The grown-up model comes of age

Clothes and hairstyles are not the only trends born on the catwalk. Designers from young London-based Mark Fast to established luxury house Chanel have used larger or plus-size models in their shows. The likes of popular size 16 cover model Crystal Renn may, however, have to make way for the latest craze: older models.

During the autumn/winter 2010 catwalk shows, the mean age of a model went up several years from the usual adolescent standard. For his Louis Vuitton collection entitled “And God Created Woman”, designer Marc Jacobs cast Laetitia Casta, 31, and Elle MacPherson, 46. It was MacPherson’s first catwalk appearance in 20 years.

At Calvin Klein, designer Francisco Costa used 43-year-old Kristen McMenamy, 39-year-old Stella Tennant and 33-year-old Kirsty Hume. McMenamy enjoyed a further outing at the Viktor & Rolf show; British Vogue featured 36-year-old Shalom Harlow in their June issue and luxury brand Loewe launched their Leather Icons collection with publicity shots of models aged from 19 to the mid-forties.

Stuart Vevers, Loewe’s creative director, says: “We as a brand have often used older models such as Stephanie Seymour [41] and Emma Balfour [40]. I have always thought it would be something women can relate to – ‘She looks great and it’s closer to how I look.’ The nature of fashion is to rebel against what’s come before. There is an element of shock and surprise involved in using older models.”

The idea is not completely new: Helmut Lang put the 86-year-old artist Louise Bourgeois in advertising campaigns during the late 1990s; older supermodels appeared in the Christian Dior 60th anniversary show in 2007; and so-called “real” (and often older) women have provided edge to shows from Martin Margiela to Vivienne Westwood.

Martin Raymond, of the trend forecasting agency The Future Laboratory, says that using older models in 2010 is less about the wow factor and more about reclaiming a generation. “Brands used to be obsessed with youth. Now they are realising that people in their forties are the customers and they’re addressing that.”

At the extreme of the older models trend are octogenarians. The spring/summer campaign for New York fashion label Ohne Titel stars the striking 82-year-old Boston socialite Marilyn Riseman, complete with her trademark geisha-face makeup. The brand’s designer Alexa Adams says, “We get quite bored with flat fashion images and this is more interesting. Less traditional models provide a different feeling.”

The trend is also apparent on the blogosphere and the red carpet. Ari Cohen, a 28-year-old fashion blogger based in New York, photographs New Yorkers over 50: “There are so many blogs on young, skinny people,” he says. “But I couldn’t relate. These are my icons.” Jeweller Alexis Bittar, who was voted this year’s accessories designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, took 88-year-old Iris Apfel, fashion plate and former muse to designers including Ralph Rucci, Geoffrey Beene and Isaac Mizrahi, as his date to the awards ceremony in June.

In London, designer Joanna Sykes, 32, used one of the most celebrated older models, 81-year-old Daphne Selfe, in her autumn/winter 2010 fashion week presentation alongside models in their teens. “I’m proud that my clothes are modern enough that they never look frumpy on older models,” she says.

As for Selfe, “I was a very ordinary model when I was younger,” she says. “I got to 80 last year and did rather a lot of modelling because people thought this [age] was interesting.” Selfe also featured in a D&G campaign in 2008.

Selfe is managed by Elaine Dugas, director at the Models One Classics division, where the majority of models are over 30. She says that there has long been a demand for older models but that it has largely been out of the high fashion limelight – catalogues, beauty brands and high street stores are regular clients. “There will always be more work for a model in her twenties,” she concedes.

Can Selfe, or even the likes of McMenamy and MacPherson, really be a match for fashion’s love of a new young face? As Carol Dyhouse, historian and author of Glamour: Women, History, Feminism, says, “There is a culture of looking younger for men and women. Idealising the very young is nothing new. There has never yet been a time when older women have been idealised.”

Kristen McMenamy, who is about to embark on a shoot for Italian Vogue, hopes for change. “We have to make grown-up cool,” she says. “Francisco [Costa, creative director of Calvin Klein] made a statement using me but it would really be a statement to use an older new face.”

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