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  • Mariana Baião Santos

Has fashion matured enough?

Pitched and accepted by GARAGE Magazine before it closed down.
Louise Bourgeois, who lived until she was 98, always unapologetically about her image by photographer Herlinde Koelbl in 2001.

“I like my fashion like I like my cheese: old and mature.”; who has made such an iconic statement? Absolutely no one, ever. Despite having reached old age decades ago, the fashion industry has now finally started to uncover the veil and to look itself in the mirror, only to realize it is not young anymore. Yes, we live in an era of radical and often absurd transformation, some botox here and a bit of lifting there. What was wrinkled is now stretched and what once sagged has strangely doubled in size and got back into place. Isn’t it wonderful to have these magical powers? Sometimes it’s hard to live up to the expectations created by the magical fountain of youth. The constant replacement for a newer and shinier model becomes expensive and tiresome. Is it such a crazy idea to allow things to run their natural course? After all, what is this whole worship of youth if not an invention of a consumer society short of new ideas?

The year: 2019. The idea: older doesn’t mean uglier.

Diversity has been a buzzword for some time now, and great changes have been made in a wide range of areas, but one of the faces of diversity we might have overlooked is age. It would be highly incoherent to say that only this year we woke up to that possibility, although it feels only now it has started to be normalized. And don’t get me wrong, I did say “started”, this is only the beginning, we are far from a healthy relationship with wrinkles. But let’s keep our hopes up; we have also been closer to trying to press our necks with clothing irons.

The term ‘Greynnaisance’ has been traced by trend forecasters to 2015, when Céline signed writer Joan Didion, 80, for their advertising campaign. Innovative? Yes. Trend-setting? Maybe. Celebratory? On one hand, yes, on the other… The icon was only featured on the accessories campaign. As much as this campaign was praised, it also received substantial backlash for having possibly condemned older models unworthy of promoting clothing, and being better off as accessories mannequins, for the sole purpose of selling overpriced sunglasses. Anyhow, it was a starting point, but since then we have seen a lot more of ‘renaissance’ frills than ‘grey’ hairs.

Joan Didion Céline SS15 Phoebe Philo
Joan Didion for Céline SS15 campaign, under the creative direction of Phoebe Philo.

Early in 2018, the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria, presented an exhibition entitled Aging Pride on how aging is perceived by contemporary art in said era of the “Cult of Youth” (the cover image was one of the pieces exhibited). With over 200 works from photography and video to painting, the aging body is seen in a variety of perspectives with all its intrinsic virtues and fragilities. Although this exhibition may have been quite low-key and lacking in praise, it may have marked a milestone to where we are headed. In an increasingly and worryingly aging society in the western part of the world at least, it feels more important than ever to look at the future, ironically enough. People over 50 will amount to be the largest consumer segment in the market and they will feel the need for better representation across all its breadth, especially in fashion (data retrieved from Stratfor Worldview).

In a world where the average inhabitant is 18 years old, this year started off promising, with some older models pacing the catwalks for AW19 in the first fashion weeks of the year. Designers like Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Elie Tahari took the lead in showing off some almost wrinkly faces in a fashion history tribute to the golden age of the supermodel. Christie Brinkley (65), Veronica Webb (53), Patti Hansen (62) and Christy Turlington (50) returned to catwalks, for what hopefully won’t be a last time, on the Western side of the Atlantic. As well as around the other side, where brands follow suit with Stella Tennant (48) walking for Burberry, Guinevere Van Seenus (41) making a return at Erdem and the champion of age diversity, Simone Rocha, who has been trail blazing the catwalks with ‘unconventional’ models since her SS17 collection, once again empowering women of all ages.

The normalization of aging has been reinforced by the Inditex group with brands Mango and Zara showing advertising campaigns with 40 year old models - who even though condemned as ‘old’ by the ridiculous standards upheld by the fashion industry, managed to elegantly present the clothes as well or maybe even more realistically beautifully than their infant peers. The group started introducing this concept in 2017, but faced controversy when associating the words ‘old’ and ‘ugly’, yet, over the years it managed to pull through and deliver the right idea along with the right execution.

When bringing undisclosed themes into the spotlight in such a big, complex and deep-rooted industry, it is only natural for there to be paradoxical opinions on how to approach and settle on some concepts. Although fashion is praised to be innovative and open-minded, because everyone in the industry has to think one year in advance thanks to the fashion system, change is hard to achieve. When things are done for the fist time, no one knows how to proceed. It’s trial and error, like anything really, and people, especially in this world, are so rushed to condemn what could have been done differently, it’s inevitable these pioneering examples have suffered so much backlash. But the important thing is: they kept trying and evolving.

Not only in the clothing business, but as well in the cosmetics department, aging has started to be depicted as celebratory. No more anti-aging, just beauty-enhancing. MAC’s #WhatsYourThing campaign shows incredibly diverse women, of all ages, including Anna Klevhag (50) and Jan de Villeneuve (75), glowy and airbrush-free, elegantly portraying what all of us only hope to reach at that age. Warning: No wrinkles were deleted nor grey hairs dyed in the making of this advertisement. Feedback has been over-the-top for this campaign, now that the industry starts to understand how to deal with the subject at hand.

