Is the Fashion Industry Changing Our Vision of Seniors?

Is the Fashion Industry Changing Our Vision of Seniors?

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Women over 55 account for a large part of the female population in Europe, with 41% in France, 40% in Belgium and 38% in the United Kingdom. They live in a household that has a high purchasing power, even higher than all households for those who are 55 to 64. For a long time, despite its potential, the fashion industry seemed to overlook this target, or at least choose not to represent these women in its ad campaigns. Up to now, the fashion industry had been conveying nearly exclusively a very young image of women.

But for some years now, mature and senior women are starting to appear in advertising campaigns. Is it a lasting trend or a media opportunity?

The arrival of older women in advertising campaigns for products that address all ages, was progressive. Pioneers include M.A.C. (A brand of cosmetics) who, in 2011, chose as their star model Iris Apfel, who was 90 at the time, and American Apparel, with Jacky O’Shaughnessy, in 2014, who at 62, modelled lingerie in rather athletic positions. If these campaigns left their marks for their definitely quirky tone, resorting to older models is now more popular and is starting to become standard.

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Brands No Longer Hesitate to Choose Senior Star Models

Representations of mature women have been evolving, as observed by the BBC: the number of senior models on the catwalks of the Milan, London, Paris and New York fashion weeks has never been so high. For the shows of the spring 2018 collection, 27 were over 50 years old. Off the catwalks, many luxury, ready-to-wear or cosmetics brands have chosen 50+ models. Let us mention, for example, the case of Isabella Rosselini, reinstated in her former position of Lancôme Star model in 2016, at the age of 64, after having lost this status at 43, when she was deemed too old to represent the brand.

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In 2014, French actress Catherine Deneuve (71 at the time) modelled for Louis Vuitton. In 2015, luxury brand Céline chose Joan Didion, 80, as its ambassador. Star models are no longer dismissed beyond a certain age; on the contrary they may be accompanied by a brand as they become older. This is the case, for example, of Jane Fonda, who remains L’Oreal’s ambassador at the age of 80 and remains very popular with female consumers.

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Brands no longer hesitate to resort to local figures, aged over 70, to promote their image in the various countries. This is how Helen Mirren in the United Kingdom, Susan Sarrandon in the United States, and Catherine Deneuve in France, are contacted on a regular basis.

Senior Model Agencies

It seems that companies in the fashion industry have chosen to include in their brand images figures representing the Baby Boom and Silent generations, up to now hardly present in their ad campaigns. It must be noted that with the ageing of Baby Boomers, the number of seniors has increased and they have become a strategic target for brands that want to attract them. This involves representing mature women with dress codes that correspond to that of the baby boom: jeans, casual outfits that stand out from the previous generations.

By choosing models who are well known to the wider public, with a proven record, brands capitalize on the ageless dimension of the beauty of these models. Luxury and cosmetics brands therefore put in the limelight models who have a certain degree of fame, with the exception of certain fashion houses, such as Dolce & Gabbana, who has been an intergenerational advocate in its advertising for several years. Pioneering brands were then followed by others, and the figures presented have diversified, with an increasing number of anonymous senior models.

According to Debra Bourne, co-founder of All Walks Beyond The Catwalk (An English initiative that challenges and rewards fashion companies for a greater diversity of body shapes), the emergence of anonymous senior models was strengthened by the wider use of social media. Thanks to the audience of these images, unknown women, traditionally off their target, may attract the attention of brands.

To support the brands’ policy to represent older women, specialized model agencies have been created. In France, the demand for senior models has been increasing year in, year out, according to Sylvie Fabregon, founder in 2005 of the first specialized model agency. In a context still dominated by the young model, the brands that choose older faces stand out from the crowd and are more likely to fulfil the desire of authenticity of Baby Boom women.

These last years have seen a change in posture in the media concerning ageing, with a shift from ageism to the accepting of passing time. Signs of ageing are not as much made invisible.

Advertising codes therefore evolve as Society changes its outlook on old age. This change is made easier by the ageing of the large baby boom generation, whose desire is to project itself in a positive image of longevity.