My mind is prematurely ageing – thanks to Sex and the City The Movie, books like Helena Frith Powell's To Hell in High Heels: how to age gracefully, disgracefully or not at all, Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck and Maggie Alderson's Gravity Sucks, Hillary Clinton running for president, the return of the 90s supermodel and a bunch of magazine editorial dedicated to helping older women merge gracefully, stylishly and wrinkle-free into their 40s, 50s and 60s (journalist Pamela Robson has written a series of little books on looking good as you pass through each decade, but more on those in a future post), I currently have the mentality of a 47-year-old. I am 27.
At this point, anyone over the age of 27 has permission to throw something at their computer screens. I don't have to read this stuff, after all. But it's hard not to get caught up in the world of ageing when you're being visually assaulted at every page turn and glossy cover. Really, this is a good sign. For so long (since at least the '60s) the world has bowed down to youth like it had earned respect, fuelled by the cash-hungry global marketing machine that invented a whole new demographic (the 'tween') to better cater for the wants, needs and spending habits of the trend-conscious young and their (perhaps overstated) persuasive ability to influence mum and dad purchases.
And now, while Gen X is heavily pregnant, balancing the demands of corporate and home life, the baby boomers are happily reaching retirement age, their savings and super funds and homes insurance against the poverty their elderly predecessors have been stricken with (to the point where you can sponsor an elderly person like you would an African child). And they are spending big, and running big business, and editing magazines. As a result, or maybe because we just got tired of seeing Lindsay Lohan’s face, never have older women been more relevant or visible or celebrated.
This month's UK Vogue, superbly edited by Alexandra Shulman, who is fast becoming one of my favourite editors, so refreshing is her down-to-earth, transparent and self deprecating attitude in the fickle world of fashion, is devoted to 'ageless style'. The magazine has succeeded in bringing together a group of women for whom style is in the genes representing all age groups – from 18-year-old model Jourdan Dunn to Margaret Thatcher, 82. It's the kind of issue you will relish, such is the delicacy and refinement with which the topic is handled. The visuals are stunning (as are the women) and the editorial lyrical and poignant, with a diversity of voices (young and old) and an essential message of female empowerment through fashion (though, being Vogue, we are given certain sartorial rules to stick to, such as in the ‘Forever in blue jeans’ denim feature).
As ageing and style are such subjective concepts, Vogue offers us a range of women to whom we might relate (of course, they are of a certain privileged caste). To that end, there are several first-person features this issue, with each woman offering insight into a time in her life when she experienced a sartorial awakening of sorts.
Kapka Kassabova writes about how the falling of the Berlin wall led to her first true shopping experience (a real novelty at age 16) but concedes that despite the material deprivation that marked her childhood, her parents’ love was the ultimate luxury. Polly Devlin, 67, talks about leaving the English countryside to take a job in New York City, when her sartorial standards, and self confidence, changed dramatically (for the better, it seems).
Sarah Harris writes about denim and why a woman need never give it up (such is the diversity of styles and washes available now); Linda Grant takes us back to 1968, when she was a wayward schoolgirl and fashion marked a time of change and Jean Shrimpton was a style icon; fashion editor Lisa Armstrong relates her experience of working in a world where what you wear is paramount in ‘Perfect Pitch’ and talks to several other fashiony types about their thoughts on fashion, taste and style and maintaining a certain level of sartorial credibility (I love this line: “But yikes, you have to know what you’re doing to fool around, particularly once you reach the mystical point of being a grown-up (roughly speaking, that’s when your daughters or your friends’ daughters hit their teens)”); Chloe Fox talks to Mary Quant, Bella Pollen and Amy Molyneaux, designers from three different generations, about partying and branding; Candida Lycett Green gives us a comprehensive four-page feature about lace; and Jan Masters writes about beauty treatments in ‘The guinea pig generation’ (one of the better features I’ve read on the topic of ageing so far).
