Grow up, London Fashion Week: Older models campaign for representation on the catwalks

Janie Felstead ,65, Jilly Johnson ,63 , Gina Michel ,47 , Brucella Newman-Persaud, 50 and Liz Hoane 50 protesting at LFW this morning
Janie Felstead, 65, Jilly Johnson, 63 , Gina Michel, 47 , Brucella Newman-Persaud, 50 and Liz Hoane, 50, protesting at LFW this morning Credit: PA/ JD Williams

With fashion month in full swing, the issue of model diversity is once again back on the agenda. At the opening of London Fashion Week this morning, a group of models aged 47 and beyond took to the pavements to protest against their lack of representation on the catwalks. “Too old to walk for LFW?” and “Grow up London Fashion Week” were among the slogans which the models' signs read.  

 "It's meant to be a gentle reminder that we're still out there and fit for work - don't put us out to pasture now," says 63 year-old Jilly Johnson who was one of the protest's ringleaders.

It has long been rare to find any models over the age of 25 as part of the line-up in a major catwalk show, but the women who were out in force today- all working models themselves- say that those labels are missing out on a huge business opportunity by not including a diverse age range in their shows.

"People seem to think that once you reach 40, you're not interested in clothes and you don't buy anything but that's simply not true," Johnson explains, "a huge percentage of  clothes are bought by older women so fashion is making a huge mistake by ignoring that grey pound."

The models are calling for age discrimination to end  Credit: PA/ JD Williams

With some surveys suggesting that as much as 50% of consumer spending comes from that powerful "grey pound" demographic, the models- who were brought together by the retailer JD Williams for their #GrowUpLFW initiative- say that by using older models, designers could better tap into this hugely profitable market. "I think if brands recruited more mature ladies, they would gain more followers," Johnson states.   

 Johnson emphasises that there's not necessarily anything wrong with having younger models- "I love those girls"- but she does point out that it's not exactly helpful to women who might be interested in buying the clothes. "Often they are a size 4 or 6, but we want to know what the designs will look like on a real woman."

Although the elegantly blonde Johnson and her fellow models are all slender and look brilliant for their ages, she says: "We're not perfect, but I'd argue that that's what makes us more appealing. We may have a bit of a turkey neck or jelly belly but at least we're not too good to be true."

Joining Johnson at the protest was Liz Horne, a 50 year-old brunette with fabulous flashes of silver-grey, who explained that although she still had work coming in, bookings start to drop off once a model reaches 30. She was also passionate in her message that clothes should be shown on women nearer the age of the typical designer fashion customer.  “I don’t want to see girls my daughter's age wearing clothes that are meant for women of my age to buy,” she says. “It’s not appealing. I don’t see any representation of women like me.”  

Yasmin Le Bon, Eva Herzigova, Nadja Auermann and Stella Tennant in Giorgio Armani' s New Normal campaign Credit:  PETER LINDBERGH

Her friend  Gina Michel, who still models swimwear at 47, agrees. “It’s more representational and aspirational to see an older model. Liz is an aspirational 50 year-old. Why wouldn’t you want to see her in clothes?”

So, how successful can the protesters expect their campaign to be? There's a plethora of positive signs that the industry is waking up to the power of the older woman. Perhaps the watershed moment was when Phoebe Philo, creative director at Celine, chose then 82 year-old author Joan Didion to star a campaign in January 2015.

Since then, Armani has turned to 52 year-old Yasmin Le Bon and 46 year-old Stella Tennant while Saint Laurent featured 71 year-old Joni Mitchell and 43 year-old Amber Valletta walked at the Michael Kors show in New York earlier this week.

Maye Musk, one of the models enjoying a greynaissance Credit: Rex

“Who would believe at 68 you’d be getting better jobs?” Maye Musk said in an interview with The Telegraph last year of her 'greynaissance'. “I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that when I started 53 years ago. But it’s just so much fun.”

This Sunday, The Sunday Telegraph's Stella magazine stars British supermodel Cecilia Chancellor on its cover. At 50, Chancellor has been modelling for nearly three decades but is making a comeback with recent work including shoots with Peter Lindbergh and a Miu Miu campaign. 

Last fashion season however, just 13 over 50 year-old models appeared on catwalks throughout the month, a statistic which shows just how tokenistic their inclusion can still be. 

"Recently we've seen the likes of Lauren Hutton covering campaigns which is lovely to see," adds Johnson, referring to Hutton's recent starring role in Bottega Veneta's Srping/Summer 2017 show and subsequent adverts. "I think someone should ask Twiggy back on the catwalk, I know she'd be up for it."  Maybe next London Fashion Week, that wish could become a reality.