The Beauty Project: Women who refuse to fade with age

MENTION reaching the age of 100 in Ireland and we think of the congratulatory letter and cheque which the president issues and the hope that the recipients can still enjoy their very special birthday.

The Beauty Project: Women who refuse to fade with age

But last week the British chain store Selfridges, in conjunction with Dove, used the issue of age to launch a six week campaign called The Beauty Project, starting it with a debate entitled How to Look Hot at 100.

That a centenarian woman might be considered ‘hot’ is an indication of how the concept of beauty — not just skin deep — is being broadened to include an older population who strive to remain vital and to be seen.

Women who’ve had careers, reared families, loved and lived for decades — and who have lines on their faces — want to see themselves on billboards, in magazines and in social media campaigns and the marketing industry is beginning to listen.

Marks & Spencer has been clever at recognising this: the second phase of its ‘Leading Ladies’ campaign for its spring/summer collection continued to feature older women, including actress Emma Thompson, 54, and singer-songwriter and political activist Annie Lennox, 59.

The message? Not only are they exceptional women in their field, with ‘real’ shapes, but they continue to hold their place in society among the younger Leading Ladies in the group.

In tandem with this has been the increasing visibility of the more mature model — actress Catherine Deneuve, 70, fronting the latest Louis Vuitton campaign; the world’s oldest supermodel Daphne Selfe, 83, who recently modelled for TK Maxx and a 62-year-old grey haired unknown New Yorker called Jacky O’Shaughnessy who was controversially snapped in lacy lingerie for American Apparel.

Among those at the Selfridges’ debate on beauty, style and age, was 76-year-old model Jean Woods who was one of six feisty women, average age 80, who made a splash on Channel 4 last September in an uplifting documentary by award-winning director Sue Bourne, entitled Fabulous Fashionastas.

She was joined in the debate by a 31-year-old New York city based, self-described ‘old lady expert’, Ari Seth Cohen, who has been celebrating the street style of older women in the Big Apple since 2008. His blog called Advance Style, was followed by a book, making the 50-plus circle of sassy women he’s encountered, icons in their own right.

And his new documentary, directed by Lino Plioplyte, also called Advanced Style, featuring older women expressing their personalities through their quirky creative style, has been showing all week at Dublin’s Light House cinema.

Closer to home, Ireland’s own high-profile mature fashion icon, and model agency owner, Celia Holman Lee, says she “has a thing about this term ageing.”

“Women ageing? We are all just beautiful and moving on!” says the 63-year-old style awards winner.

Agreeing that older women are now being portrayed more prominently she says:“All these manufacturers of clothes and cosmetics have realised that those over 50 have a few bob, with mortgages paid for and the kids gone. But it works both ways — our confidence as older women is much higher now and we know what we want from them.”

For women to remain beautiful she says they should avoid clothes “they see their daughter running around in” and dress “age appropriately”.

But while Celia’s style is obviously classic, Jacky O’Shaughnessy in an interview with Elle, responded to the critics of her sexy American Apparel lingerie campaign by saying: “I’m comfortable, I don’t feel any of this is inappropriate.”

When people talk about age- appropriate hairstyles and appropriate dressing, well, whose age? And who are you?”

Older models like her, leading the way defiantly along with those fabulous screen fashionistas, may seem removed from the average woman on the street, but they’re a more hopeful representative than the flawless, lithe young females urging them to buy into eternal youth... right up to collecting that centenary cheque.

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