It's time for fashion brands to wake up to the power of older women

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sarah jessica parker Gillian Anderson Davina McCall - Getty Images
sarah jessica parker Gillian Anderson Davina McCall - Getty Images

Last week, JD Williams announced it had joined with Amanda Holden, 50, and Davina McCall, 53, to launch two separate clothing collections.

If your taste doesn’t chime with Holden’s or McCall’s, you may be questioning whether this is, in any way, good news. It is – in this respect.

Holden and McCall, rather than a bunch of 23-year-old models, are each fronting their brands.

This is surprisingly rare. Miuccia Prada is 72. Stella McCartney is 49. Anna Sui, 56, Isabel Marant, 54, Diane von Furstenberg 74, Gabriela Hearst, 44, Alberta Ferretti, 71. That’s an impressively diverse range of ages. No one looks more at home in Prada’s quirkiest looks than Miuccia Prada, just as Isabel Marant is one of the best ambassadors for her label’s Parisian school of rock chic meets boho. There is no upper limit in fashion. Vivienne Westwood is 80.

amanda holden - JD Williams
amanda holden - JD Williams

Yet, understandably, none of these designers choose to put themselves in their own advertising campaigns or on the catwalks. Well, apart from Westwood. Less understandably, few of them ever use models over 30. Consistently, I mean, not just as a once-in-a-half-decade pity gesture.

Isn’t that a bit weird? Not to say boring?

Rhetorical questions. Women over 50 (and men, because they’re often ignored by fashion advertisers too) contributed over a third of the total spend on fashion in the UK in 2019 – £12.2 billion out of a total of £34.6 billion, according to research by the data agency Kantar. And we’d almost certainly spend more if we felt brands could be bothered to speak to us. I know from Telegraph readers’ responses how frustrated customers get with the constant stream of youth – not just because they can be hard to relate to but because it suggests brands can take us or leave us. Anyone would think they’ve had a fabulous 18 months and don’t need our money.

Take M&S and MaxMara, mid and upmarket labels known for classics. Yet it’s hard to find any kind of representation on their websites of the kind of women who actually buy their clothes. Surely they’re not secretly embarrassed that their clothes appeal predominantly to older women.

balenciaga - Courtesy of Balenciaga
balenciaga - Courtesy of Balenciaga

If that’s really the case, they’re out of step with the public. Younger fashion customers, for instance, are far more attuned to rubbing along with older generations than we were (after all, they listen to music from their grandparents’ era) and appreciate pictures of older stylish women – which is why forward thinking labels like Gucci and Balenciaga put them centre stage. “Just as I find inspiration in young people, I think the process of ageing can be beautiful,” says Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia. “There’s a grace and elegance that can happen with age – and older people have had time to develop a personality.”

Some of the biggest style influencers on Instagram, such as Parisian boutique owner Linda Tol (495,00 followers), stylist-turned-beauty-brand Linda Rodin (292,000 followers) and socialite/author Costanza Pascolato (734,000) are in their 60s and 70s. These women have individuality and style dripping from their little fingers and a panache that transcends age brackets. Any brand thinking straight should sign them up immediately.

fendi couture Paulina Porizkova for Fendi - Courtesy of Fendi
fendi couture Paulina Porizkova for Fendi - Courtesy of Fendi

Fendi, under its new creative director Kim Jones, makes a point of mixing up its cast. Coach is using a 52-year-old for the second year running. Mind you, the 52-year-old in question is J Lo, who’s not typical. But maybe that’s the point – what do 50 and 60 somethings (or for that matter an 80 something) look like these days? Like Holden and McCall? Jodie Foster? Michelle Obama? The more variety out there the better.

jlo coach - Courtesy of Coach
jlo coach - Courtesy of Coach

Why isn’t John Lewis leading the way on this? Is it just that there aren’t enough older models (the 62-year-old model Mouchette Bell is busier than ever) or is it because they can only deal with one sort of inclusiveness at a time, which means that casting ethnically diverse models is currently taking up all their head space?

If there aren’t enough older models on the agency’s books, then it’s time to be creative. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of role models, both famous and waiting to be discovered. Cindy Crawford, 55, is on the cover of this month’s Tatler in a Chanel mini skirt, Helena Christensen, 52, is everywhere in yet another set of underwear pictures and Sharon Stone is constantly reminding everyone how to steal the show.

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Meanwhile last week I discovered a wonderful Irish linen label set up by an entrepreneurial 20-year-old. Imara earth is a sustainable label based in Ireland specialising in multi- functional linen pieces – hats that double as bags, blouses that can be worn as dresses with button-on attachments. For every piece sold, Amy Condell, its founder and designer, plants a tree. She also uses a range of models, including her neighbour, Carmel Patterson.

The Hannah dress, £299, Imara Earth
The Hannah dress, £299, Imara Earth

The Hannah dress, £299, Imara Earth

“She’s 60 and still has it,” says Condell. “I’m 27, but found after my first launch last summer that my target audience was older than I had imagined. That’s why I was super keen to get my target market into my pieces this time round, so they can picture themselves in them too.” If a one-year-old start up gets it, how hard can it be?

Lisa Armstrong's column appears each Saturday in The Saturday Telegraph and is published online every Saturday at 6am on Telegraph Fashion.

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