When the invite for the first 50+ fashion show pings into my inbox, I feel perplexed. Having championed mature models and grown-up style for many years, there’s something about this kind of labelling that irks. I don’t want to be segregated because of my age. I want nice clothes and I want to see women of all ages wearing them – not a fashion show for old people (it’s just the one show, not an entire week). Do we need a 50+ fashion show? Am I being churlish? This is a good thing, after all. A collaboration between retailer JD Williams and a group of second year design students from London College of Fashion that culminates in a catwalk show at Café Royale. For years, I’ve been banging on about older models and now there’s a catwalk show full of them, I’m still not happy.
‘Talking about old people has always been the kiss of death,’ points out stylist Caroline Baker, 70, who launched her career at Nova in the 1960s and has styled the 50+ show, ‘so I think JD Williams are very brave and I hope this is the beginning of the end of the kiss of death.’
Besides, calling the perfectly timed show ‘50+ fashion week’ is clever marketing, aligning the proceedings with London Fashion Week instantly grabs headlines. And this isn’t just a promotional event it is backed up by research. JD Williams is prepared to put its money where its mouth is and has funded two YouGov reports into 50+ female fashion and body image. ‘There has been progress,’ announces CEO Angela Spindler introducing the catwalk show, ‘There has been a clear move on the fashion industry’s recognition of 50+ women, since our last report, but 72% of women still feel that they are under-represented in the media and 58% feel that they are ignored by the high street. Socially, culturally and commercially, it’s a travesty.’
At the catwalk show itself, the grey carpet is rolled out, Jo Wood, Susan George and the Fabulous Fashionistas are all in the audience, the grey-haired models are wonderful, and I even like some of the clothes. The more structured styles, feel right – there’s a lovely navy ruffled top and matching skirt, a chic patterned jacket and the winning design by Meng Wu, a cocoon-style parka with an oversized black and white striped collar will be going into production and sold online in autumn. When Teenage Kicks by the Undertones comes on, I start to feel quite emotional.
Backstage afterwards, I chat to a couple of the models, ‘We’re a very dynamic generation,’ points out model Sylvia Gobbel, ‘Look at Kate Moss, she’s 42. Only eight years away from 50. Does she look like a grandma?!’ Gobbel, 55, is represented by model agency Mrs Robinson Management and was one of Helmut Newton’s favourite models in the 1980s. ‘We like to travel, take a younger lover, look chic. It’s not about looking young and sexy, we want to look good and feel comfortable. We want to look ageless.’ On the other hand, Daphne Selfe who is a grandma, and proud, is pleased to be helping increase the confidence and visibility of older women, ‘It’s good that older women are being celebrated – we should never feel invisible. I’m very proud to be a catwalk model at 87, I don’t think we should let age stop us doing anything.’
And she’s right. It is amazing to see older women being recognized as part of London Fashion Week and hopefully this will filter through to the high street. It would be great to have more diverse models and brands willing to pay a bit more attention to what the 50+ generation wants to wear. Maybe we need celebration before integration – maybe this Grey Pride, like Gay Pride before it has to start with a big parade. ‘Seeing older models with modern hair and make–up, looking cool, is amazing,’ adds Caroline Baker, ‘This is a wonderful era for change.’