A very different London Fashion Week began last Friday as designers showcased their Autumn/Winter collections in the first ever online all digital catwalk event, and anyone could have a usually much coveted front row seat within the comfort of their own four walls.
With lockdown restrictions, the need to be more creative stepped in. Filming their models in closed shops, empty art galleries and their own homes, many of the designers had stories to tell with the new cinematic license. The cancellation of Men’s Fashion Week in January meant that womenswear and menswear merged, creating the opportunity to showcase more gender-neutral collections that blurred the lines between masculine and feminine. Predictably and rightly so, sustainability has been a huge focus, and – alongside all of this – the fabulously familiar theatrical pageantry that is Haute Couture.
Perhaps we needed this the most. That spectacular parade of vivid colours and outrageously extravagant designs couldn’t fail but lift us. Clothes that in all likelihood would never grace the inside of our own wardrobes, but that indulge fantasy and provide inspiration for the more accessible and affordable designs we can expect to see on our high streets later this year. In its new format and over the course of five days there has been a lot to be seen, but what we didn’t see much of – yet again – was a significant representation of age diversity with older models walking the digital runway. That old chestnut – still.
Of course, there were a few. Most notably, Emilia Wickstead embraced the timeless beauty of the older model using Mouchette Bell and Stephanie Grainger (both in their 60s) to showcase a more sober collection of blazers, coats and capes in stunning rich colours evocative of the autumn and winter months. There were a handful of others, but largely, show after show was littered with the same youthful faces we see each year. Faces that are then replicated to promote the designs created for the seasonal high street fashion – clothes that we wear – essentially robbing the runway of the ageless beauty an older model represents for women like myself – women aged 40, 50, 60 and beyond.
Brands are relying on the image of youth to sell their clothes – fed by the runways for fashion that no longer represents a certain age but that extends across all generations. We wear the same! The emerging mantra is that beauty is ageless, that age is simply a number, and that we can embrace our years to be who we want to be, do what we want to do and wear exactly what we want to wear – regardless of age. If the beauty industry is finally beginning to recognise this, surely by now it should be spilling over into the fashion industry for older women, who quite frankly have more disposable income to buy these clothes than the younger models who are advertising them.
Perhaps, in reality, we like to think we have come further than we actually have. Women over a certain age might wear whatever they choose, but there is still an element of judgement that sits right alongside it when they do. Davina McCall was recently trolled for wearing a tightly fitted ankle length slip dress – “… stunning dress but not for the wrinkly crinkly … demure for the mature …” She looked fabulous, but the fact that an unnecessary verdict on her choice of dress was publicly splashed across social media can only be off-putting for older women who want to make the same choice. If other women are standing in judgement and shaming the sisterhood, what hope is there? Small wonder the catwalks stick to the flawlessly young image of the baby-faced models.
In a recent article for The Telegraph – “How growing old just disgracefully enough became our 2021 goal” – Lisa Armstrong says : “In the end, it should surely come down to personal taste and judgment. What I do know is that pushing the fashion boundaries whatever your age, is a good thing, because it’s fun, challenging and suggests an open mind.”
London Fashion Week take note. If the majority of designers insist on using only younger and perfectly shaped models for their shows, then it isn’t fun, it isn’t challenging, and it certainly doesn’t suggest an open mind. Things have to change.