Ladies of “un certain age” (as the French say) are currently having a moment. High-fashion houses are looking to elderly women to represent their wares to a wider market.
Last week, French fashion house Céline unveiled its newest cover girl: 80-year-old acclaimed essayist Joan Didion. Didion is best known for her collections of essays, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” (published in 1968) and “The White Album” (published in 1979). The writer, who replaced model Daria Werbowy, already has casual experience in modeling: An old photo of Didion lounging in her Corvette Stingray adorns the cover of “The White Album” paperback copy.
Two days later, Saint Laurent revealed their latest model to be 71-year-old singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. And the elderly-woman-as-fashion-model concept went from an outlier to a trend.
These are just the latest in a larger trend of older women becoming more visible within the fashion industry. Céline’s new campaign follows on the heels of Dolce & Gabbana’s spring 2015 promotions, which feature elderly ladies decked out in black dresses, red carnations and gold tiaras.
The trend has been picking up steam over the past couple of years. In 2013, eyewear designer Karen Walker used models between the ages of 65 and 92 to model her “Forever” collection. (Within that campaign, Walker juxtaposed the elderly ladies with young girls for maximum effect.) Designer Marc Jacobs used 64-year-old actress Jessica Lange for his beauty line in 2014. Sixty-two-year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy modeled for American Apparel in 2014, and 93-year-old Iris Apfel is modeling this year for jewelry designer Alexis Bittar.
French women seem to have this one lock: Jacobs cast a then-70-year-old Catherine Deneuve in his final campaign for Louis Vuitton in 2013, and 68-year-old French actress Charlotte Rampling modeled for Nars in 2014.
We’ve also been seeing more older women appear in street style photography. Photographer Ari Seth Cohen runs Advanced Style, where he documents the unique ensembles of elderly ladies. He’s parlayed the blog into a book and a recent documentary.
Hopefully, we’re starting to respect, and revere, the elderly population more than we’ve been worshipping at the fountain of youth. There’s certain historical precedent for young women taking sartorial cues from previous generations: Women in 17th- and 18th-century France used to powder their hair and wear white wigs to emulate their esteemed elders.