The old face of the future

Written by Daisy Dumas

It may have taken some aback when it was revealed last week, but the latest face of American Apparel, that of 60-year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy, may be the face of things to come.

“There was something so compelling about Jacky’s look and energy when we first spotted her in a New York restaurant this winter, we introduced ourselves and pulled up a chair,” writes the LA-based brand on its Facebook site.

That a grey-haired, spirited, wrinkled, real woman is used in the ads is a wonderful thing in an age of wind-tunnel faces, immovable foreheads, bottom implants and a one-size-fits-all approach to augmented ‘beauty’.

No stranger to courting controversy, American Apparel’s Dov Charney strives to raise eyebrows – and while that has landed fashion’s bad boy in legal hot water several times, using staturesque O’Shaughnessy in the latest ads is spot-on.

She joins a growing group of models – territory that has hitherto been the preserve of famed beauties Carmen Dell’Orefice, 81, and Daphne Selfe, 83, – who represent those ‘of a certain age’. And she is at the younger end of the burgeoning sector.

Valerie Ramsey, 72, is a model and author of Gracefully Looking and Being your Best at Any Age. She was discovered at age 63 and has gone on to front campaigns for Lexus, amongst others.

“I think younger women are looking at women like us and seeing that we are real, that we are continuing to be involved, that we have something very, very dynamic to offer to the world,” she told MSNBC’s Today show recently.

She has signed up to Silver, a new Paris-based agency that represents ages 40 to 85 – a savvy move by its creators, who are tapping into a trend that is only on the up.

Compelling as 6-foot O’Shaughnessy’s energy may be, the move to use a grey-haired beauty rather than a semi-naked teen is underpinned by sound – even screamingly loud – economics.

“The fact is, baby boomers and their money will be around for at least another 15 years,” advertising mogul Donny Deutsh told the show. As the boomer wave flows through population charts, it moves further from another, growing concern: Australia’s younger population is shrinking. We are living for longer, having babies later, staying at home for longer and retiring later. Silver surfers wield massive buying power when it comes to cars, holidays, clothes, leisure and, yes, beauty products.

Rudi Tartaglia from Tartaglia Marketing in Brisbane told Life & Style: “There is a shift in purchasing power of demographics. In 2002, Australia had an 11 per cent population of over 65s. We are forecasted to have around 26 per cent by 2050.”

“The over 65s were, for a time, the lost generation. They are now a viable and growing market.” And one way to skew messages to the grey dollar, is, he says, to use people we relate to in ads.

There is a growing awareness, he said, that products that weren’t intended to focus on that market now have a potential new audience – and it’s only natural, then, to change the messages in ads. Enter O’Shaughnessy appearing for a streetwear company more usually associated with overtly sexual references and semi-clad young girls.

It is not alone, nor is it a trail-blazer. MAC cosmetics – big on edgy colours for the younger fashion-driven woman – launched a line of make-up inspired by nonagenarian Iris Apfel  in January. The bombastic palette suited the wonderfully eccentric 90-year-old textile designer’s character to a tee – and sold out within days.

Iris Apfel told MSNBC’s Today show: “We have an insane love affair with youth. Youth is beautiful and wonderful, but there’s lots more. Life doesn’t stop when you’re 30.”

For MAC to use a 90-year-old woman is sign enough that the beauty industry – and others – are catching on. American Vogue’s January covergirl was 63-year-old Meryl Streep.

In Australia, where marketing is not so segmented says Tartaglia, the trend is a little slower on the uptake – but change is creeping in.

Leea Oak, GM of Scoop Management, leading model agency Chic’s commercial arm, says her models, up to age 50, are in huge demand, especially as she has seen more and more brands trying to appeal to a larger age-range, “to open up to the market share of the older generation.”

While she believes the ground may not yet be ripe for Apfels or Ramseys here, she thinks “that time will come. It’s just about being brave enough to do it. “I would like to see it happen.”

But the move isn’t all pervasive – or at least, not yet.

Priscilla Leighton-Clark, the director Sydney-based model agency Priscillas, has seen no change in demand for older women models. She believes that, instead, Australia has always had a strong base of “stock-standard Australian clients who like older women.”

She sees the likes of Apfel as eccentric distractions from the overwhelming demand for youth in beauty – despite having Emma Balfour, in her 40s, and Carolyn Oates, in her 60s, on her books who are both see regular work and are “very beautiful” older women.

“It’s unrealistic to think that women in their 70s and 80s are going to have regular modelling work. There are the eccentric characters – every now and again it works well. But fashion has always been about young people.”

She echoes a cultural norm: like it or not, we are fascinated by youth.

Nevertheless, authenticity is a buzzword. We’ve seen it succeed for the likes of Australian Women’s Weekly – Sarah Murdoch’s un-retouched cover picture was a triumph – while the furore over Deborah Hutton’s retouched Weekly cover left no doubt as to the expectations of many readers. Natural ageing is better.

All of these women are not airbrushed to within an inch of their lives, they are not Botoxed (obviously, at least) and do not have faces that look as if they are in an open-topped speeding car. They are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and they look that way (it says something of our notions of inherently predictable ageing that wrinkles are seen as a less predictable marketing strategy). These are old women selling products that appeal to their age-groups and beyond. And what is wrong with wrinkles, anyway?

Ramsey, perhaps over-optimistically, told Today that “real beauty comes from … confidence and from having courage to be ourselves, from the wisdom that we have acquired within ourselves over the years, from vibrancy, excitement, about being involved in life.”

Yes, it may be underpinned by par-for-the-course commerce and marketing, but there’s something catching about the resolve to treat ageing as a special gift. As Apfel told the show:  “If you’re lucky enough to get old, you should celebrate it.”

Rudi Tartaglia is  a Brisbane based marketing consultant, and works with Brisbane businessses, providing marketing advice across a range of areas. Rudi is also an acc with Small


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