Paris fashion week usually celebrates youth, artifice and maximum effort in the department of physical appearance. But this week there has been a big old French fuss about the joy of being natural and authentic.
Pamela Anderson has rocked up at shows “makeup-free at 56”. Andie MacDowell, 65, and Dame Helen Mirren, 78, “sported natural grey hair” (ie, they turned up while possessing hair) on the runway for L’Oréal. Making a lot of effort is, of course, still in fashion. All these looks probably involve complications of one kind or another: an endless carousel of painfully “carefree” outfits or a hairstyle that – at the very least – needs several hours of styling. (Important side note: if you’re still coveting grey hair like Meryl Streep’s in The Devil Wears Prada, that was actually a wig.)
Beauty brands have been promoting the idea that looking your age is aspirational
No judgment meant here, though: Paris fashion week should be about fabulousness. And, as the old saying goes, these women would be fabulous in a bin bag. But despite the usual smoke and mirrors, and the mass of products, money and primping that have gone into these looks, real change is afoot. There is a distinct move towards what is called “pro-ageing”, in which the ageing process is celebrated.
The word “pro-ageing” has been used by beauty brands such as Studio 10, Tropic Skincare, Clarins and Look Fabulous Forever for a while, promoting the idea that looking your age is aspirational. Now women who would not have been permitted within the Périphérique during Paris fashion week 20 years ago are championed.
There has always been something tedious about the “debate” around what women are “allowed” to look like; what is applauded, what is encouraged. After all, there is a huge difference between the women Elizabeth Hurley once called “civilians” (non-celebrities) and those whose professional currency depends on their appearance and relevance.
Joan Rivers, an enemy of ageing, let alone pro-ageing, knew this. She underwent a series of medical procedures that were not only designed to make her look younger but also made her the subject of the headlines and gossip that were necessary to maintain a career in showbusiness.
Anderson’s move may be guileless and just how she likes to leave the house nowadays. We don’t know. But it achieves the same effect as Rivers’ surgeries: commentary, pictures, a touch of the viral. All the same, as Jamie Lee Curtis wrote of Anderson, something unusual is happening: “This woman showed up and claimed her seat at the table with nothing on her face. I am so impressed and floored by this act of courage and rebellion.”
Is it really that rebellious? Yes, if your face is your fortune and you depend on the judgment of others. And yes, there is something depressing too about the fact that 70 years after Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex, we still consider it to be “courageous” if a woman appears in public under the same conditions under which a man of any age appears in public (ie, washed and wearing some clothes).
But this “courageous act” has been in evidence on social media channels for a while now, with “ordinary” people and celebrities posting about growing out their grey hair, being makeup-free and loving their wrinkly neck. One of the biggest influences of recent years in the fashion world is Iris Apfel, who recently announced her 102nd birthday on Instagram to her 2.9 million followers. The good news? Still fabulous. The bad news? She wears 56bn accessories every day (mostly bangles). You can age. But the message is clear: you had better still bloody well make an effort.