With fiftysomethings on the catwalk, what’s the impact on the traditionally youth orientated beauty industry? Lisa Niven-Phillips reports and four women try out the latest looks
Afashion season can be defined as much by the people on the catwalk as it can by the clothes they are wearing. This time around, a key moment came at the end of Marc Jacobs’ New York show, when an almost makeup-free Christy Turlington made a rare return to the catwalk, aged 50 (she also stars, with the designer himself, in the label’s AW ad campaign). While this is hardly ancient in the real world, it is in modelling, where the average catwalk model is around 18. A few days later, Simone Rocha arguably upped the ante. The 32-year-old’s show – in part inspired by Louise Bourgeois, who lived until she was 98 – featured models in their 30s and 40s, including cult favourite Jeny Howorth and actor Chloë Sevigny.
Of course, the motives for this are not entirely pure. The over-50s account for around 47% of all UK consumer spending, according to figures from 2015, and if their financial clout has been dubbed the “grey pound” by the retail world, it’s an even more dazzling silver in beauty. In an arena where youth has always been highly prized, older faces are finally having a moment in the spotlight, or at least on a billboard near you. Unretouched, unairbrushed Helen Mirren, 74, tells us we’re all worth it for L’Oréal Paris; Neal’s Yard Remedies’ #AgeWellRevolution stars “real” women of all demographics; and Pantene’s #PowerOfGrey initiative challenges the discrepancy between perceptions of men and women with grey hair, encouraging women of all ages to share images of themselves on social media, using the hashtag #powerofgrey.
In MAC’s What’s Your Thing campaign, models and non-models wear makeup looks that represent their unique style. Among them are Anna Klevhag, 50, sporting bold, berry-stained lips, and Jan de Villeneuve, 75, in full foundation, pillarbox-red lipstick and smoky eye makeup. Neither has been made to look younger; instead they look confident, stylish, modern – a woman in her 20s would be as inspired to buy that berry lipstick as one in her 50s. Feedback for the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive and thousands have shared their own #whatsyourthing posts on Instagram.
Campaigns such as MAC’s demonstrate a shift in attitudes. “Older women are usually forced into either rosy ‘mother-of-the-bride’ makeup or the New York-eccentric caricature of bug-eyed glasses and bright clothes,” says MAC’s Terry Barber. “What people enjoy about this campaign is seeing older women who look very different from one another, are very stylish, and are not just there to tick the diversity box. Consumers are constantly offered ‘fixes’ or told how to hide wrinkles. But what if you don’t want to hide them?”
Millie Kendall, a makeup artist and CEO of the not-for-profit British Beauty Council, which represents the industry, says the culture of invisibility around older women is finally lifting. She points to fashion’s embracing of grey hair and advancements in product innovation as proof. Turning 50 made her realise “how invisible my ancestors must have felt – my great-aunts looked like cartoon old ladies at my age. I think the future will be less about age and more about your attitude to life and how you express yourself.”
The language of beauty has also had an update. In 2017, US magazine Allure banned “anti-ageing” from its pages and in 2018, a report by the Royal Society for Public Health called for an end to the term’s use for UK cosmetics. Meanwhile, earlier this year, British Vogue released “The Non-Issue”, a mini magazine focused on the over-50s, created with L’Oréal Paris. “Diversity is intrinsic to all that [editor-in-chief] Edward Enninful does, so age representation is as important as skin tone, size and gender diversity,” says Vogue beauty and lifestyle director Jessica Diner. “Having a project dedicated to the idea that age shouldn’t be a factor in beauty felt important.”
Having Jane Fonda, 81, on the cover generated a buzz. “This has really spoken to me. Loved it,” read one of the 700-plus comments on Enninful’s Instagram post of the cover. “Beauty is truly ageless. I hope we see more of this in all aspects of the industry,” read another.
L’Oréal Paris deserves credit for working with older celebrities long before anyone else, having signed Fonda in the mid-noughties and now boasting a “golden squad” including Mirren and Julianne Moore, 58. “We celebrate women of all ages because women of all ages use and love our products,” says Karen Flavard-Jones, UK general manager. “We know that women over 50 don’t feel represented in advertising, and that the amount spent on beauty increases with age.”
Beauty advertising has traditionally focused on looking younger, rather than embracing beauty at any age. A Palmolive ad from the 30s even read, “A wife can blame herself if she loses love by getting ‘middle age’ skin.” While things have moved on, there are still issues. In 2017, Dior cast 25-year-old Cara Delevingne in its Capture Youth anti-ageing campaign, sparking a social media backlash, while in 1996, Lancôme famously let Isabella Rossellini go at 43, only to rehire her at 63.
“It’s hard to believe in an anti-wrinkle cream if it’s shown on a younger woman who is unlikely to have any,” says Renia Jaz, 53, whose blog and Instagram account @venswifestyle are dedicated to ageless style. “We are not ashamed of the changes happening to our hair, face and body, and we want brands to respect that.”
A move towards intersectionality is the next step. Though we do now see older women in ads, almost all are white, a notable exception being 67-year-old JoAni Johnson, selected by Rihanna for her debut Fenty campaign. “It’s time my demographic was reflected more broadly,” Johnson said in an interview with Paper magazine. “Fashion doesn’t have any age, gender or race limit, so why restrict it in the visuals?”
While the industry works towards meaningful representation, Kendall points to Instagram as the best place to see “real” women talking about beauty, citing journalist Nadine Baggott and skin expert Caroline Hirons as good examples. Others include 91-year-old Baddie Winkle, whose neon-hued makeup led to her creating her own collection for INC.redible cosmetics, and 69-year-old Suzi Grant, whose @alternativeageing account got her spotted for a role in a campaign for Revolution.
“The image of a mature woman that has been in the consciousness of our society for many years is outdated. We want to be represented by women who are just like us, who are real,” Jaz says. “Women over 50 are not unicorns. We are consumers and we know what we want.”