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What Gens X, Y and Z need: more older women in fashion campaigns

Breaking age barriers will not only help reshape the industry but also serve as a powerful narrative for a generation challenging stereotypes

Beyonce with Diana Ross (in black) during the Renaissance World Tour show in Los Angeles, US, last year
Beyonce with Diana Ross (in black) during the Renaissance World Tour show in Los Angeles, US, last year (Getty Images )

Diana Ross for Saint Laurent’s spring 2024 campaign, Sheetal Mallar at Sabyasachi’s recent high jewellery runway showcase, Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s Return Of The Muse campaign with supermodels, Maggie Smith for Loewe’s spring 2024 pre-collection campaign, Mehr Jesia and Madhu Sapre as the cover stars for a recent Vogue India issue— fashion finally seems to be playing catch-up when it comes to the inclusion of older women.

The change in attitude started becoming more visible towards the middle of 2023 when Apple TV+ released the documentary series The Super Models that follows the lives and careers of supermodels Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington Burns—all in their 50s. There’s no denying that fashion has an age issue. It chases youth. But then, the fashion industry is full of ironies. It can be a powerful voice for highlighting social issues, be it gender equality or environmental concerns; yet it can have a diversity problem (more white men as creative heads of international brands) and continue to pollute the planet.

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A marketing buzzword?

With issues around diversity, equity and inclusivity (DEI), things seem to come in waves. At one point, in fashion, it was all about gender, then it became about size, and now, it’s age. As a woman of a certain age (50), I am hoping this current championing of age is more than just a trend.

“From a commercial standpoint, ‘women of a certain age’ cannot be ignored,” says Nonita Kalra, a Gen Xer and a veteran fashion editor. “They have the money, the taste and the understanding of luxury. If you don’t address them, you lose customers. In the past, women allowed themselves to be excluded from the conversation, but now they will not stand for it.” She cites the example of brand Lancôme and Italian actor-model Isabella Rossellini to explain her point. “This is no longer the lone case of Lancôme reinstating Isabella Rossellini—20 years after dropping her for being too old. Age inclusivity, or ‘pro-aging’ as brands prefer to use, is here to stay because it makes business sense.”

Sheetal Mallar in 'Return Of The Muse' campaign
Sheetal Mallar in 'Return Of The Muse' campaign (Courtesy Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla/Ram Shergill/Instagram)

The good news is that campaigns such as Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s Return Of The Muse have received positive feedback from across age categories. “To grow older is a privilege–it is to grow wiser and bring a world of experience to the table. We wanted to put our OG supermodels centre stage once again because old is truly gold,” says Abu Jani, explaining why they chose Arjun Rampal, Nayanika Chatterjee, Sheetal Mallar, Carol Gracias, Lakshmi Rana, Dino Morea, Dayana Erappa and Rikee Chaterjee. Perhaps that’s why the response has been unbelievable, adds Sandeep Khosla.

So, there is hope supermodels and other personalities in campaigns and on runways is more than just a passing phase. With many brands choosing faces such as Helen Mirren or, in India, Zeenat Aman—both have a strong social media presence and a big follower base across age groups, especially Gen Z—it does look like it has more to do with marketing and profit than positive messaging.

“I do believe many of these inclusivity campaigns are because of marketing buzzwords—but even if they start as a trend, I think the larger idea is that representation matters,” says fashion influencer Tarini Manchanda, a millennial. “Just by virtue of seeing certain imagery again and again, we normalise it, and I think, for me, that is the most important thing.”

In other words, healthy conversations are a by-product than intention. These campaigns need to become far more encouraging, promoting positive attitudes towards aging, especially at a time when 15-year-olds are worrying about looking old.

Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, is spending more than ever on beauty products, which might work well for the bottom lines of beauty corporations but it is a sign of how social media has created unrealistic standards when it comes to looks and beauty.

Today’s youngsters are worried about “aging like milk” (as opposed to like fine wine) and using retinoids and applying face tape. Scroll through your Instagram feed and you will meet many 14-year-olds obsessing over aging. Campaigns featuring mature women can act as an antidote to that. “I like to see older women living their lives the way they want, because, for me, that gives me hope,” Manchanda says. “The thing is we’re told that aging is this super scary process and that we are completely invisible once we are old. Repeatedly seeing more mature women looking so full of life and looking so cool, it does help change the perception of aging.”

With many supermodels and veteran actors aging as naturally as possible, allowing their wrinkles and smile lines to shine, it is not only the 30-somethings that enjoy these campaigns. “I like to see women who look like me. Not better than me. Or something I need to aspire to—because to be perfectly honest, at my age, I am more than happy with myself. I made peace with my imagined shortcomings a long time ago,” says Kalra. “Now I want to see a woman with lines on her face because I know her experiences match mine. That she has allowed herself to live and love.”

Dress Sense is a monthly column on the clothes we wear every day.

Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.

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