Perhaps my favourite feature this issue, for its inherent pearls of wisdom and wit, is by editor Alexandra Shulman. Over four or so pages, she recounts her experience of fashion and passion for shopping, using her 50th birthday as her starting point. “My wardrobe has never, not even now, after 16 years as editor of Vogue, been dictated by fashion,” she writes. “If fashion has what I like to wear on offer during any particular season, I will be the first person to rush towards it. If not, we part company, amicably.” She talks about her ‘flirtations’ with various trends but says she always returns to her default look: “While it’s important not to get stuck in a rut as the years pass, there is normally a continuum of style in the women I deem most stylish.” On ageing she says: “I don’t want to engage in a constant battle against the forces of time… You can’t win a battle against time… Instead, I choose to channel that energy into other areas of my life – friendship, motherhood, sex, work, the house.” How refreshing. But she’s a realist: “It’s a huge help to have been nice-looking but never very beautiful. I also think it’s an advantage to have always had a pretty dodgy figure… For those whose identities are completely bound up in their good looks, the diminution is terrifying.” As we know, she detests Botox and fillers but feels differently about using clothes to stay young (“I don’t want my wardrobe to become my business – I still want it to be my playground”), though concedes “the insecurity about whether you are heading into mutton-alert territory hovers determinedly.” She favours comfort, Marni, Betty Jackson, Gap and Burberry, but is also given to “Friday-lunchtime treats” at Topshop, and says her new devotion to finding and buying the right underwear is what’s changed with the passing of time. She concludes: “At some point we all think that we lose the person that we were when younger and become somebody old. But we don’t, and our clothes, and the pleasure we take in them, should reflect that.” Ahh.
I’ve never found cover model Uma Thurman, 38, particularly relatable, though she comes across as endearing and fragile, almost childlike in her vulnerability and indecision, in Luke Janklow’s profile. As so many celebrity profiles are prone to do, we are led into their conversation with a paragraph in praise of Thurman’s eating habits: “Uma eats. She eats with gusto…” we are told, before the Hollywood-ness kicks in: she’s been fasting. I too would be ravenous and chow down on pasta, salad and cookies with abandon over lunch (“a woman who eats with passion”)! Uma is praised for her effortless style, which she describes as “utility survival”, her “ethereal, otherworldly beauty” and the “masculine component to her femininity”. She says growing up makes her feel more immature, exercise is a stumbling block (she’s not a fan) and though she is “clearly happy” with new beau Arki Busson (he likes ‘em tall and leggy), it took her four years to get over her marriage breakup.
Other profile pieces include ‘Soul Kitten’, devoted to diminutive British songstress Duffy (“pretty and perky with Bambi eyes and a Bardot pile of blonde hair”), who has led quite the interesting life (no overnight sensation is she: the kid did it tough); ‘Tempered Steel’, through which we get to know Maggie Thatcher, now 82, and her friend/confidant/dresser of 30 years Mrs Crawford, with a focus, of course, on her relationship with fashion; ‘A woman’s touch’, a profile of Valentino creative director Alessandra Facchinetti (divine); ‘Force Field’ introduces us to Lynn Forester de Rothschild (a formidable force in business); and several smaller style pieces through which we meet model Jourdan Dunn, Tricia Jones (of i-D magazine), actress Rebecca Hall, MA student Anne-Laure Zevi and Sisley VP Isabelle d’Ornano.
The truth is, at any age, the fashion choices (and mistakes) we make is one of the clear indicators of how we’re feeling about ourselves and where we’re at in life (a daily wardrobe of tracksuits and uggs = not a good sign, a la Britney Spears).
I’m off to embalm this edition for future reference.
Overall excitement factor: 9/10
Feel-good factor: 7/8
Eye candy rating: 5
Issue: July 2008
Book size: 210 pages
Inside front: BMW
FOB ads: Chanel, Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany & Co.
Editor: Alexandra Shulman
Publisher: Conde Nast
Girl With a Satchel