I’ve attended my fair share of fashion shows over the past few years, but I’ll never forget seeing the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Carmen Dell’Orefice walk the runway for Marimekko in September 2012. It was the Finnish prints-based brand’s first NYFW show, and they smartly tapped the then-81-year-old supermodel to close the collection. When Carmen hit the catwalk, there was absolutely no trace of that blank-faced, robotic strut common amongst newbie models—no, Carmen had attitude. She swayed her hips, she winked at front-rowers, she spun around dramatically in the style of a ’50s-era salon-style fashion show—and most importantly, she smiled. I left thinking it was one of the most beautiful runway moments I’d ever witnessed—and wondering why we don’t see more gorgeous grey-haired models at fashion week.
Model age, of course, has been a hot topic in the fashion industry for several years running—but generally, it’s the rampant use of underage catwalkers that’s been the issue. Last October, New York even passed a new law designating under-18 models as "child performers," complete with strict hourly working limits and added paperwork. As it turns out, however, the tides are changing in the ever-in-flux fashion world—and right now, more mature models have never been in higher demand. Granted, Advanced Style blogger/author Ari Seth Cohen’s been highlighting the stylishness of older generations for several years now, and "old lady" attire and accessories have been popularized by celebrities like Alexa Chung and Taylor Swift. But only recently has the pendulum swung from granny chic to, well, actual chic grannies.
It started fairly recently, when Alexander Wang selected silver-haired supe Kristen McMenamy to front Balenciaga’s Fall 2013 campaign—the first series of ads he oversaw as the fashion house’s new creative director. Considering how youth-focused Wang’s designs tend to be (Logos galore! Color-changing coats!), 47-year-old McMenamy was by all accounts an extremely unexpected choice. Yet the ads—which at first glance appear to be shot in black and white thanks to the collection’s all-neutral palette and the model’s signature grey strands—were hauntingly gorgeous.
Just as Alexander Wang chose to fête a fresh start by hiring a more mature model, Marc Jacobs celebrated the end of his tenure at Louis Vuitton in much the same way. In his final campaign for the brand, 70-year-old French actress Catherine Deneuve stars alongside Sofia Coppola, Gisele Bündchen and a number of Jacobs’ other (younger) muses. Carrying one of Vuitton’s new "hyper-luxury" handbags and wearing an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile, Deneuve looked positively radiant.
From there, campaigns starring notably more mature models started popping up left and right. 65-year-old Linda Rodin, a former model and stylist who’s now best known for her editor-beloved Rodin skincare range, appeared in The Row’s Pre-Fall 2014 lookbook. (For many, it came as no surprise that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, longtime lovers of all things "granny chic," would choose such a muse to model their clothes.) Meanwhile, 70-year-old supermodel Lauren Hutton, who posed for The Row’s lookbook several years ago, snagged Lucky Brand’s Fall 2013 campaign. Shot with a wide grin that shows off her signature gap, she looked right at home in the label’s all-American denim and leather staples. And in perhaps the most controversial campaign of this nature, American Apparel recently tapped 62-year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy (who was discovered by the company’s creative director while dining at an NYC restaurant) to model lacy lingerie, along with the tagline "Sexy has no expiration date."
Now, it seems, it’s the beauty industry’s turn to get on board with the grandmotherly set. Last month brought the announcements of two major celebrity beauty campaigns involving older women: 68-year-old British actress Charlotte Rampling for NARS and 64-year-old American Horror Story regular Jessica Lange for Marc Jacobs Beauty. It’s worth nothing that Lange also provided the spoken-word soundtrack for Jacobs’ Fall 2014 show last month.
So why the sudden uptick in older campaign stars? From a marketing standpoint, it certainly makes sense: generally speaking, 60-something shoppers have plenty of disposable income on hand, and would probably be more tempted to buy a dress modeled by a beautiful woman their own age than by an equally beautiful 18-year-old. And beauty-wise, well, why advertise an anti-aging or skin-smoothing product on a teen model? That just doesn’t make much sense.
For my part, however, I’m a fan of fashion’s new obsession with advanced-age muses for another reason: these women have character. Character that, unfortunately, many (though certainly not all!) very young models lack. Like Carmen Dell’Orefice with her honed-over-the-years sophisticated swagger, ladies like Linda Rodin, Lauren Hutton and Jessica Lange are all perfect examples of women who have aged with grace. They wear their laugh lines and grey hairs just as comfortably as they do those Olsen-designed cashmere coats and feather-trimmed Vuitton bags—and that, to me, is what makes someone truly beautiful.
Click through above to explore how older models are making major waves in fashion right now.