Age Before Beauty

by Natasha Wolff | September 26, 2014 1:14 pm

Let me ask you something—can you recite all the lyrics to the Monkees’ theme song (not just the first four words)? Do you know the difference between hi-fi and WiFi? Did your first TV get only seven channels? Even if you are willing to close your eyes, clench your perfect white teeth, and admit that yes, yes and yes, you can indeed shout out those deathless stanzas, there is, believe it or not, still time for you to become a model.

This is not a joke. In the last little while, oppressively juvenile fashion icons—like Elle Fanning, barely in high school, and Miley Cyrus (OK, she may be 21, but she still looks and acts like the poster child of pre-pubescence)—have been replaced by a roster of muses who can tell you with clarity how much fun it was when you could smoke on airplanes. We are speaking here of the louchely elegant Marianne Faithfull, at 67 the new face of Saint Laurent, a half century after she was a teenager palling around with Mick Jagger, now gleefully defying the maxim that if you wore these 1960s-inflected Saint Laurent styles the first time around, you are too old to revisit them now. And here is Charlotte Rampling—remember, she had that baby she didn’t want and gave to Lynn Redgrave in 1966’s Georgy Girl? Infuriatingly still sexy at 68, she is currently serving as the fall face for NARS. And what of Jessica Lange, 65, doing a similar service over at Marc Jacobs Beauty? Not to mention the folks at the beleaguered American Apparel, who have enlisted 62-year-old model Jacky O’Shaughnessy; or 70-year-old Catherine Deneuve’s gig at Vuitton; or Lauren Hutton, the same age as Deneuve, still showing that fetching space between her teeth for Lucky Brand. So pronounced is this trend that you will soon be able to buy what is billed as the first “mature woman doll”—a miniature silver-haired rendering of Carmen Dell’Orefice, now 83, a Vogue cover girl in 1947.

Jessica Lange

Even Kate Moss, who started in the business at the age at which most are just hoping to find a date to the junior prom, remains a busy working model at 40. The mysterious, taciturn Moss is just a year younger than Winona Ryder, who’s been tapped for Rag & Bone’s current campaign, because, according to Marcus Wainwright, one of the line’s designers, the actress has a “beautiful, timeless quality.”

What is going on here? Well first off, let us candidly admit that dramatic advances in plastic surgery have made us all, at least in dim light, appear pretty much the same age. Whittled waists and chiseled chins, toned arms and taut tummies, are no longer the exclusive province of youth. I mean, how many times has this happened to you: you are walking behind a lovely lass, her blond ponytail swinging, her perky rear-end perking, and then you catch a glimpse of her face and it is clearly not young exactly—but, um, on the other hand, it is certainly not old, in the sense of your granny’s face was when she was this bopper’s age. If we can look 20—OK, 30-ish—when we are 60, why shouldn’t this extraordinary feat be celebrated by the fashion industry?

Lauren Hutton

And then again, perhaps we are finally expanding our ideas about what is beautiful to include people who have kicked around a bit. If our notions of gender have radically changed, if 19 states have declared the inalienable right of all of their citizens to love and marry, maybe our notions of attractiveness are elastic enough to include a gorgeous (but not fat!) older person. Asked why his company chose to feature Charlotte Rampling, François Nars insists that “age was not a factor. Beauty is not a question of age. We put labels on thinking beauty is only about being young. Wrinkles are beautiful. I want to fight the convention that you have to be young to be beautiful. Women with character, who are smart and have strong personalities, are beautiful to me.”

Of course, it is also possible that the impetus on the part of fashion companies is purely practical: after all, the more years you have on you, the more money you are likely to have to spend. And if you are going to buy that $23,000 hand-painted python lanvin coat, you might appreciate seeing it modeled by someone who can vote. Which may be why, for his fall 2012 advertising campaign, Alber Elbez selected a number of “real people,” some of whom were clearly on the far side of 50.

Catherine Deneuve

I wish these older ladies would show up on catwalks more. Right now, one often finds oneself sitting at a fashion show and thinking, sure, this ensemble looks fabulous on the sulky, tattooed 15-year-old miss thing wearing it, but will it look as good on anyone over the age of consent?

How different the whole scope of women’s history would be if this new conception of beauty had taken hold decades ago! Just imagine: Had she only been born 50 years later, a splendid creature like the actress/chanteuse/war hero marlene Dietrich, who was so ridiculously stunning all her life that—fun fact!—she had illicit sex with JFK when she was in her sixties, might have made a few extra bucks encasing her splendid derriere in a pair of guess jeans. Perhaps even Eleanor Roosevelt, who observed—eons before the word celebutante was coined—that women in public life needed to “develop a skin as thick as a rhinoceros hide,” could have had a tiny bit of plastic surgery (not too much, of course, just enough to make a better eleanor) and ended up shilling for Chanel.


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