It seems everything makes sense and is accepted when Vogue magazine does it. Although they are never to take risks and pioneer a new movement, British Vogue’s May Issue was sold with a special edition called the Non-Issue. Where a no-more-than-60 Jane Fonda confidently looks directly at us as she ‘comes of age’ and tells us she’s 81. This was developed in partnership with L’Óreal Paris, here asserting that age is no longer an issue. Independently of how realistic this is or isn’t, the popular magazine is recognizing the demographic problem and spreading it to the wider audience, claiming the need and right for representability. The size of a problem can be measured by how big its coverage is, and it is important for what started as a niche change in some more progressive fashion brands is now expanding to mass consumed products not only industry-focused.

Representability comes a long way in the path for acceptance. Feeling confident in one’s skin becomes easier when we feel there is a space for us in the world, when we can see ourselves in the media, because the media is now the world. This is why we are living in the era of influencers. Instagram is the natural habitat for these mythical creatures who have the eyes of society on them, but these platforms also seem to have unwritten age restrictions. The technology barrier may keep some people away - the ones who have not been born through a wifi connection. Nevertheless, incredible woman are creating a new sector of influencers over 60, demonstrating style has no age, nor does Instagram.

From the New York socialite directly to the world, Iris Apfel created a name for herself through the way she expresses her own personality by means of clothing, her style has even earned her a MET exhibition in 2005. More recently she has adhered to Instagram (@iris.apfel) where, at 98 years old, she engages with an audience of 1.4 million followers. Apfel is probably one of the most well-known older icons in the fashion industry inspiring women of all ages not only on style but also on her exuberant approach to life, that make her so unique. Her biographical documentary from 2014 is an ode to the joy of living.

Iris Apfel by Thomas Whiteside
Iris Apfel by Thomas Whiteside. 2016.

Alike Iris Apfel, Ari Seth Cohen (@advancedstyle) has been developing her own platform, Advanced Style, where through a collection of books and a documentary she empowers stylish women deemed too old for fashion, who could not care less about it. The inspiring stories she shares of herself and others destroy all age stigmas ever imposed by our young-focused society. This is again so delightful to watch, that leaves you with a weird feeling of wanting to jump straight to your sixties. The love these women have for clothing and dressing is hugely inspiring, their unconventional style needs to reach a bigger audience to show people what life should be about, always, independently of your age: feeling amazing about yourself.

Personal style can also be about following trends, the two are not mutually exclusive, and @iconaccidental is a great example of that. As she writes on her blog, she realized there was a gap in the blog market for platforms ‘that offered an urban, modern, intellectual aesthetic but also spoke to women who live what I call “interesting but ordinary lives” in cities’. On her description page and Instagram profile not once is the word ‘age’ mentioned, because it is simply not an issue, it is not a defining characteristic of who she is, it’s irrelevant - and that is the way it should be. Why should we ever have to subscribe to something that only identifies us if we pay too much attention to it?

Lyn Slater, @inconaccidental, from her own Instagram account.
Lyn Slater, @inconaccidental, from her own Instagram account.

Headlines announcing ‘the most fashion diverse year yet’ have been filling the news as we reach the final months of 2019, but we can only hope that either these titles appear at the end of each year from now on, or that they cease to exist completely. Forecasting reports for upcoming seasons are also starting to flood the fashion journals, and what appears to be on trend for 2020 and 2021 are witty puns on how high time it is for age diversity. It’s the true ‘age of greynassance’ - they say. Which sounds very encouraging and innovative: making something inevitable trendy. Honestly, mind-blowing…

Hopefully, we will compare this moment in time to trousers for women rather than to the croc fad. When diversity becomes the new normal we won’t need to shout out to the world what we take for granted. Why did we take so long to acknowledge that time passes? Maybe it’s the fear of death, maybe it’s the fear of ugliness, but why have we ever considered old age to be the antagonism of beauty?

Fantasy is created because reality isn’t good enough. Humans keep wanting to achieve the unachievable, live in the unreal and believe in the unconceivable, it’s inherent to our species. This need is then transposed into fashion, into the ideal look - which in terms of age translates into being 20. In a time when the life expectancy for women is around 82 years of age, why do we think our maximum potential has been left at only a quarter down the line? We keep cutting ourselves short, because we’re told every day we are not good enough if we have crows-feet.

We should just let the birds come and step wherever. It is not their footprint that should dictate what we are or are not eligible to wear. Style is non-demographic and it is only ridiculous we ever made it so. Soon enough we’ll discover that what drives desirability might not be being young but confidence in being - something that only develops with maturity. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera dwells on how lightness makes things ephemeral, unimportant and to disappear within time, while strength and density give them value, content and history. Airbrushed perfect bodies are light, maybe now we’re ready to delve into wrinkles of matter with stories to tell. I think about this when I look at pictures of Peggy Guggenheim and only wish to be her one day.

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice by photographer Stefan Moses. April 1969.
Peggy Guggenheim in Venice by photographer Stefan Moses. April 1969.

Finally, what else could be said that would make more of a compelling argument than this picture of Ellen Mirren in a bathtub, just telling us being sexy is not only for younger people.

Ellen Mirren by photographer Juergen Teller
Ellen Mirren by photographer Juergen Teller


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