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silver streak: shining the spotlight on women over 50

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As a small child, I can remember touching the soft skin on my grandmother’s cheek, tracing her wrinkles with my tiny fingertip. Her face was like a road map, marked by the places she had been. It was captivating, just like her tales of growing up in a Glasgow tenement house, dodging bombs during World War II and eventually making the journey to Canada. I was eager for my own life to begin, and I looked forward to having interesting stories of my own to tell.

Ari Seth Cohen, the New York-based founder of the popular fashion blog Advanced Style, which has been documenting the personal style of the “wise and silver-haired set” since 2008, says his fascination with older women also started with his grandmother. “My grandmother was my best friend, and the person who encouraged me to be creative as a little boy,” he recalls fondly. “[Older] women have such wonderful life experiences to share. They are confident, free, bold and expressive.”

Indeed, in many Asian and Mediterranean countries, older people are revered and celebrated for their wisdom and experience. But in North America, the elderly, especially women, are often marginalized, and women over 50 are grossly underrepresented in mainstream media. While tabloids sing the praises of “distinguished” male actors like George Clooney and John Slattery (who only get better with age, don’t you know), their female counterparts are often ruthlessly scrutinized and forced to contemplate ever more extreme methods (chemical peels, Botox injections, facelifts) to stay relevant. But it’s a catch-22: Famous women who choose to go under the knife are criticized just as much as those who opt to age naturally, and actresses as young as 40 are subjected to constant speculation about what cosmetic procedures they may or may not have had. When Uma Thurman (44) debuted a different look at the red carpet premiere of her mini-series The Slap, internet trolls were quick to accuse her of surgically altering her appearance, forcing her to defend her face on The Today Show.

“I guess nobody liked my makeup,” Thurman remarked as she shrugged off the rumours. Thankfully, the tides seem to be turning. It was in with the old recently at a slew of beauty brands and fashion houses that have assigned starring roles in ad campaigns to women in their 50s, 60s and beyond. Charlotte Rampling for Nars was one of the first to be revealed. As the face of the brand’s 20th anniversary and its Audacious lipstick campaign, the 69-year-old actress was the epitome of effortless chic in a sleek black tuxedo with perfectly tousled hair and smoky eyes. Next, another 69-year-old actress, Oscar winner Helen Mirren, was signed by L’Oréal Paris UK as a brand ambassador. By the time Joan Didion, the legendary 80-year-old writer, was pictured in Céline’s spring ad—looking cooler than ever in simple black with oversized shades—it was safe to declare it an official trend: Older women were—finally!—having a moment.



The floodgates had been opened. In quick succession, YSL named singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell (71) as the new face of its Music Project campaign; Kate Spade New York paired Iris Apfel (93), interior designer and fashion icon, with model of the moment Karlie Kloss for its colourful spring ads; and François Nars, founder and creative director of Nars, continued his tradition of choosing unconventional spokesmodels by casting acclaimed actress Tilda Swinton (54) in his spring campaign. “She lives her roles…and you can see it in her face, in her skin. You feel like she has this extraordinary experience in life by creating her own rules,” Nars commented when asked to explain why he admires Swinton. Rather than choosing blank canvases, or “overly Photoshopped teenagers,” as Cohen says, countless companies are turning to models with life experience—and the laugh lines to go with it.


Darphin Exquisâge Beauty Revealing Serum, $165
Pierre Darphin, the brains behind this luxe skincare line, once said, “A woman’s skin is a mirror reflecting her life.” With that in mind, this revitalizing serum was created to enhance each woman’s natural beauty rather than turn back the clock.

In support of the notion of aging gracefully, several prominent women have shared their disdain for cosmetic surgery. Singer-songwriter Annie Lennox (60) addressed the subject on her personal blog: “People need to think very carefully before heading for the needle or the knife. If it were subtle and just made you look a bit better it would be fine, but that’s not what happens.” In her 2014 memoir, The Woman I Wanted to Be, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg (68) expressed a similar sentiment: “Why have I not frozen or filled in the lines of my forehead…or clipped the bits of surplus skin from my eyelids? Probably because I am afraid of freezing time, of not recognizing myself in the mirror.” Von Furstenberg adds, “My face carries all my memories. Why would I erase them?” Mirren’s positive outlook on aging comes through in her first L’Oréal Paris commercial. Wearing a black leather moto jacket and a swipe of bright red lipstick, she bounces across the screen, imploring us to “grow another year bolder” because “the perfect age is now.” Indeed, Mirren is far from demure and retiring as she eyes a much younger man and delivers a saucy smirk to the camera. Regardless of your age, it’s hard to resist her zest for life and easy confidence.

Naturally, ads like this one are aimed at baby boomers—according to Statistics Canada, close to one in four Canadians will be 65 or older by the year 2030—but perhaps unexpectedly, they’re also resonating with millennials like me. Cohen speculates that we’re weary of the “culture of fear around aging.” Rather than worrying about every fine line or grey hair that appears, we want to embrace the process of growing old. We want something to look forward to. “Not only can younger women look at these ads and say, ‘I can’t wait to get older,’ but older women can be proud of their accomplishments,” says Cohen.


L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Cell Renewal Facial Oil, $38
In her Age Perfect commercial, Helen Mirren raves: “It’s the science I trust to help me look like me.” Designed to target the needs of mature skin, it contains a hydrating blend of eight essential oils.

Another indication that older women are trending: It girls everywhere are clamouring to get the perfect pastel-hued hair colour. Silver and blue rinses used to be the exclusive domain of pensioners, but now pretty young things like Zosia Mamet (of Girls), Tavi Gevinson (@tavitulle) and Lady Gaga have been spotted wearing locks in shades of grey. Makeup artists at Rosie Assoulin’s Spring/Summer 2015 runway show took the trend one step further by creating beauty looks inspired by the natural aging process. Based on vintage photos of artist Georgia O’Keeffe and dancer Pina Bausch, makeup was applied to create shadows and emphasize each model’s unique bone structure. It was a definite departure from the dewy, doe-eyed looks we normally see on the catwalk.

It remains to be seen whether the trend toward celebrating women over 50 is just a passing fad—society in the age of social media is notoriously fickle—or the beginning of a meaningful dialogue about aging. Cohen is cautiously optimistic that it’s the latter: “If we begin to respect the aging process, hopefully we will begin to change our treatment of the elderly population. It’s time that we reclaim this incredibly powerful and important stage of life.” Personally, I can only hope to have half the energy my grandmother has at 94 years old. And I plan to follow her lead as I age: painting my nails pink, singing my heart out and taking the stairs two at a time.
-Nicole Keen

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