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THE COMING OF AGE : The Over-40 Model Is Coming Into Vogue as Fashion Caters to Graying Boomers

March 30, 1990|CINDY LaFAVRE YORKS | Yorks, a free-lance writer regularly contributes to The Times fashion pages

Fashion models over age 40 who once kept their gray at bay are rediscovering their roots--and capitalizing on a market with potential growth.

U.S. magazines such as Mirabella, Lear's and Moxie (based in Woodland Hills), that cater to mature audiences, are filling their pages with, "women who weren't born yesterday," as the Lear's promotional line reads. And, even traditional high fashion magazines such as Harper's Bazaar are devoting more space to seasoned models.

In the '60s and '70s, most magazine cover girls would retire well before age 30. Today, supermodels from those decades--among them model-turned-actress Beverly Johnson and Esme are enjoying revitalized careers. T. T. Zazzera, who heads the over-40 division at the Ford Agency in New York, says hers is the fastest-growing segment of the Manhattan agency. She has 30 models in the over-40 range.

"It's indicative of where the population is going," says Zazzera. "As baby boomers move into their 40s, advertisers are gearing marketing campaigns to them."

Among the leaders in this target advertising area, according to Zazzera, are shampoo manufacturers such as Jhirmack, Revlon and Clairol, who have developed formulas for mature, gray hair and prominently feature models with the same. At the other extreme, cosmetic companies are among the slowest advertisers to respond.

"They are still, for the most part, marketed to all ages. You're not seeing the over-age 40 woman advertising these products as much," says Zazzera.

One New York-based cosmetic company--Germaine Monteil--took a gamble on a silver-haired model in 1983 and the ad campaign that came of it lasted four years. The company conducted a "40 Is Fabulous" model search before hiring Tish Hooker as their spokeswoman.

"Women over 40 responded to it, and in many ways it helped change people's attitudes and it changed the business, too," a Revlon spokesman says.

Publisher Francis Lear says she has continually pushed for older models since she started her magazine in the fall, 1986, but admits it hasn't been easy persuading advertisers to use them.

"There are generations of women who feel alone in the world. They truly feel like outsiders when advertisers show anti-wrinkle creams on 17-year-old faces. It is insulting," says Lear, 66.

Lear has been urging advertisers to rethink their approach, but concedes she accepts ads that show young faces because, as she puts it, "one has to make a living."

But when it comes to editorial content, Lear is credited by Zazzera and others with standing by her convictions. At first, she recruited friends and solicited referrals to fill her magazine with alternatives to the young, established fashion models.

Finding models has been somewhat easier for Moxie magazine, the Woodland Hills-based publication that has been on newsstands since November. Carol Pagliuco, the magazine's art director, strictly adheres to her "over 40" rule, because of the target audience. Pagliuco and Kathy Soverow, the magazine's editor in chief, say there are more over-40 models on the East Coast.

"I think that will change," says Pagliuco. "Today's models are staying in careers longer than ever before . . . so we'll have more to choose from."

Patsy Beattie, director of the L.A. Models agency, says she believes the demand for older models will increase. She admits the need for older faces in Los Angeles is not as great as it is on the East Coast--yet.

"The stores and catalogue companies in California are more youth-oriented to start with," she says. "I hope as the population grows older, West Coast department stores and catalogues will feature more older, sophisticated women with discreet, weathered character lines."

At Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, over-40 models are occasionally featured in shows, says Patty Fox, director of fashion and marketing for Southern California.

"We don't really ask them how old they are--they could be 18 or 40," says Fox. "Our considerations are fit, body type and how they present themselves."

At Nordstrom, fashion director Gail Sekiguchi says that many of the store's runway shows feature anywhere from two to eight mature models, out of an average total of 22.

Their inclusion, she says, has met with favorable response. "I once got a letter from a woman in her 50s, who attended a show," says Sekiguchi. "She thought it was wonderful to see mature women who look fashionable."

Though older models can wear almost anything, there are some garments they should avoid, says L.A. Models' Beattie.

"They shouldn't do swimsuits," she says emphatically. "A younger body simply looks better in them. Forty-five-year-old flesh doesn't look like 25- to 30-year-old flesh."

Beattie's sentiments were not in sync with a recent fashion show at the Biltmore Hotel. Older models wore brief swimsuits and see-through lace tops against bare skin.

Yvette Crosby, the show's coordinator, admits the approach was a risky one, but believes the show accomplished its purpose: to provoke thought.

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