The fashion industry is not for the faint hearted and there’s an unwritten rule that if you’re a model and you’re not Kate Moss, you have an expiration date. It's an Industry where youth will be eternally defended and empires have been built on women’s insecurities about ageing. Everyone wants to look like the 14-year-old girl prancing down the runway, except with a great job, apartment and partner, obviously. And whilst it’s an issue just about everyone’s bored to death of talking about, could it finally be changing?
Marc Jacobs recently announced that American Horror Story actress, Jessica Lange, is the new face of his beauty range, at 64 years old she’s not the typical wrinkle free teenager you’d expect to be staring out at you from a beauty ad. This comes after she appeared in an editorial spread for Love Magazine dressed in Marc Jacobs. Just to add to the older beauties selling us makeup, 68-year-old Charlotte Rampling is the new face of Nars Cosmetics.
Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen chose to use 65-year-old model Linda Rodin in their pre-fall look book for The Row. Jacky O’Shaughnessy, 62, recently began modelling for American Apparel. This coincides with 60-year-old musician, Leslie Winer, featuring in Vivienne Westwood’s 2013/14 campaigns. Whilst Carmen Dell’Orefice, 82, starred in her own spread for Vogue Italia, last July.
70- year-old French actress, Catherine Denevue, is front and centre in the latest Louis Vuitton campaign. And 46-year-old model Kristen McMenamy, famous for her androgynous aesthetic, was the star of a Tim Walker spread for W Magazine in December 2013. Following which she bagged herself a spot in Balenciaga’s SS13 campaign. In 2012 she seemed to have the world anxiously moaning about how they wanted to "look that good when they were her age" when she walked in the Chanel Resort show in a low cut swimsuit.
This surge in older female models isn’t without its controversy, American Apparel’s campaign featuring 62-year-old model Jacky O’Shaughnessy polarised opinions, with people standing on either side of the spectrum, hating it or loving it. O’Shaughnessy, a retired actress, was discovered in a Greenwich Village restaurant in New York, after striking up a chance conversation with their Creative Director Marsha Brady. She has a cascade of long white hair, a slim physique, full lips, killer eyebrows and is striking. In the series of images taken for the brand, she looks directly at the camera in various states of dress and undress; in one photograph she’s dressed elegantly in all black, another in lace underwear.
The images set social networking sites afire with both brutal and encouraging opinions. On the online response she received O’Shaughnessy said, “I think blogging is a format for a lot of people who just love to get on and just rip things apart, when I look at the most critical, it’s very young women, not guys, yet very young women are also some of the biggest proponents. The amount of negativity is so small compared to the positive reactions.” Which is for the most part true, the comments on American Apparel's Facebook page included: “I’m so amazed by her courage and AA’s open-mindedness. This is a powerful, outstanding shoot.” And “Gorgeous and amazingly stylish… love this campaign”
O’Shaughnessy added, “I’m comfortable. I don’t feel that any of this is inappropriate. When people talk about age appropriate hairstyles, and age appropriate dressing, well, whose age? And who are you?”
To me, O’Shaughnessy agreeing to do this campaign is commendable; she wasn’t famous and didn’t have a PR team to hide behind. She must have been aware of some of the backfire it would cause and the vile comments that would be flung her way, but her self assured attitude of quite literally asking her critics, “who the fuck are you?” is empowering.
Fashions embracing of older women can be traced back to photographer and blogger Ari Seth Cohen. Cohen has a reputation as an eccentric thirty-something, a camera strung dutifully around his neck, running around photographing the older but fabulously dressed women of New York City. He documents their style through his blog “Advanced Style” which he began in 2008, after feeling there was a “lack of representation for older women in fashion and media from what [he] saw. All of these ladies could be in advertising campaigns.”
The blog was instantly a hit and he has since gone on to produce a best selling book “Advanced Style” and has recently completed a documentary “Advanced Style: The Film”, which is set to be released later this year. It seems there is something about older women’s relentless glamour, no matter how many wrinkles or aches and pains they may have, that has completely captivated the industry.
Fashion blogger Leondra Medina of Man Repeller recalls looking at Cohen’s blog for the first time and thinking, “this is youth.” Conveying it as a modern concept and a redefining of beauty. The success of Cohen’s blog can only further emphasises fashions movement towards portraying women of substance rather than teenagers with little experience of the world; it’s about presenting the woman rather than just the clothes. But, like everything in fashion, trends come and go and its questionable whether this too, will be merely another trend.
I spoke to Olivia Ann May, A graduate from Middlesex University in Fashion and Textile, who designed her final year collection for older women, choosing to use models aged 62, 68, 83. Since she has graduated there has only been a bigger push for older models within fashion. She said, “I hope it's not a trend. I think with the fashion industry everything can become a little fickle so the real reason for doing something in the first place can get watered down and less relevant as time goes on.
I personally started designing for older women because I was inspired by them and this in turn led me to research how they were forgotten about in fashion. I think people are definitely more aware of providing designs for older people but as soon as they start concentrating on overweight people or disabled people it will take a step back. So I guess it is a bit of a trend, but as long as it is making everyone aware of ageism it's no bad thing.”
A trend or not, there is something far more compelling about women who have stories to tell and leave impressions with their colourful and expressive sense of style. In an industry where teenagers are the standard a reconciling of beauty and age seems extraordinary but necessary. These women get people talking, questioning, provoke intrigue and really do sell products, so for as far as this movement has come, lets hope it's here to stay.