Older models: the golden girls
The supermodels of the 1990s rule the covers and the catwalks once more
Usually when fashion people talk about 'older' models, they mean they are old enough to vote. But there is something radical sweeping through the industry right now. The quest for eternal youth has been replaced - at least partly - by a desire for something older, wiser and more sophisticated; fashion's current role model veers between the pneumatic Joan Holloway from Mad Men (incredible that a three-year-old television series continues to inspire fashion's cutting edge) to a super-confident silver-streaked Mrs Robinson.
Autumn/winter's catwalks were sprinkled with girls who are scarcely 'girls' any more. Stella Tennant, 39, Kirsty Hume, a relatively sprightly 35, Kristen McMenamy, 45 , and Elle Macpherson, 47, all put in star appearances in some of the coolest shows, including Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs. In August Dazed & Confused put McMenamy on its cover, and this month's 10 magazine is entirely devoted to 33-year-old Guinevere Van Seenus. Madonna, 52, continues to appear in Dolce & Gabbana's advertising this season, which includes a picture of her playing with a baby on a bed. We are left to make up our own minds whether she is supposed to be the baby's mother or grandmother, but either seems perfectly possible. Just to reinforce the message, Elle, US Vogue and US Harper's Bazaar feature Hollywood golden girls on their current covers with Julia Roberts, 42, Halle Berry, 44, and Jennifer Aniston, 41, respectively.
In case you are still in any doubt, you will have seen other familiar faces in the new season's advertising campaigns: the ultimate ageless, timeless model Christy Turlington, 41, for Louis Vuitton, and Stella Tennant for Balenciaga and Calvin Klein. Emma Balfour, the 40-year-old Australian who started work as a teenager in 1987 strolling the catwalks for Helmut Lang, Ann Demeulemeester and Kostas Murkudis, is the face of Céline.
In a way, it is just part of the reality check that is having a domino effect right across society. Belt-tightening somehow works better on a slightly fuller, more lived-in figure. And while none of these women could be described as having anything like average bodies, they have lost the boyish, straight-up-and-down skinniness of youth that designers usually look for in a model. Marc Jacobs, in his
collection for Louis Vuitton (he called it 'And God Created Woman'), used the curvaceous Laetitia Casta, admittedly still a youngster at 32, to open the show. Miuccia Prada, too, positively revelled in a more womanly figure, with proper bosoms, real hips and bottoms. Even if you are in your twenties, the clothes will make you look at least a decade older.
There is an inner confidence that comes with age. In a time of uncertainty, it makes sense to have a poster girl who looks as if she knows what she is doing, even if no one else does. These older models have experience, heritage, personality and - as they are proving - staying power. When budgets are tight, they guarantee results. They have been photographed by a generation of the world's greatest fashion photographers: Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber, Paolo Roversi, David Sims. Those images have engraved themselves into the image banks of a new generation of photographers . Sure, they still want to photograph the next bright young thing, but what a coup to have Carmen Kass, 31, Ma?gosia, 33, or Guinevere, 34 this week, in front of your lens.
For once, fashion wants its customer to be able to identify with the models. If those customers who are spending money are in their thirties and forties, then they are the women to embrace. Francisco Costa, the creative director at Calvin Klein, who used both Kristen McMenamy and Stella Tennant for his New York show, says, 'I wanted a cast that represents a customer who I design for, and that's not really a 16-year-old. The woman who puts my clothes on needs a certain level of sophistication. We wanted to acknowledge the women who have always worn our clothes: women who have their own identities, have full lives, have kids.'
This is a sea change, but one that makes perfect sense. Even younger designers are making collections for women who work as well as party. It is more subtle than the power dressing of the 1980s, which used the original gang of supermodels to show off the big shoulders and high heels. The point about these clothes, spearheaded by Phoebe Philo at Céline, is their quiet confidence. The precision detailing is minimal, but the thickness, softness and weight of the fabric says it all. Young women don't wear clothes like this unless they have made it into the executive boardroom at a precocious age.
Richard Nicoll, who is based in London, has just been entrusted with the creative director job at Cerruti, a very grown-up and established Italian brand, and his own collection, now into its fifth year, shows a serious understanding of what women actually need to make their lives easier as well as more fabulous - elegant, sophisticated, functional drapy jackets, dresses and trousers in grown-up fabrics for professional women . He based the collection on his own wardrobe - baggy trousers, flannel shirts and easy jackets - and maybe for once, a male perspective has added a touch of reality.
Nicoll says he has always been interested in making 'real clothes'. His business partner, Jo Knight, is a smartly dressed working mother ; his own mother, a lawyer who is also involved in the business side of his company, wears his clothes to work. 'I'm surrounded by strong working women,' he says. The piece his mother wears all the time is a flannel jacket with a ribbon lapel. 'She wears tailored jackets and trousers. She looks very business-like. As a kid, I was always aware she was very proud of her wardrobe. She is very strong and ambitious.'
Nicoll's bestselling piece is his big T-shirt dress, which he produces season after season in different versions. For this season he has done it in cashmere and knit and print. 'It is not size or age specific,' he says. 'I'm always slightly more interested in older women - they've led more interesting, diverse lives and they are more confident.' He shows me a picture of Julianne Moore, 49, making a television appearance in his silk jumpsuit. She looks relaxed, believable and cool. 'I like my clothes to be about a certain nonchalance,' he says. He adds that he is trying to coax Kirsten Owen, 39, back into the fashion world, and Stella Tennant for his presentation for Cerruti this month in Paris . 'It's about having someone who is able to carry the clothes and understand what they are. Those girls keep getting better and better. They have always been very strong and slightly androgynous. As they've got older, they've just got more so.' So for a season at least, age and beauty go hand in hand. Stock up while you can.