“Fashion has no age limit.” “Grow up London fashion week!” “Fight for real age models.” So read banners brandished by models protesting against ageism on the runways at London last week.
Let’s not call them older; let’s call them more experienced.
Youth may be gorgeous - that’s why we are drawn to babies and kittens. Thirteen-year-old actor and Calvin Klein model Millie Bobby Brown’s fresh-faced innocence appeals to jaded, world-weary adults. And no-one’s denying the can’t-look-away allure of flawless 17-year-old Chanel face Lily-Rose Depp.
But while high fashion is by its nature obsessed with newness, there is a disconnect here. Its customers simply aren’t babies and teens. Most kittens don’t have a Burberry budget either.
While small, the LFW protest had big implications. Grown-up fashion fans are fed up with seeing clothes modelled by women young enough to be their daughters or (yikes!) granddaughters.
As 63-year-old model and protester Jilly Johnson told the UK Telegraph of the #growuplfw campaign, “I love those girls…but we want to know what the designs will look like on a real woman.”
For a while now fashion has been addressing the need for diversity. Today, if you pack your runway with cookie cutter blondes or sharp-cheeked Eastern European models you can expect a backlash – as Demna Gvasalia found last year with his debut for Balenciaga.
Casting directors are listening to calls for a more inclusive view of beauty. So-called plus sized models are making an impact. Happily it’s now rare to see a runway line-up of only white girls.
Yet despite current campaigns that showcase more mature faces – from Valentino’s glorious images of a 48-year-old Christy Turlington to Giorgio Armani’s latest “New Normal” line-up of Yasmin Le Bon (52) Eva Herzigova (43) Nadja Auermann (45) and Stella Tennant (44) - with the exception of Tennant who continues to walk regularly, older models on the runway remain a novelty.
The Advanced Style phenomenon has seen some spectacular wrinkled faces celebrated. Think Iris Apfel landing magazine covers. But these tend to be eccentric style icons. Fabulous without a doubt, but relatable? Not so much. Where are the adult beauties in elegant clothing that the chic 40-something, 50-, 60- or 70-something can aspire to?
One answer is: at TOME and Simone Rocha, two forward-thinking brands that believe firmly in the beauty of womanhood without prejudice.
In New York, TOME cast 64-year-old model Jacky O’Shaughnessy again – she’s a regular for designers Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin.
In London, models Benedetta Barzini, Jan de Villeneuve, Marie-Sophie Wilson and Cecilia Chancellor walked for Simone Rocha. Barzini is a 73-year-old Italian model and former muse of Irving Penn. De Villeneuve was a Swinging London face who used to sit for David Bailey. Wilson is a French 70-year-old favourite of John Galliano, and Chancellor, 50, started modelling in the ‘80s – and never stopped.
Another cool London Fashion Week moment came with Oxfam’s Fashion Fighting Poverty show on Thursday. Stylist Bay Garnett, a vintage lover and co-founder of cult noughties thrift-chic zine Cheap Date, cast her friends Stella Tennant, Erin O Connor (39) and Bella Freud (55) in the show that challenged the idea that new is always best.
Every garment on the runway was second-hand. "Digging around in charity shops and putting stuff together to make looks is what I do,” said Garnett. The trend for appreciating older, live-in clothes chimes in perfectly with the current Zeitgeist that sees sustainability as increasingly important. Older, wiser…better, eh?
Left to right: Stella Tennant, Bella Freud and Erin O Connor walk in Oxfam's Fashion Fighting Poverty show at LFW
Follow Clare on Instagram @mrspress