The high-end clothing line The Row, which is designed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (of Olsen twin TV fame) has caused a media stir with its pre-fall 2014 lookbook. Wearing the clothes are three models who, unlike most professional models these days, are actual adult women. Who have been adults for a while.
The one who has drawn the most attention is a gray-haired sylph of 65. Linda Rodin, a former model and stylist who now runs her own cosmetics line, has an austere look that complements the minimalism of the clothes. She is joined by Esther de Jong, 39, and Ursula Wallis, both professional models whose prime modeling days are two decades behind them. Although, frankly, each looks so youthful that it’s unlikely a casual watcher or reader would have thought them anything but typical models.
But the point is made. You don’t have to be a 19-year-old model to look striking in these clothes and wear them well. In fact, given the three- and four-figure price tags of The Row’s line, you have to have lived and worked a few decades to afford the clothes.
The Olsens are hardly the first designers to tap into the novelty and public relations appeal of casting a few older women. But it is interesting that the Olsens — who, with their tangled long hair and kewpie-doll eyes come across as perpetual girls — would choose women of un certain age to model for their latest lookbook.
It was more surprising that American Apparel, famous for its alarmingly adolescent-looking models, cast a red-lipped older woman with a mane of gray hair in 2012 ads. Meanwhile, aging supermodels Linda Evangelista and Kristin McMenamy — she too has very long gray hair — continue to work and also give proof, as if we needed it, that a model possessed of an extraordinarily lean body at 20 basically still has that body at 47.
It’s interesting that fashion houses, when they do cast an older model, go out of their way to cast someone gray-haired. They could find scads of 65-year-old women with great bodies and expertly colored hair without a strand of gray showing. But, no, they don’t want you to miss their point: “Aren’t we great that we went out to find an older-looking model?”
And, yeah, it is great. I just wish it was more routine for designers to use a variety of women who are over 40 with a variety of hair colors and body types.
But I’m guessing this smattering of semi-real-world models is hardly going to stop the terrorizing of women’s psyches by magazines (and designer lookbooks) full of reed-thin women who are either young or sport faces so implanted with gelatinous substances and potions that they do a bizarre impression of being young.
That’s partly the fashion industry’s fault: Clothes photograph so well on surreally thin bodies. But it’s also partially consumers’ fault. We see exquisite clothes draped on exquisite bodies topped by beautiful faces and we want to buy the fantasy they offer: These clothes will make me look as good (well, almost as good) as they make her look.
I’m not suggesting we stop fantasizing about how great clothes will make us look and feel. (That is the pleasure of loving fashion.) I’m just suggesting we adjust our eyes and our fantasies to include great-looking women of various ages. I love tracking what Michelle Obama (who turns 50 on Friday and is not model thin) wears as much as I like watching what Kate Middleton (32 and model thin) wears. Both of them look stunning most of the time. Both make you covet what they are wearing.
Now, they would make a fabulous lookbook.
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