Mainstreaming advanced style

…the celebration of mature fashion icons is going corporate.

by Maxwell McBride Peterson
Providing a constant inspiration for fashion followers and industry outsiders are a diverse celebrated group of seasoned individuals who continue to make us rethink our own approach to fashion and dress. As the mainstream begins to recognize their importance, a push has been made to use their inimitable ethos to re-position brands and cash in on a generation’s golden years. But is this shift picking up the wrong teachings?

We’ve all seen them. Flashes of colour on a bleak day. A striking array of colours, patterns and sharp tailoring that push our visible spectrum, forcing us to look twice, and question could I wear that? These inspiring figures cut through the doldrums of a dull, dreary day and are without a doubt, pioneers of style. Increasingly these iconoclasts are women, and men, of a more mature age who have quickly cultivated a burgeoning digital following. Blogs such as Advanced Style – now a book, and soon to be a film - The Sartorialist and other notable street-style hubs have heavily featured the timeless style and presence of individuals of an advanced age. This devil-may-care style is inspiring and worth appreciating and has not gone unnoticed.

Mature models have stormed the fashion marketing and advertising scene of late. Lanvin made waves when they featured 62 year-old New York native Tziporah Salamon along with 82 year-old Jacquie Tajah Murdock in their current A/W 2012 campaign. The brands creative director, Alber Elbaz mentioned that he wanted to feature real people ranging from 18-80 for this campaign with an aim to “bring the clothes back to the street.” This being Murdock’s first modeling job, the octogenarian and grandmother of 10 has certainly generated PR and press buzz aplenty especially for the fashion conscious elder generation.

But Lanvin is not alone. Clothing giant American Apparel, known for its basics and neon leggings, has continuously created controversy with their ad campaigns that hyper-sexualize 20-something ‘real’ models – and some adult stars - of both genders. Their most recent cheeky move was to cast ‘Jacky’, age unknown but definitely of an older generation, to be the face, legs and everything else of the Advanced Basics line.

Without making the obvious links between the models age and the name of their line, this marketing trick is keeping the public enthralled, on our toes and most importantly spending money. This particular adoration and infatuation with crows-feet has not come from nowhere. The ageing Baby Boomer generation has an approximate buying power of $2-trillion dollars and makes up around 20% of the global population. According to NDP Group, a US based market research firm, Boomer women spend $47-billion dollars on fashion alone.

These staggering numbers are beginning to have a real impact when comparing them to the younger Millenial generation - children of the Baby Boomers born between the early '80s and 2000. According to a report by the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, Millenials still spend more on fashion per month but due to a tightening of the personal budget – because of recent economic woes - the spending gap is growing smaller. The fact is that Boomers have more disposable income. Their children are grown; they’ve begun to retire and are willing to spend more at the shops. Retailers have begun to target these Boomer consumers but are hesitant to let them lead, continuing to believe that Millenials are trendsetters. But with model and casting companies worldwide seeing a marked increase in demand for ‘mature’ or ‘sophisticated’ models it seems that people are beginning to sit up and take notice.

This shift is starting to challenge the cultural bias the industry has towards youth-oriented ideals of beauty. For years the trend was toward an ever-younger standard, which seemed to forget about people beyond their 20s, but with the hint of money to be made, it seems that this celebration of individual style from an older generation could quickly become commonplace. Reading through interviews from these individualists such as the late Anna Piaggi, Iris Apfel and the ladies who personify to a ‘T’, the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, it is easy to see a love and respect for fashion as a pure expression of the individual self-something far away from a corporate marketing boardroom and not easily translated en mass.

So while we delight and revel in the outfits, attitudes and overall outlook on life that these mature fashion icons embody, we need to recognize that it is something distinctive, something unique and something that should inspire us all.