Ever since George Clooney was born on May 6, 1961, men have been wandering the terrifying corridors of aging with a hall pass for continued sexiness. And that’s great. I mean, who doesn’t love a silver fox? Me, that’s who. When my hairdresser eagerly pointed out that I “only have three silver hairs, that’s great,” I, as a female, did not love myself.
What a fool I was to neg on myself, because women — actual women, not the 17-year-old girls we usually see facing luxury labels like Chanel and Miu Miu — are trending hard right now. And thanks to this recent trend, I have almost stopped plucking those springy white guys from my skull.
The original pretty woman, Julia Roberts, just won People’s ‘Most Beautiful Person,’ again. Style lord Tziporah Salamon just published The Art of Dressing: Ageless, Timeless, Original Style, which profiles ten stylish women over age 50. Because, unlike my ass, a person’s inclination towards style tends to get sharper over time.
Calvin Klein just cast a 73-year-old adult woman model, Lauren Hutton – who also scored a gig walking for Bottega Venetta in September – in its underwear campaign. A genius move, since 73 year-olds wear undies too, but also because we fucking need this.
It’s worth noting that American Apparel was ahead of the curve here, posting an image of Jacky O’Shaughnessy, a model in her 60s, wearing just her underwear, with the caption “sexy has no expiration date” back in 2014.
It’s remarkable to realize that luxury labels predominantly cast 18-year-olds in campaigns for clothing that can usually only be afforded by older women. It places a subtle, and dangerous, pressure on these older consumers when the garments fit differently on their bodies, and presents a lifestyle that’s impossible to buy into on a basic level.
With the Calvin Klein campaign being applauded all over the internet, almost everyone agrees with the necessary casting. That is, aside from one cranky senior who’s hanging out in the comments section saying: “Old models/stars with their wrinkled, saggy skin & arthritic limbs simply refuse to “hang it up”…it is a joke to say she is in “lingerie” commercial when she (thankfully) bares her shoulders only! Old is simply OLD, & there is NOTHING, not one damned thing, beautiful about being OLD….I know….I am a senior!”
This user is probably a small-town teen whose crotch was disappointed on his midnight search for lingerie commercials – username, account activity and the notion of senior citizens trolling Calvin Klein’s YouTube account considered.
This movement celebrating maturity has also thankfully dripped into more mainstream markets, too. H&M cast 60-year-old stylist Gillean McLeod for its swimwear collection last year, while this season, 63-year-old university professor Lyn Slater became the face of Spanish retailer Mango’s campaign. Plus, British Vogue’s current issue features OG ’90s supermodel Amber Valletta on its cover, without even a mention of her 43-year-oldness on the cover line.
Fashion Week’s recent season saw grown-up women leading the charge, with Dries Van Noten casting Amber Valletta and 50-year-old Cecilia Chancellor. Even a 75-year-old Vivienne Westwood was seen stomping down the runway. But the casting wasn’t the only nod to maturity at the shows: long-line skirts, wide trousers, trench coats, considered jewelry and an absence of crop tops and sportsluxe prevailed.
Rebecca Valentine, a former photographic agent and director of extras agency Street Model, launched Grey Model Agency last June after a few years noticing that the older, affluent-looking models were in higher demand.
“There seemed very little on the market, just the ‘Classic’ boards in mainstream agencies, which continued to peddle the blue-rinse brigade,” she says. “I felt times had changed and the media was behind on ‘new generation grey’, so decided to launch Grey Model Agency to represent the new, diverse, older population who complemented my experiences of this age group as punks, rockers, musicians and artists; body-art beauties with wisdom, character and experience; and the popular culture that we have been provided by this generation over the past 50 years.”
On looking at the industry’s current interest in mature models, Valentine’s skeptical of most labels’ investment. “I think many designers believe the current focus on silver-haired models is merely a trend that will be over next year, so they can return to tall, thin, young colts,” she says. “This is clearly reflected in the fees offered for this age group, which are more in keeping with extras fees than those of professional models. [Traditional agencies] believe this to be merely a pastime and [think] bookings should be greeted by them as flattery, but they are out of touch.”
“This new emphasis on grey-haired or mature inclusion has not been dreamt up by a fashion designer looking for a new angle; it is a response to market pressure where, for the first time, this aging group is refusing to sit down and shut up,” she continues. “They are the generation of rebels, punks, rockers, rappers and gay-coming-outers after all – they are used to being listened to, and when they are not, they shout louder and demand more.”
“The industry needs to catch up quickly across fashion, beauty and advertising,” she says. “The general public is bored of how beauty has been peddled over the past six decades, illustrated best by the fresh young graduates of fashion and film school who are embracing the ‘grays’ as much as their youthful peers and moving away from slim, size-8 youth to embrace the beauty of diversity.” Damn straight.
For Grey Model Agency, not just any cute nan can join the team. Valentine is just as strict with who she signs as any other agency.
“We look for men and women with a strong, definitive look and style,” she confirms. “Most of our models have lived healthy, interesting, diverse and fun lives, which shows in their posture and their faces. They must have something unique, aspirational and a look that the buying public can relate to or aspire to become. This may be body shape or beauty, but can also be character or an approachability.”
Again, it’s about aspiration, and attention to the idea that a forever-young marketability has an expiry date. And while diverse casting decisions may not prevent rich, old women poking, slicing and sucking themselves young, they provide significant assurance for us regular humans who are at the mercy of time.
Now check out how body positivity went from fringe to mainstream.
- Words: Hayley Morgan
- Lead image: Alexi Lubomirski