Fashion and beauty houses are wising up to the pulling power of the older lady
Employing one sixty-something model could be put down to a fluke. Putting two on the books starts to look like a strategy.
Whatever you think of Twiggy’s modelling skills, L’Oréal Paris’s announcement yesterday that it has hired the 65-year-old as a “face” of its hair colour products, barely three months after the brand scooped up 69-year-old Dame Helen Mirren , suggests that at last (some) brands are ready to engage with the realities of their customer base.
Those realities include the fact that 47 per cent of the adult female population in Britain is over 50. By 2020 that’s expected to increase by 20 per cent, to 13.4 million. Already, the 50-pluses account for 80 per cent of the UK’s wealth. A lot of anti-ageing creams are in the balance, and they won’t be bought if the model selling them barely looks 30.
IN PICTURES: Meet the grandmas-cum-campaign stars
Yet until very recently, the beauty industry’s notion of an older model was a heavily air-brushed Carolyn Murphy (41) or an almost unrecognisable Jane Fonda. Even these small steps were seen as a relatively brave move. The notion that women become invisible at 40 – as recently discussed by the sensible-sounding Cate Blanchett and refuted by the slightly less sensible-sounding Russell Crowe – remains so entrenched in many circles that it has acquired a self-fulfilling monotony.
That’s why L’Oréal’s endorsement of Mirren and Twiggy is significant: campaigns can add or detract millions from a beauty brand’s bottom line. They don’t take risks lightly.
Fashion, on the other hand, has been courting senior citizens for a while. Last autumn, the New York nonagenarian Iris Apfel modelled in a campaign for & Other Stories, the newish Swedish chain that is part of the H&M and Cos family.
Around the same time that Apfel was endorsing her favourite items for & Other Stories, British ‘It Model’ Edie Campbell was joined by her grandmother Joan in a series of ads for Lanvin, itself an aged (126 years) but thoroughly modern Parisian fashion house.
Linda Rodin, 66, and Iris Apfel, 93
Meanwhile, Linda Rodin, the 66-year-old American fashion stylist-turned-fledgling beauty entrepreneur, starred in a striking editorial shoot for the British retailer, matchesfashion.com’snt magazine, carrying off a series of spectacular catwalk pieces that might have floored a younger woman.
Iris Apfel interview: “I think you have to be loose as a goose”
These are not your average apple-cheeked grannies – should such a paragon still exist – but rather formidably stylish women with razor-sharp bone structures (most, if not all, of them are as skinny as a 19-year-old) with a talent for making piercing eye contact among the doe eyes of much younger models.
But there’s a major caveat here. Fashion currently adores them, because fashion adores extremes. A few years ago it fell head over heels with Beth Ditto, the lesbian pop singer, who was probably the first size 20 woman many designers had ever dressed. More recently the industry has embraced Tilda Swinton, a mere child at 54, but with saffron-coloured hair and beige eyelashes.
Lanvin’s autumn/winter 2014 campaign featured Edie Campbell, her sister Olympia, her mother Sophie Hicks and her grandmother Joan
For the moment, fashion relishes Apfel’s “signature” spectacles, which are the size of a Fiat Uno’s tyres. It applauds Rodin’s look!-no-surgery lines. “Extreme” age is giving fashion the frisson it needs. If anything, the momentum towards using old(er) models has increased since the beginning of this year.
Dolce & Gabbana’s campaign featuring glammed-up grandmothers is everywhere – and charming everyone. There’s nothing soft-focus about Jürgen Teller’s portraits of writer Joan Didion for Céline. The famously candid Teller photographed the famously forthright Didion in all her wrinkled glory. Her husband died of a heart attack in 2003 and her daughter died two years later, aged 39, and her face is a craggy but magnificent roadmap of her life.
The Didion link-up has been everything Céline could have dreamed of. The combination of Didion’s age, reputation as an intellectual powerhouse and the apparent lack of retouching provided a perfect storm of approval across digital and print outlets, sparking endless “is-this-the-start-of-something-big?” debates and taking Céline to the Holy Grail: the echo chambers of Twitter and Instagram.
So is this the start of something big? There are plenty of jaundiced observers in the fashion industry, many of them women in their late forties and fifties, who have seen some of this before and who suspect that next year the business will be back to vampirising Eastern European 16-year-olds. Also they ask, not unreasonably, where are the clothes aimed at older women?
Untouched and unairbrushed: Helen Mirren is the new face of L’Oréal Paris
In fact they’re there – the loose trousers, easy jackets, crisp shirts of 2015. But it’s a fair point. Edgy fashion houses have periodically swooped down on older models – notably Jean Paul Gaultier, Viktor & Rolf and Rick Owens – without noticeably having an impact on the hegemony of the teenage and twentysomething models who dominate the catwalks.
Most fashion houses are surprisingly conservative when it comes to choosing their campaign models. They feel safest with a proven product-shifter, which is why a handful of faces become ubiquitous each season. But fashion brands also like personalities. They’ve been down the celebrity route and they’re bored. A model with a back story, who looks as though she’s been around the block, seen off a few husbands, covered a few wars (à la Didion). Or, like Twiggy, become a Sixties legend whose blonde pixie crop set the tone for subsequent generations. She might even lend the brand a moral halo and some gritty texture.
However, she’ll only do that for as long as she’s novel. Another three campaigns down the line and Didion will be part of the scenery and fashion will be looking for another conversation point. Which is why L’Oréal’s announcement is significant – it’s as much a commercial decision as a statement of good intentions.
Elen Macaskill, L’Oréal Paris’s general manager in the UK, personally went in pursuit of Mirren because, as she puts it, “she has an appeal across the age ranges – younger women think she’s cool and would like to age like her. Older women like her because she’s very irreverent. Would we use someone even older, like Joan Didion? Yes, why not? It’s about women of worth. It’s more than a pretty face and it’s not just about age. There’s not a single entity of ‘women over 50’ – it’s one of the most diverse groups.”
IN PICTURES: Meet the grandmas-cum-campaign stars
For now, this may be a trend, but I’m inclined to take a more cautiously optimistic view, mainly because demographics support it. Things change slowly. For every 68‑year‑old Charlotte Rampling fronting a Nars make-up campaign or Jessica Lange, 64, in Marc Jacobs Beauty, there are scores of older models who long ago gave up hope of finding work. The Telegraph’s fashion team is constantly trawling for 60-plus models – and failing to find them. But if Mirren and Twiggy make business sense for L’Oréal, older models may become a new normality, rather than news; not objects of curiosity on Twitter, but part of a more diverse mix. That surely is progress.