what’s fuelling the stylish senior revolution?

From Joan Didion for Céline to Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent, i-D investigates, what is fueling the stylish senior revolution: money or love?

by Jane Helpern
15 January 2015, 11:35am

It was the snapshot heard around the fashion world: literary legend and inimitable octogenarian Joan Didion photographed by Juergen Teller as the oldest-newest face of Céline spring/summer 15. #InternetBroken, and it didn't even take a grotesquely-inflated bubble butt to incite mass hysteria. But apparently there were a handful of image-spinners with the same line of magical thinking as Philo and co. Before the blogosphere had the chance to visit quoteland.com and tweet their favourite excerpts from poignant Didion essays, Saint Laurent Creative Director Hedi Slimane unveiled a signature black and white campaign starring 71-year-old Joni Mitchell looking ethereal in a Woodstock-y tunic from the brand's Folk collection. If three makes a trend, then lest we forget Jessica Lange for Supreme, Advanced Style for Karen Walker, Linda Rodin for The Row, and Iris Apfel for & Other Stories and Alexis Bittar.

So what's really driving the editorial obsession with the over-sixty set? Is it a genuine interest in wise, well-lived women with amiable wrinkles, exotic silk kimonos, and wardrobes spilling over with vintage Chanel, or just a strategic move by corporations in an effort to target new markets with money to spare? Likely an indistinguishable swirling of both.

While it's no doubt that a well-aged, well-dressed lady is the current toast of the town, the fashion world's been straying from the pretty-pubescent prototype for a while now, on the prowl for a more curious muse. We first took notice in the 90s with the debut of US Vogue's annual Age Issue, and later with 'The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.' "Sexy-ugly" queen Kristen McMenamy continued to model into her middle-aged years, including a silver-haired 2011 i-D cover. More recently, with Cass Bird's plus-sized cat-walkers in lingerie, ethnically-ambiguous models embracing their albinism, and queer girls flaunting body hair and clogging the feed with #NoMakeup selfies. London-based street-casting group Anti-Agency has even carved out a thriving new business to satiate this ever-expanding appetite for less square, more diverse representations of beauty. After yawning at the current state of the modeling industry, co-founders Lucy Greene and Pandora Lennard started the "anti-modeling agency" for "girls and boys with personality who could've been models but decided not to." From anti-agency to anti-ageist, you'd have to be blind not to see that there's a coup underway, and that the rebel troops are rallying.

At the helm of this senior-citizen-revolution is photographer Ari Seth Cohen, the visionary behind Advanced Style. His blog, best-selling books, and now-documentaryhave been spreading the gospel of senior style since 2008. Cohen's early-adoration of chic grannies stems way back to a childhood bond with his best friend, grandmother Bluma, whose fabulous legacy he homages in all that he does. "As a child I couldn't wait to get old, to have as much fun as my grandmother, and to design my life exactly as I wanted to," he says in a recent interview with i-D.The rest is her-story, an aspirational stream of silver-haired luminaries in turquoise gowns, chunky baubles, and oversized spectacles passing down their age-defying secrets to voracious millennials desperate to drink from the fountain of youth before it's their turn to be cast in the old people version of an ASPCA commercial.

And the numbers back it up. According to BoF, Cohen brings in approximately 30 percent of his income from image licensing and ad revenue ($2000-$3000 a month), and the rest from consulting gigs and speaking engagements. Not bad for a blog that reveres stylish seniors in an industry that designs clothing for women built like juniors. If money talks, it's saying that society is ready to be challenged and elevated, to broaden its horizons beyond size zero models not yet of legal drinking age.

A 2014 study conducted by Nielsen reports that "In 2017, approaching half of the U.S. adult population will be 50 and older and they will control a full 70 percent of the disposable income. By 2050, there will be 161 million 50-plus consumers, a 63 percent increase over 2010." That's a lot of untapped buying power. While depressing-but-necessary products like Depends and denture creams certainly cater to a senior demographic by alleviating the unpleasant side effects of growing older, Bloomberg notes their fatal flaw. "The problem with those products - beyond the crummy ads - was they they highlighted and reinforced the debilitating effects of aging. Boomers don't want to just spend money on the things they need; they have the dollars and desire to splurge on the things they truly want." And for many successful, accomplished, and self-respecting women working well into their sixties and not sacrificing or conceding to the stereotypes of aging, a perennial Céline piece is at the top of the wish list.

In a well-timed play that can be only calculated and rooted in extensive market research, Selfridges London's 'Bright Young Things' has been rebranded as 'Bright Old Things,' swapping out spritely newcomers for decorated alums including fashion editor Molly Parkin (82) and painter William Forbes Hamilton (82). So what came first, the chicken or the egg - the call for beauty reform or the evidence to show there's a buck to be made? While that may be the fashion industry's dirty little secret to keep, I think we can all agree that in this age of overnight teen-sensations and fleeting social media celebrity, it's refreshing to see an acknowledgement of those more seasoned and masterful. A homecoming for the eternally-chic predecessors for whom this isn't their first (nor last) rodeo.


Text Jane Helpern
Photography Jeff Henrikson
Styling Stella Greenspan
Hair Melisande Page
Make-up Emi Kaneko using Kevyn Aucoin
Styling assistance Arizona Williams
Model Linda Rodin
Linda wears dress Céline. Dress (worn underneath) and sunglasses Linda's own.

Saint Laurent
Joni Mitchell
Joan Didion
Jane Helpern