The fashion for older models

Posted on December 30, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Couple togther

No, I am not referring to classic cars, although there is definitely a huge following for those kinds of ‘old models’ these days; I am happy to say that I’m actually talking about female fashion models. This is bit of a turn up for the books, because as most of us know, the fashion industry has been obsessed with youth and “yoof culture” since Adam was a boy. But, cometh the year, 2016 and cometh the models with grey hair, plus a specialist agency to handle the growing workload!

Irresistible at any age

So, what has changed? Why is “grey the new black” all of a sudden? Well, according to Rebecca Valentine, the intrepid founder of Grey Model Agency – the only UK agency dedicated to mature 35+ models – it is because consumer brands have woken up to the fact that they have to be “pro-ageing rather than anti-ageing.” The model agency, which is making headlines across the media, strongly supports Coco Chanel’s pithy pronouncement that: “After 40 nobody is young, but one can be irresistible at any age.” I should say so, Coco!

The Frances Dunscombe story

One woman who exemplifies this is Frances Dunscombe. She has started a whole new career in modelling at the age of 82! It just goes to show you that life is full of surprises. Frances didn’t have any thoughts of modelling in her mind on the day she accompanied her 56-year-old daughter Tineka Fox to an interview at Rebecca’s Grey Agency, so she was somewhat shocked when one of the agency’s talent scouts spotted her in reception and immediately invited her to sign up. Frances’ daughter Tineka is a former full-time model who has also revived her career thanks to the same agency that now represents her mother as well.

Frances is rather stunning and has that long-legged slimness and ease in front of the camera necessary to make a modelling career. She looks much younger than 82, in my opinion, and has something about her that makes heads turn. You might be rather shocked to discover that she only started moisturising in her 50s – some people are just blessed, as they say! Other than the fact that she now applies some potions, she just does a bit of stretching every day, dances around her bedroom when no one is looking and enjoys a small glass of red wine at lunchtime.

Wine Glass containing red wine

A Grey Ambassador

Rebecca has also had something of a coup in signing up Sarah Stockbridge as the Grey Agency’s Ambassador. Sarah, who was famously the face of Vivienne Westwood, has just turned 50 and like Westwood, who is indisputably the Grande Dame of British fashion, she has no intentions of signing off.  Vivienne Westwood would hardly have chosen somebody unremarkable to be the muse of her daring and much-admired fashion house and Sarah Stockbridge did not disappoint. She was colourful and cheeky on the catwalk, and her cover shot on ID magazine, designed by Nick Knight, remains one of  “the defining images of the 80s.” Between then and now she has brought up a few children, appeared in hundreds of music videos and ad campaigns and written a couple of novels. Why would Rebecca choose somebody as “different” as Sarah? Because she embodies “a perfect mix of elegant eccentricity to front a new army of mature models,” is Rebecca’s answer.

The Silver Spend

Pushing and prompting this new army of grey models is a growing need to capture the ‘Silver Spend’. British women spend around £7 billion on clothes and accessories annually and that is growing by almost 5% per annum. Younger women currently spend more, but their expenditure is falling while ours is growing. The top 10 womenswear retailers owe most of their growth to over-50s spending; so, they should be falling over themselves to keep us happy, I say!

That’s why M&S put Twiggy at the centre of their advertising and why L’Oreal has 70-year-old Dame Helen Mirren as a brand ambassador, a still-smouldering at 69 Charlotte Rampling is a NARS skincare range ambassador and Jane Fonda is still in the game at 75.

These women have been in the public eye all their lives, but Frances Dunscombe is a new arrival to the spotlight; her reaction to it after a life dedicated to family and nursing her now deceased husband sums up what the new grey culture means to her: “I always hoped something else would happen.” She added: “All the same, I’m quite bewildered by events, but in a nice way.” She hopes to model for Dior – I hope her dream comes true.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.