Silver beauties

In Hong Kong last week, the beauty brand Yves St Laurent (YSL) Beaute rolled out a new series of glossy lip stains under its Pop Water collection.

Hung on the walls of the glitzy launch parties were portraits of 19 Hong Kong celebrities sporting the new colours.

Amid the collection of young models and actresses pouting, winking and gazing into the camera, one portrait stole the show - 80-year-old actress Helena Law Lan in a black turtleneck, beaming effortlessly with the lip stain in one hand.

The Hong Kong veteran, who is best known for her roles in more than 36 Hong Kong horror movies, set the world of social media abuzz with her glowing portrait.

She represents one of the first Asian faces in a growing list of fashion and beauty campaigns featuring older women.

Actress Jessica Lange, 65, was the face of Marc Jacobs Beauty Fall 2014 collection. Actress Charlotte Rampling, 68, was the ambassador for the Nars Cosmetics Fall 2014 campaign.

This year, actress Helen Mirren was chosen as the UK ambassador for L'Oreal Paris' Spring collection.

Writer Joan Didion, 80, was photographed for Celine and businesswoman Iris Apfel, 93, modelled accessories for Kate Spade.

While manly silver foxes have always been featured in the fashion industry, their female counterparts have only recently become popular.

The trend began, arguably, in 2013, when French actress Catherine Deneuve, 70, was cast as one of the ambassadors for Louis Vuitton's Spring 2014 collection.

Soon after, 85-year-old model Daphne Selfe walked down the runway for French fashion house Jean Paul Gaultier.

YSL Beaute's recent engagement of actress Law Lan marks the trend's expansion into the Asian market.

By and large, the fashion world's reception of this trend has been positive.

Pundits laud it as an injection of authenticity into an industry notorious for perpetuating unattainable standards of youth and beauty.

When icons such as Charlotte Rampling, who has openly sworn off plastic surgery, are photographed with their laugh lines and crows feet still intact, it shatters the fashion industry's illusion of an eternally nubile woman.

Ms Jolene Tan, a senior manager at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) in Singapore, reflected that this is "a welcome first step towards making the media more representative of all kinds of women, old and young alike".

Ms Tan added that it is high time "the world of advertising reflected the diversity of the real world, rather than just a narrow range of young, skinny women".

For the fashion houses, engaging older models allows them to associate their brand with a legacy instead of just a pretty face.

Mr Ewan Shah, head booker at Upfront Models, said: "More clients are looking to market a lifestyle, not just an image. They look for older models because it makes the campaign more believable."

According to global trends tracker, Nielsen, the United States adult population above the age of 50 will control 70 per cent of disposable income by 2017.

Closer to home, the Ministry of Social and Family Development has stated that by 2030, one in five residents will be 65 years or older. The majority of these seniors will be healthy and have disposable income.

In light of these projections, it makes sense that fashion houses adapt marketing strategies to relate to older consumers.

UpFront models in Singapore has already formed a new division, called Skin by Upfront, to recruit and represent older models.

However, there are also some industry watchers who question the sustainability of these initiatives.

Fashion columnist Hadley Freeman, who writes for The Guardian, worries that engaging older models is simply an attempt to exploit their cultural position for commercial gain.

She writes that when senior models star in these high-profile campaigns, they risk being "reduced to mere statements of an aspirational lifestyle" - a problem which they often acknowledge for themselves.

Speaking to Zoe Wolff for Interview Magazine, Rampling admitted that she was averse to associating herself with a brand but made an exception for Francois Nars.

Similarly, in an interview with Dazed And Confused magazine, Apfel said: "Fashion is not my life. I don't live to get dressed."

Whether the recent inclusion of older models reflects a genuine realignment in beauty standards, or whether, like Nu Models Manager Kit Chng believes, it is "just a passing fad, used to shock consumers", is difficult to say.

Some brands, such as American fashion house Kate Spade, have stated that they will continue with a multi-generational marketing approach.

Chief marketing officer Mary Beech remarked that "this is definitely a marathon for us, not a sprint".

Even more uncertain is when, if ever, this trend will present itself in Asian markets.

A study of the self-image of ageing elders by the University of Hong Kong in 2012 found that the self-image of the elderly has declined rapidly in societies with a strong tradition of filial piety, such as the Chinese.

Yet, if one looks at the fervent support across social media for YSL Beaute's recent engagement of Law Lan - see the hashtag #goals or #aginggoals for reference - it would seem that Asia, now more than ever, is clamouring for authentic representations of women in mass media.

This article was first published on May 10, 2015.
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