viable in the luminosity stakes. A bit past it.

But, perhaps with glacial slowness, this is changing. Perhaps, amongst the endless perfection of blank teenage faces and gazelle-like limbs, the fashion and beauty industries are waking up to the fact that, actually, older women are gorgeous, that women like looking at other women their own age, rather than at 20-year-old twiglets, and that — most importantly of all — compared with teenagers and twentysomethings, older women are the ones with the cash. The ones with the financial means to buy the stuff being strutted on runways by kids young enough to be their daughters or granddaughters.

 

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This may explain why the 70-year-old Catherine Deneuve is currently advertising Louis Vuitton, or why the 64-year-old Jessica Lange has become the face of Marc Jacobs Beauty. Charlotte Rampling, who is 68, is the new face of NARS cosmetics, and the unstoppable Vivienne Westwood has chosen a 60 year old musician, Leslie Winer, to advertise her current collection.

Away from already-famous older women getting modelling jobs — a situation which has come a long way since Isabella Rossellini claimed she was fired from Lancome for being too old in her forties — there appears to be a trend for older models in mainstream fashion.

The oldest working model is Daphne Selfe, who gives her age at 85-and-a-half, having resumed her modelling career at 70. American model Carmen Dell’Orefice is 82 and first appeared on the cover of Vogue aged 15, while Jenni Rhodes, who modelled for the Zara fashion chain, is 82 and thinking of packing it in — she’s finding high heels more and more difficult to negotiate. (I know how she feels — I can’t even stand up in them, and I’m only 46).

While women like Dell’Orefice, Rhodes and Selfe are revered by the fashion industry as being so old they have somehow transcended age, and become almost celestial, there is a distinct lack of late middle age representation.

Fashion likes extremes, and that includes age, so being stuck in the 45 to 65 bracket is just a bit too ordinary, a bit too middle aged. Perhaps this too may change, although attitudes remain stubbornly fixed, especially at the couture end of fashion.

Miuccia Prada, who describes herself as a ‘leftist feminist’, told an interviewer that she was “not brave enough” to put older models on her runway, because she was operating in a commercial rather than artistic environment. When the interviewer suggested that using old ladies to model for her might inspire change and others to follow suit, she demurred, citing fear and lack of courage. Which is a shame, given the enormous clout of both Prada the label and Prada the woman.

Or, as Christy Turlington, 45 and ancient, recently put it, “It's actually good for people to see images of women, not just young girls — proper women who have diverse lives and demands”.

The creative director of high street youth brand, American Apparel, showed a little more vision when he discovered the new face of the brand in a Greenwich Village restaurant in New York: 62-year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy, with her flowing grey hair, fabulous face and long limbs, is the clothing company’s latest poster girl. Or rather, poster woman.

When challenged and attacked by the US media for being too old and not demure enough, O’Shaughnessy questioned who makes the rules of ageism; in an Elle interview, she asked, “When people talk of age inappropriate hairstyles, and appropriate dressing, well, whose age? And who are you?”

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Breid Morris is an Irish model and actor who also feels strongly about ageism in the fashion and beauty industries. At 65, she is represented by Dublin agency 1st Option, and has regularly modelled in fashion shows, for the Dove Pro Age campaign, and on television.

A mother of five, she is all about healthy living and has never considered cosmetic surgery. “I’ve earned every line on my face,” she says. “Grief, loss, reinvention, lines are a map of where you have been, laughter, tears, the lot. I would never go under the knife, not in a fit.” Nor, as an actor, has she ever had Botox. She says her appearance is based on good self care, a positive outlook and good genes.

“My agency is very forward thinking and puts me forward for a lot of work,” she says, “but there are not that many older models in Ireland getting that much work. It makes sense to put older women out there to showcase clothes, but Ireland is not the same as other countries. When Marks & Spencer advertise here, it’s always Twiggy, never an older Irish model.

“I am not okay with tokenism, with being the one older model amongst the twentysomethings. Women of all ages should model clothes, because women of all ages buy them. Why can’t clients be more creative?”

