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Fashion 88 : Panel Focuses on Power of Women Over 45

December 09, 1988|MELISSA SONES | United Press International Fashion Writer

NEW YORK — In recent months, interest in the over-40 audience--and marketing products to that rich group--has been booming, thanks in no small part to Lear's magazine.

The latest stab at explaining this fuzzy market occurred Dec. 1 at a panel titled "Age Power: Where the Money Is," focusing on women over 45.

The panel featured Grace Mirabella, former editor-in-chief of Vogue and publication director of Mirabella, a fashion magazine due in June; Frances Lear of Lear's magazine, Evelyn Lauder of Estee Lauder Inc. and Shirley Young, a marketing executive for General Motors Corp. and Grey Advertising. About 550 attended, many of them members of the Fashion Group, the industry organization sponsoring the event.

Modern Health Care

Mirabella began by emphasizing a key theme--the changing chronology of old age thanks to advances in health care.

She noted that 20 was considered middle age in the 19th Century, 30 in the early 20th Century. Today, she said, her husband, who is a surgeon, regularly sees patients in their 70s, 80s, and 90s and no longer makes medical decisions where age is the overriding factor.

Underscoring the theme, Frankie Cadwell, partner in Cadwell Davis Advertising, called this changing chronology "a gift of 10 years," adding that "old age has been postponed." There are 24 million over-45 women with an aggregate household income of $729 billion, Cadwell said.

"Believe me, old money has a new meaning," she said, a remark that brought down the house.

When men and women would be asked: "At what age is a woman most attractive?" Cadwell said the usual response these days is 30 to 32.

"Ten years ago," she said, "they wouldn't say thirtysomething. They'd say twentysomething."

Mirabella brought up another theme of the panel--targeting women by age is not necessarily good.

"Age casting is bad for business," she said, adding that vanity and fashion "know no generation."

Similarly, Young called such targeting "a kind of tokenism."

Lauder, who is a vice president at Estee Lauder (her husband Leonard is chief executive officer) spoke on the subject of how the over-45 woman looks. She explained that Saks Fifth Avenue now has mannequins resembling women 40-48 and that women should dress their age, not try to emulate youth. She also emphasized the importance of "discipline" and "never letting up" on diet and exercise in order to have "an energetic old age."

Lear, a powerful and popular speaker, began by saying women over 40 are "the fastest growing and likely the sanest segment of the population."

"The 'A' word is not age," she said. "The 'A' word is agism."

Ongoing Battle

From the stereotype of the distinguished older man that ignores similarly successful women, to depictions of over-40 women in ads, Lear pressed her ongoing battle for this age group and for her magazine.

Young confirmed that marketing to this group has been "myopic" and "totally ignored."

The key, she concluded, is to recognize this invisible group, respect this customer and meet her needs.

As to the marketing challenge ahead, Edith Raymond Locke, the panel moderator, added that this targeted audience actually is "not one market at all" but a diverse group with diverse needs.

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