Just as we had grown accustomed to seeing 60-something women such as actresses Diane Keaton (L’Oreal), Jessica Lange (Marc Jacobs) and Charlotte Rampling (Nars), fronting glossy cosmetic campaigns in 2014, French luxury fashion house, Celine, boldly steps into the new year with the raw image of 80-year-old icon, Joan Didion.
Didion of course is no ordinary 80-year-old; for those of her vintage and decades younger, the one-time associate features editor at Vogue is famous as a literary essayist, novelist and in particular as a soul-searching chronicler of her own life.
She has continued to keep her questioning literary flame lighting, most famously in 2005 with her award-winning bestselling book, The Year Of Magical Thinking, a narrative of grief in response to the sudden death of her husband of almost 40 years, and to the severe illness of their daughter, an only child, who died just before the memoir was published.
Just three years ago, at 77, in her book Blue Nights she outlined her own anxieties about the ageing process and throughout her persistent gritty challenging of life she has also been coping with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis she received in 1968.
That Didion is still alive and still fighting in her eighth decade is a joy to fans worldwide; that she has agreed to be the face of a fashion brand just closes the circle on her extraordinary life.
Phoebe Phido, the creative director of fashion house Celine, has in one svelte swoop grabbed the headlines but in the process she has also paid homage to the broader marketing power of fashion, in promoting the unputdownable current evolution of a vital older population, by linking Didion’s intellectualism to how we dress.
Having worked for a short while at Vogue, Didion herself was not detached from the fashion world, of course.
But her most famous reference to how she dressed was made in her collection of essays The White Album, in 1979, when she was an on-the-go reporter in Hollywood. Her packing list — taped inside her wardrobe —– was a reminder to herself of what to bring when she had to leave town on a job at a moment’s notice.
Among her basic necessities such as tampons and a razor, she included a capsule wardrobe of just two skirts, two jerseys or leotards, one pullover and two pairs of shoes — a formula that would still just fit nicely into the carry-on case of any 21st century frequent flying woman.
Her minimalist — almost recalcitrant — attitude to dressing, bucks the trend of being a slave to fashion; its classic approach crosses all age groups. And therein also lies the key to Celine’s marketing coup.
As the face of the brand Didion is seen wearing her “personal uniform” of black sweater and large black sunglasses — her grey hair thinning, her lined face defiantly untouched. She has survived it all.
The capsule wardrobe allows women to embrace classic items, while still projecting their own personality as they age, says model agent and fashion stylist, 64-year-old Cecila Holman-Lee.
“Joan is like any woman since people started taking notice of fashion — how you pull your clothes together, mixing and matching pieces, ” she says.
“It’s about being comfortable with your own unique style and what suits your lifestyle. But you have to be careful with classics pieces so that they don’t age you, without expressing personality.”
So what fashion tips does she have for women as they age?
“I like to add a twist to keep myself relevant. For instance if I’m wearing the classic look of a straight skirt and a cardigan I would add a leather jacket to make it current, or lots of colour. Colour is ageless and I like to shake up an outfit.”
Like Didion, Holman- Lee says she “never goes outside the door without my sunglasses”. She tries to pick out a few classic pieces each year and this year she has included a designer black coat and ‘cigarette’ straight leg pants (black) and ankle wedge boots.
Her list for a capsule wardrobe consists of sunglasses; gloves; scarves in winter — always bright —– well-cut trousers; good pair of boots; good black dress; few pairs of shoes — including a kitten heel with wide toe for ‘running around’; knee-length skirts or dresses (never above the knee) and lots of bright colour tops or scarves to give a lift.
Being comfortable with yourself — just like Didion — should be expressed in what you choose. As fashion giant Yves Saint Laurent commented: “Fashions fade, style is eternal”