From a purely logical perspective, the commercial argument for the use of older models remains the most |compelling.

“The call for older models is more widespread, because this is the age group that escaped the worst of the recession, and therefore has more money to spend — the 45 to 55 year olds,” says Derek Daniels of Dublin’s Assets model agency. “Fashion may be using 14-year-olds on runways in Milan, but in Ireland we like more of a mix. Particularly in manufacturing, rather than design. There is an increase in demand for older models.”

Ah, yes, manufacturing. Of course there will always be a call for well-preserved older models to advertise stuff like stair lifts, easy-access baths and showers, sensible shoes, elasticated leisure wear, gardening gloves, hearing aids, walking sticks, wills, retirement homes, cruises, thermal underwear, and those alarms for when you fall over in your sheltered housing and need to call the warden. Lots of modelling work there.

Oh, and wrinkle creams. Lots of wrinkle creams, anti-ageing serums, and products marketed with words like ‘refresh’, ‘lift’ and ‘combat’ — although Daniels points out that anti-ageing products are generally advertised by models 20 years younger than the target client base, so you have thirtysomethings advertising anti ageing cosmetics designed for fiftysomethings. Which seems counterintuitive.

Nor do older models market mobile phones, flash cars, cool technology or anything else with an emphasis on modernity.

Breid Morris questions the gender divide in ageing, and how this reflects on models and in advertising: “Why is it apparently acceptable for men to age and have lines? Because it gives them character?” Older men, she says, are used in mainstream advertising, not to promote anti-ageing or age related products, but for more general items and services, whereas older women are synonymous with adverts that are all about the horrors of getting old.

George Clooney advertises coffee, Julianne Moore advertises skin cream; although they are the same age (he’s 52, she’s 53), this situation is unlikely to reverse. Moore is heavily photo-shopped, Clooney not so much.

Of course it would be naïve to think that all older models rely solely on healthy living and good genes, like Breid Morris.

Carmen Dell’Orefice (82), when asked by Vogue if she had had any surgery done, replied, “If you had the ceiling fall down in your living room,  would you not go and have a repair?”

Well, it all depends on whether your ceiling is your fortune. Older models still have to look elegant, willowy, ethereal — there may be clouds of silver hair, sharp bone structure, and effortless chic, but there can never be jowls, bingo wings or, god forbid, excess body fat.

A mature plus size model is fashion speak for the twin horrors of old and fat; plus size in the fashion world is the equivalent of a normal size 12-14. Even a size 10 in modelling is a bit hefty.

And according to the 85-and-a-half-year-old Daphne Selfe, the older you get in modelling, the less forgiving the industry is of body fat. So you can be elderly, so long as you are skeletal.

And no matter how old you are, you will always be referred to as a ‘girl’. Models are always girls, even in their eighties. But if you are over 28, you are consigned to the ‘mature’ heap, again like footballers.

The subtext for older models is this: if you are not advertising old lady things like stair lifts — that is, if you are modelling fashion rather than |age related products — then good on you for not giving in to the hell of old age. High five for still looking good and not collapsing on the sofa with a pile of knitting, dozing in front of daytime soaps. Well done you. Just don’t look sexy, because that will freak us out. It will disgust and repel us.

When Jacky O’Shaughnessy was photographed with her legs apart, fully clothed, in a relaxed, almost yoga-like pose, she was attacked for being age inappropriate, inelegant, presenting as brazen sexual mutton.

Older female models cannot be |portrayed as sexual beings because that might remind us of our mum or, even worse, our gran.

Advertising creatives and brand directors are very often young men — hence the myopic preoccupation with youth. Wherever large sums of money are involved, conservatism rules — clients are terrified of alienating |potential customers, by using |anything outside of the accepted ‘norm’ of young-slim-perfect.

We have a particular fear of older women straying beyond the cosy confines of the mumsy grandma image; there is no female George Clooney, on or off the catwalk.

However, as we all now live longer, and given the supremacy of market forces, it would seem sensible to target those very consumers who live longest of all. Older women. We want to see more of you, everywhere, as a matter of course.

 

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