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The new grey power: Why older women are hot in fashion and beauty now

Last week, L’Oréal introduced its newest U.K. ambassador, a familiar if surprising name: Dame Helen Mirren. Of course, Dame Helen is gorgeous, but she’s also 69. In the past, the beauty brand has enlisted the likes of Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton for its ads, but more typical choices are of the under-30 variety, such as starlets Blake Lively and Lea Michele, also fronting the brand right now. Even so, L’Oréal welcomed Mirren to its stable with much fanfare, cementing a trend that industry watchers have noticed for months: Style is having a senior moment, embracing (and showcasing) the 65-plus set like never before.

Take NARS Cosmetics, which in August hired British actress Charlotte Rampling, 68, to be the face of its 20th-anniversary campaign. And Marc Jacobs Beauty, which earlier in the year tapped Jessica Lange, the 65-year-old star of American Horror Story, to represent the line. “It’s a healthy thing for women,” says Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing, a New York company that counsels clients on how to market to different generations. Besides tapping an underserved (and relatively affluent) demographic, says Fishman, presenting older women as paragons of beauty will likely click with younger consumers as well. “Generation X and Millennials also see these women as people they can relate to,” she notes, adding that many will be fans of Lange’s or Mirren’s work and can imagine growing older like them as both appealing and attainable.

Charlotte Rampling. Photo courtesy of NARS Cosmetics

That is probably why fashion brands are also getting in on the act. The Row, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s luxe fashion line, featured Linda Rodin, a former fashion editor and stylist who now runs a skin-care company, in a recent lookbook. Last month, & Other Stories, Swedishbased H&M’s high-end sister brand, used Iris Apfel, the eccentric nonagenarian whose style has been the subject of many a fawning fashion-blog post, to front its U.S. launch; campaign images were shot in her eclectic Manhattan apartment.

“They bring confidence, and they bring expertise,” Ari Seth Cohen, who photographed Apfel for the & Other Stories campaign, says of her and her contemporaries. The 33-year-old lensman, who is best known for Advanced Style, the blog he launched six years ago to document the street style of the elderly, can be considered an early adopter of the old-is-beautiful mantra. “Growing up, my grandmothers were my best friends, the people I looked up to for advice, for friendship,” Cohen says over the phone from California. He was always surprised, he adds, “that my friends and other people didn’t have this kind of positive view of older people.”

Helen Mirren. Getty Images

Well, they’re starting to now. Published by powerHouse Books in 2012, Cohen’s coffee-table tome based on the blog (also called Advanced Style) is currently in its seventh printing; a corresponding documentary that he made with director Lina Plioplyte made its debut to much acclaim at Toronto’s Hot Docs Festival in April. The fact that clothing and beauty brands are also jumping on the bandwagon is a reflection of the degree to which they are moulded by (rather than driving) popular opinon these days. “Age diversity is a movement,” says Ben Barry, an assistant professor in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University and the founder of the Ben Barry Agency, a now-shuttered modeling agency that represented a diverse roster of talent, including mature models. “The fashion industry no longer holds ultimate power to decide who is beautiful and what is fashionable,” Barry says. “With social media and technology, consumers also hold that power now – and consumers are the fashion industry’s most valuable assets. Fashion brands have to listen to their views or risk extinction.”

Old habits do die hard, however. At its show in Milan this fall, Prada sent a 14-year-old model, Roos Abels of the Netherlands, down the catwalk – to many raised eyebrows and more than a little disgust. A similar backlash greeted the appointment of U.S. actress Hailee Steinfeld, then also 14, as a face of Miu Miu (a Prada offshoot, not coincidentally) in 2011.

Jessica Lange. Reuters

By contrast, the new ubiquity of older models has been met with almost universal praise. “We’re having a hard time deciding what’s more gorgeous – Charlotte Rampling’s Nars campaign or the luxurious lipsticks she’s fronting,” Marianne Mychaskiw wrote on InStyle’s website in August. Of Rodin’s modeling work for The Row, the Huffington Post gushed: “[She] more than holds her own in the Olsens’ edgy, streamlined pieces, showing off the brand’s trapeze coats, shift dresses and blazers like the seasoned pro she is.”

Enlisting “older models tells consumers that fashion is for all of us, no matter our age,” Barry says approvingly, noting, like Fishman, that brands who do so are likely to benefit financially as well as attract good will. “The women’s fashion market has a flat growth curve,” he notes. “For fashion brands to grow, they need to target consumers who they currently exclude and who have the disposable income to buy.”

Olsen twin muse Linda Rodin. Getty Images

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