you can never be too old to be a model

In today’s world of fast food, fast fashion, and fast fixes for even the most minuscule sign of ageing, a model’s career lifespan is far shorter now than ever. But even given this over-flowing fountain of youth, there are scores of models aged 40 and...

by Emily Manning
18 November 2014, 3:25pm

Kristen wears dress Gareth Pugh. Crown Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci. Bracelets model's own.

In an iconic document of the heroin-chic era, writer Jennifer Egan and photographer Nan Goldin profiled 16-year-old upcoming model Jaime 'James' King for The New York Times magazine in 1996. Egan wrote: "In the fashion world models are always 'girls. To 'find a girl' is to discover a teen-ager with potential. The career arc of a model requires that she start young, and the preternatural beauty of very young girls (along with their quite genuine girlishness) makes them ur-models of a sort. Even a face 21 years old doesn't look quite as fresh, and I've had models in their 20's admit that they're a few years older than they say, and tell me how hard it was to adjust to metabolic changes."

In today's world of fast food, fast fashion, and fast fixes for even the most miniscule sign of aging, Egan's sentiments still ring true. A model's career is far shorter now than it was when James was walking for John Galliano; agencies and magazines constantly crave an influx of new porcelain-perfect faces to keep the fashion industry thriving on freshness and fun. Yet despite this climate of newness, many models aged 40 and over are returning to the runway, booking luxury campaigns, and gracing countless magazine covers season after season. And so we ask ourselves: can you ever be too old to model? Here's a hint: no!

In Fall 10's The Define Yourself Issue of i-D, a then 16-year-old Lily McMenamy interviewed her mother, legendary model Kristen, about growing older in the industry. After being rejected from every agency (and being told by Eileen Ford to consider plastic surgery) Kristen's shaved eyebrows and chopped cut made her the grunge generation's androgynous anti-fashion hero. Twenty five years later, the industry is still revelling in Kristen's striking and unconventional beauty; at 49, the icon is starring in Saint Laurent and Balenciaga campaigns. "I wish people would stop being so hung up on staying young looking," she advised Lily. "It's almost like a sin to grow old these days, and gosh, what hard work! What I want to know is, when are you allowed to get old? Eventually you'll have to succumb to it. I'm not saying I'm not afraid of getting older, but I'll give it a chance."

It's not just McMenamy that's accepting aging while still booking luxury jobs. Kate Moss marked her quarter century in the industry with a Burberry Fragrance campaign and a Playboy cover. While at the helm of Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs frequently relied on more established models for his campaign imagery, including 31-year-old Isabeli Fontana, 34-year-old Gisele Bundchen, and 39-year-old Caroline de Maigret. But no recent campaign has brought together our favourite faces quite like Moschino's autumn/winter 14 advertisements. While Jeremy Scott has revitalised the storied house through playful pop takes on accessible mass market staples like McDonald's and Barbie, Moschino wisely marketed these young, fresh takes through a super-star cast, none of whom are under the age of 30. Tapping Carolyn Murphy (40), Karen Elson (35), Raquel Zimmermann (31), Saskia de Brauw (33), Stella Tennant (43), and Linda Evangelista (49), Moschino flexed its high-fashion muscle by pairing new looks with old(er) favourites. Thirty years later, the Evangelista-Meisel dream team still has the power to turn the Golden Arches into couture.

But these older models aren't just bagging print work, they've reclaimed the runway as well. This past season alone saw scores of established models cruising down the catwalk as if they'd never left. 44-year-old icon Naomi Campbell brought back some of that 98 Mugler magic and walked in both Diane von Furstenberg and Pucci's spring/summer 15 shows. De Maigret toted a protest sign and took to the "Boulevard Chanel," fired up for Karl's spring/summer 15 feminist rally. Forty-year-olds Esther de Jong and Amber Valetta even hit the catwalk for Lanvin's spring/summer 15 show, alongside teens of today like Natalie Westling and Binx Walton. At 83, Carmen dell'Orefice has foregone the nursing home for the fashion house, keeping her pace as the oldest working model in the business.

Fashion's embrace of older models is important because it bears significance far outside the industry itself. It sets an example for culture at large: beauty doesn't have an expiration date. Beauty certainly can be the smooth skin, twinkly eyes, and billboard-big smiles of youth, but that's not all it is. When we're still celebrating these women at 40, 50, 60, and all the wrinkles that come after, we're redefining what it means to be beautiful. We're opening up possibilities for people to feel beautiful. As McMenamy said: "Well, I am still modelling at 46, that goes to show there isn't a cut off point for beauty or coolness. You can keep having both way past forty. I wanna be a rockin' senior citizen!"


Text Emily Manning
Photography Josh Olins

Emily Manning
think piece
beauty week