Having a ‘Senior’ Moment

Joan Didion as the face of Celine

At the end of 2014, we “broke the Internet” with Kim Kardashian’s oiled up, nude butt ‘gracing’ the cover of Paper Magazine. But we began 2015 with a far better, higher minded way to “break the internet”: with the news that Celine’s Phoebe Philo chose Joan Didion to star in her multigenerational Spring/Summer 2015 ad campaign. I love that the photo, shot by Juergen Teller, in which she is wearing Celine’s black sunglasses, black dress, and gold pendant, is not trying to be a glammed up version of the icon, and there are no signs of airbrushing. Ah, signs of intelligent life.

Joan Didion

Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Ms. Didion is an 80 year old literary legend; an intellect known for her effortless cool and unforced, easy elegant style. And Kim K is a woman so plastic and manufactured, she admits the reason you never see her smile is because she fears it will cause wrinkles. Coincidentally, during Ms. Didion’s senior year at Berkeley (she graduated in 1956), she won first place in an essay contest which was sponsored by Vogue Magazine, where she worked for two years (first as a promotional copywriter and eventually as associate feature editor). So I suppose you can say she is back in Vogue, literally.

In any event, it’s hardly surprising that this has opened up a conversation about aging (along with speculation surrounding the future of New York Fashion Week, it’s been THE topic du jour). The latest is Vanessa Friedman’s essay, “On Age, Talking a Good Game” which appeared in the Thursday Styles of The New York Times on January 8th and questioned “whether or not fashion’s love for older women, like Joan Didion, is sincere”. For the record, I agree with what she said (most of which was pretty obvious), but as far as her complaint, or assessment that “catwalks are still speckled by short skirts and skinny trousers, the sheer and the sleeveless”. Well, duh! Fashion is always all over the place. But that being said, quite frankly, I can’t think of a better time to be a mature, older woman, because there are so many options and choices. Not to mention the fact that there is an emphasis on sophisticated, grown up fashion, with some of the best pieces coming from relatively young designers who represent the new generation (Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, Joseph Altuzarra are among them).

Iris Apfel on the cover of Dazed and Confused

The way I see it, for everything sheer and sleeveless, there’s something modestly covered up. For every short skirt, there’s something knee length, midcalf, or longer. For every skinny trouser, there’s a full legged high waisted pant. There’s a plethora of smartly tailored blazers, trench coats, reefers, sculptural evening wear. And what about that entire range of footwear that is comfortable, practical, and good looking? There are many ways to look fabulous, and they have nothing at all to do with being puerile, resorting to gimmicks and tricks, or having to wear sky high heels and a mini skirt. Plus, designers can only propose. It’s up to the informed customer to figure out how to make it relevant and appropriate for her lifestyle, her look, and her age. Plus, this is a time when there are really no rules, and anyway, rules are made to be broken, as exemplified by the ageless 93 year old Iris Apfel (she is invariably the coolest cat in any room, if not the best dressed). Most importantly, it should not be about trying to look as young as possible, but as good as possible.

T Magazine cover with Lee Radziwill

With the exception of those cultures that celebrate aging, for the most part, we pretty much live in an age phobic, youth obsessed world. And this is magnified a thousand fold in the fashion universe, where youth, along with celebrity and beauty, are still worshipped. Aging is still looked down upon and feared (signs of aging are to be camouflaged at all costs, and reversed). It seems that conquering the negative notion of getting older, is the last frontier. As Deborah Needleman said, when she selected 79 year old Lee Radziwill for her re designed first cover of T Magazine in February 2013, “I think we’re sort of post everything. We’re post-race, post-feminist, but I feel like we’re not quite post-age. And we should be”.

Tina Turner on the cover of German Vogue

Yes we should, and kudos to designers like Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger (who have used elder patricians in their ad campaigns), and Alber Elbaz, who used an 80 year old former dancer (Jacqueline Murdock) in his 2012 fall ad campaign (it featured “real people aged 18 – 82). Still, while there is headway being made in this area, we obviously have a long way to go and it can’t come fast enough for me, as I turned 65 last year (and wrote a blog about it). And I’m proud to say that I am in good company, as other fashion 49’ers are Anna Wintour, Vera Wang, and Miuccia Prada, all of whom have the ability to do their bit to help the ‘cause’. For example, the oldest woman Anna has featured on one of her covers thus far, is Meryl Streep (she was 62 when she was on Vogue’s January 2012 cover). Hopefully, she can find other worthy candidates out there, among the scores of fabulous older women. For the record, Tina Turner became the oldest woman to ever grace the cover of Vogue, when at the age of 73, she appeared on German Vogue’s April 2013 cover.

As for Miuccia Prada, well, she is arguably one of the world’s most influential designers. Having built her name and label around the concept of “ugly beauty”, she constantly challenges existing notions and pushes the envelope. One of her biggest talents is her ability to take what is considered to be “out” and not only make it “in”, but make it an object of desire. Maybe she can work her magic on aging.

Michele Lamy

When Rick Owens decided to use 40 real life step dancers to stomp the runway (complete with “grit faces”), for his spring 2013 runway show in Paris (rather than his usual group of otherworldly, bone thin models), he was making a big statement about wanting to “reject conventional beauty and create his own”. But while style.com might have thought it was “as inclusive a catwalk vision of womanhood as we’re ever likely to see”, I would offer that it would have been far more inclusive, had he used some dancers who were obviously older. Maybe next time he can focus on that. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that his wife, muse, and brand ambassador, Michele Lamy, is a fascinating woman of a ‘certain age’ who has her own unique look, and has led quite an interesting life.

It’s been pretty well documented that the fashion world (with a little help from runway shows, online blogs, magazine editorials, and advertising campaigns) has the ability to define taste, separate what is good from what is bad, and generally help change public perception as it pertains to beauty and desirability. If it can take the lowly sneaker and turn it into a status symbol that has become the height of fashion, (and make culottes look even possibly remotely appealing and wearable LOL) it can certainly help instill a positive outlook on aging, which is not only a natural process, but one that should be celebrated as it is far better than the alternative. Joan Didion wrote “The Year of Magical Thinking” in 2004. Perhaps we can really make magic happen in 2015!

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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