Mature models in the spotlight
Do 'ageless beauties' send a powerful message for women or set unrealistic standards
Christie Brinkley has proved age is just a number" - so cried the headlines when the 63-year-old's Sports Illustrated cover was revealed earlier this week.
It has been 38 years since she first graced the cover of the magazine's 'Swimsuit Issue' - a feat she managed for a record-setting three consecutive years - but looking at the shots of her, flaunting toned arms and abs in a black mesh one-piece, it's as though she's hardly aged at all.
On Instagram, Brinkley wrote: "Thank you Sports Illustrated for sending the powerful message that good things come in packages of every size and we do not come with an expiration date!"
For some women, this was cause for celebration, but for others, it offered yet another near-impossible body image for us to strive towards: to look swimsuit-ready and picture-perfect well into our 60s and beyond. Indeed, Brinkley was breathily praised for her "ageless" figure - celebrated not for looking beautiful, but for looking beautiful despite being 63.
To add insult to injury, the blonde beauty appeared to be walking on water while posing next to her daughters, Alexa (31) and Sailor (18) who must, assumedly, wade through the sea like the rest of us rather than levitate above its surface.
While Brinkley may be far from relatable, mature models are definitely having a moment, as the fashion world has begun to recognise the power of the older woman. Bottega Veneta booked Lauren Hutton, the 73-year-old actress who has graced 41 Vogue covers in her career, for its spring-summer 2017 show. Shots of her sauntering down the catwalk arm-in-arm with model-of-the-moment Gigi Hadid immediately went viral.
It may sound like a neat bit of novelty casting, but the brand's creative director Tomas Maier proved he was thinking beyond a mere publicity stunt when he unveiled Hutton as the face of Bottega Veneta's spring campaign. "I'm not talking to a girl who's 16 or 18 - let's try to make clothes for the women who buy them," he said.
The cult of youth, especially in the fashion industry, has long left older women feeling excluded, but as the over-65 population continues to grow, brands can no longer afford to ignore them. If you want to sell a product, it helps if the customer can connect with someone close to their own age, and see themselves in that designer suit, with that must-have bag nestled in the crook of their arm.
Older models have fronted campaigns before - in 2004, Marc Jacobs famously cast Charlotte Rampling (then 56) in his provocative Juergen Teller-shot spring campaign - but this time it looks as though brands are starting to commit to showing women of all ages wearing their designs, with models in their 50s, 60s and 70s fronting campaigns, storming the catwalks and plastered across billboards.
Northern Irish designer Jonathan W Anderson's latest muse is the now 70-year-old Rampling, who remains as relevant in the fashion world today as she did when her career kicked off in the 1960s. Designers from Roksanda Ilincic to Stella McCartney have all clambered to dress her, and now she is the new face of Loewe. Elsewhere, Iman (65) fronted the campaign for Kenzo x H&M last year.
So the interest in mature models is more than just a trend, and it makes sense, particularly for luxury brands - it's hardly millennials dropping thousands of euros on a trench coat. If your customer tends to be over 40, why shouldn't she see clothes modelled on women her own age?
It seems to be working out in their favour, too -Marks and Spencer recently announced a boost in sales following its Christmas ad, which featured 55-year-old actress Janet McTeer in a red dress and cable-knit jumper that sent shoppers into a frenzy.
Last year's Sports Illustrated 'Swimsuit Issue' was applauded for its diverse casting, including Nicola Griffin (57), who is signed with Grey Model Agency, the UK's only agency dedicated to models aged 35-plus. Refreshingly, designers are interested in more than just a token silver-haired model, according to founder Rebecca Valentine.
"We are seeing a move towards a more diverse representation of 40-plus women in general," she told the Telegraph. "I meet lots of other models who are experiencing a resurgence in their modelling careers later in life - or, like me, are just embarking on a modelling career. It feels exciting. Real change is happening."
These brands are seeking to tap into the energy and vivaciousness of the older woman. In a sea of airbrushed, near-identical girls - typically tall, thin, white and very young, even still-in-school young - the mature model is a breath of fresh air. But the likes of Brinkley in her cutout swimsuit push the limits of "aspirational". To compliment the "agelessness" of Brinkley, Helen Mirren or our own Celia Holman Lee in a bikini condescendingly implies they are still relevant only because they maintain a sexually desirable body comparable to that of a far younger woman.
As Ramon Martin and Ryan Lobo, the designers behind buzzy NYC label Tome, have said: "Models should reflect the women who are out there buying the collections and supporting your brand. The clothes should be the fantasy."