If you thought that 40 was the new 30, think again. Rolling out in cinemas comes Cannes film festival Palme d’Or winner Amour, a love story about a couple of retired music teachers in their eighties. Last December, 91-year-old style icon Iris Apfel created a make-up collection in conjunction with MAC, and this year Jimmy Choo named a shoe after her. In July, Lanvin used 82-year-old first-time model Jacquie Murdock for their latest campaign.
And that’s just the beginning. Daphne Selfe, 84, posed earlier this year as Madonna, wearing the pop star’s Jean Paul Gaultier conical bra for Oxfam’s Big Bra Hunt campaign. Former Danish model Gitte Lee, 77, featured for Céline. And 81-year-old Carmen Dell’Orefice took part in a recent campaign for Delvaux, the Belgian luxury bag company.
Many of these women also appear in Ari Seth Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style, which focuses on the most stylish “older folk” on the streets of New York. It became the basis of a book, Advanced Style, that was published earlier this year and will be made into a film in 2013. All of which prompts the question: is it possible that these days 80 is the new 20?
“I wouldn’t call it a trend but rather a movement towards a greater appreciation of ageing and older people,” says Cohen. The reason why this has been happening can be explained simply: in the US alone there are a reported 78m baby boomers, aged sixtysomething and above, who control 70 per cent of the domestic income. That’s a lot of purchasing power.
“Attitudes seem to be slowly changing, as blogs such as Advanced Style, The Women’s Room, and That’s Not My Age have highlighted the fact that growing older does not mean women lose interest in fashion and style,” says British trend forecaster Jane Kellock, founder of The Women’s Room. “Hopefully, using older women in ad campaigns is just the beginning of a real awareness of attitudes towards ageing and not just a trend. But I can’t think of any stylish brands that openly state they are targeting older women.”
Indeed. It’s not necessarily the case that the fashion houses are rebranding their designs for an older demographic, although some designers are finding a niche with an older group. “I’m not sure why brands use older models but I’m sure it’s from an artistic point of view rather than a business strategy,” says Fanny Karst, who launched the niche label The Old Ladies Rebellion four years ago for a decidedly more mature clientele. Her “gang of models” now includes Andrée Putman, a French interior designer who was born in 1925, and Browns founder Joan Burstein. Karst says, “These women are so striking that they wear all things beautifully.
“There are not really any other labels that dare admit or concentrate on design for the old crew, and I was discouraged to do so. But these ladies are also starting to know that they are being watched and checked out in the street,” says Karst.
Lines such as Eileen Fisher, Talbots, Ann Taylor, Chico’s, St John Knits, Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne have begun to reach out to the older demographic. House of Fraser offers a collection designed in collaboration with Mary Portas specifically aimed at women over 40. Gap also made an attempt to capture this market with Forth and Towne, though the line was closed after two years.
“You can’t ignore the baby boomers,” says designer Maria Grachvogel. “They are a strong group of women who have worked up through the ranks to the top of their career ladders. As a female designer I want to dress these women that inspire me as leaders of their fields in all walks of business. Retailers are also very aware of their spending power, and are constantly seeking products that cater for them.”
Carmen Busquets, founder of CoutureLab.com, agrees: “Retailers like Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods and Saks have always been open to this demographic. But it’s not sexy to talk about this.”
Designer Corrie Nielsen says: “Fashion is, and has historically been, primarily promoted and advertised on young models. Transitioning to a more mature face can create ripples and strong implications for a brand. The challenge is marketing the brand to a wide-ranging audience, especially the advanced set that can afford it, but still keeping it youthful enough to appeal to a media that is youth focused.”
Grachvogel remarks: “There is a misunderstanding that clothing has to be age specific. I have seen the same piece worn by a twentysomething woman who looks young and cool and a sixtysomething woman who looks elegant and modern.”
As for the latter, however, given their growing numbers, “when these ladies wake up and smell the real coffee of the power that they have in their hands – watch out!” says Busquets.