Older women may have higher spending power than Generation Z, but inclusivity is not yet on everyone’s mind in the fashion world.
The recent haute couture week in Paris was one of those rare big fashion showcases where more older women walked the runway. From Rahul Mishra to Balenciaga to Chanel, brands have tried to balance their obsessive love for Gen Z shoppers by appealing to older consumers who have long been committed haute couture shoppers.
Almost at the same time, two editions of the fashion magazine Fashion celebrated Indian superstars Rekha, 68, and Zeenat Aman, 71, on their covers. A few months earlier, Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh, 60, became the new face of luxury brand La Mer. Is the fashion world finally embracing the 45+ woman? Or is it just more tokenism, like the inclusion of some plus-size models on the ramp?
There are reasons to hope that a shift in fashion’s relationship to age is underway, given the discussions that have been taking place about the industry not moving fast enough on its promise of inclusion.
Author Shobhaa De, who is in her 70s, says it “has become cool” to embrace all things “grey” and brands have realized that the 45-50 age group is a lucrative market. “People in their 60s and 70s have the economic power to drive brands forward and help them achieve commercial success,” says De, “The market for anti-aging products has exploded. Women my age can afford to spend (minus the guilt) taking care of ourselves.”
Former model and philanthropist Feroze Gujral, who is in her early 50s, agrees. “Couture is shown on a 20-year-old, but a lot of the merchandise is bought by people over the age of 35. The target aspect is 18, but the target price point is 35+. Haute couture is expensive,” she says.
Delhi-based Mishra chose senior model and journalist Sheila O’Callaghan as one of its models for the couture presentation in Paris. She “She looked elegant. During the casting process, she was our first choice and she had great energy,” says 43-year-old Mishra. For the upcoming Indian Couture Week (July 25 to August 2), he and his team are looking for an older model. “We’d like to choose models that embody eternity like her,” he says, emphasizing that it’s all about getting the right kind of attitude for a particular garment.
The couturier JJ Valaya, in his 50s, has spent years advocating eternity in fashion. He has often featured senior models in his shows, dancer Navtej Johar, 60, being the latest. “This trend can also continue in my show during Indian Couture Week,” he says. “Fashion and style have nothing to do with age. In fact, it gets better with age.”
Model Adhir Bhagwanani, 63, has noticed an increase in demand for seniors, both men and women, on the Indian ramp, in TV ads and brand campaigns. “The trend of choosing gray-haired models has been around in the West for the last five or six years and now India is copying it.” Bhagwanani says that he has never faced discrimination, but adds that “there’s a lot of room for more inclusion at the casting ramps.”
That’s what designer Dolly J. also wants for her shows. “To date we have not had a propitious moment for such inclusion. We are working to make this a reality soon,” says Dolly, who is part of the India Couture Week calendar. “It is crucial to promote eternal youth, regardless of gender, in shows.”
As De says: “Women after 40 invariably struggle to find a space for themselves in a world that is anything but age-agnostic. All the silver ladies gracing covers and fashion shows, big hooray! But will this translate into more attention being paid to lesser-known women of a certain age? Only time will tell.”
Manish Mishra is a fashion journalist and digital creator.
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