Aging Boomers Fuel Demand for Aging Fashion Models
New Lifestyle Market for Aging Boomers
Original Source: Toronto Star Author: Leanne Delap, Living Columnist
Andrea Bolley is a dancing machine. And it was that exuberance that led to her unexpected discovery story and the beginning of a glamorous and thrilling second career, at 62. “It was at the after-party for the Bustle show last Fashion Week at Colborne Lane” in downtown Toronto, Bolley says over a latte at Starbucks near her studio at Claremont St. and Queen St. W. “I had met up with André, who was in the show. She was standing alone at the back of the room, and I went over and got her up dancing. This guy comes up to me and says, ‘I love the way you move, you have fabulous energy, you should model,’ and he hands me his card! I broke out into laughter.”
Modelling agents prowl the Canadian National Exhibition, the Calgary Stampede, even the preteen throngs at Great Wolf Lodge every summer in the hope of finding the next big thing. But in this brave new Zoomer world, all of Toronto is now a Schwab’s drugstore; and if Lana Turner were starting out today she might just have gotten her big break at 60 instead of 16.
The aging baby-boomer generation is behind the surge toward the upper-age spectrum in the modelling world, says Alan Thomas Smith of Toronto-based PUSH modelling agency.
“On the one hand, you have a new lifestyle market,” says Smith: “a big boom in pharmacy and banking and health care, the sectors that deliver directly to a mature market,” he says. And “designers are starting to pay attention to the very relevant market (of customers) in their fifties and sixties.
“We seek health and vitality. And models who exude that are making the money these days.”
And Smith means money; he says a good working model can bring in $100,000 a year, and points to two Canadians working that age bracket in the United States right now. Maye Musk was born in Regina and began modelling first in South Africa, then in Toronto while her kids were in school. Now she lives in New York and models for Ford. She is currently seen on billboards in New York, in Revlon ads, and — as she is still repped by PUSH in Toronto — she recently did a full editorial feature in Fashion magazine and a cover for Elle Quebec. All at 64.
Similarly, Roxanne Gould, whose parents are Canadian, is 50 now and, after years of modelling in Paris starting in her twenties, allowed her hair to go grey in her forties. To her surprise, her career heated up. The new look landed her a part in a film with Alain Delon, an in-house modelling job for Jil Sander and a half-dozen years of Brooks Brothers ad campaigns.
Helen Mara was applauded at her own debut at Toronto Fashion Week this past fall, at the age of 64. “I was modelling alongside much, much younger women,” says the Oakville real estate agent. “The best part was that they dressed up the same (as me), which is important to me; I wear fashionable clothes in my own life."
“As (the models) went out they reminded us not to smile. But when I came down the runway a big roar went up and the audience started clapping. It would have been rude not to smile a little bit!”
Mara is signed by Ben Barry, who describes her as one of his most successful models. “She has another whole career, a flourishing garden, and a daughter who just finished medical school, says Barry. “At 60, she was looking for something new and exciting. And women at that age have such an advantage; they have the confidence in themselves that comes with age, being valued in life for so many things.”
Nor — according to the working Canadian models in the 50-plus category who were interviewed for this story — are they under any pressure to keep young artificially, either by knife or injection.
Barry is also an assistant professor of Equity, Inclusivity and Diversity in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University. His recently completed PhD thesis — for which 2,500 test subjects were surveyed on intent to purchase where models of varying sizes and ages were shown in the same DVF wrap dress — yielded astonishing results.
Barry found that women responded with a 200-per-cent increase in intent to purchase the item advertised when the model was closer to their own weight. Among women over 35, the same significant increase in intent to purchase applied when they saw models their own age or older.
Jean Fleming is well-known as the first woman of colour to walk a Canadian runway some three decades ago; now the longtime Elite model has a day job as a personal shopper at the Bay on Queen, where she works in the haute-couture “Room” where she so often modelled in the past.
But Fleming also reports that her modelling bookings are busier than ever these days. She is “a classic type” in the industry: poised, groomed and high-style. Born in Jamaica, she was called a young Lena Horne in her early modelling days. In the past year she grew her hair long, and her re-imaging has been embraced wholeheartedly by her department-store catalogue, longtime clientele, and CityLine, CityTV’s daytime show for women on which she makes star turns.
“Sure, over the years I’ve wanted to dye my hair bright red, say, or eat an ice cream every day,” she admits. “But the longevity I have found in this industry makes self-restraint worthwhile. Instead, I keep reinventing myself.” There are not a lot of models in her specific category, Fleming adds, “and there is a lot of work out there.
Mara had modelled a little in her early twenties before she married, and even did a stint in Australia. “I remember being dressed up as a geisha once,” she recalls. But returning to modelling was a whim that paid off. She walked into an agency off the street and was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm she received. Soon her face was up on Tabi posters across the country, and she was shooting ads and booked so much that she now has to juggle her real estate work around the modelling assignments. “I went away for one week in March, and I found out I was booked for Holts, the Bay, Zoomer (magazine) and Sears!”
Mara is also proactive, sending out letters to companies she would like to represent.
As for Bolley, she is an artist who splits her studio time between Toronto and Bermuda. Although her colour-field abstract paintings hang in corporate headquarters here and abroad, her next goal is to see her modelling photos up in bus shelters.
“I laughed when Alan approached me,” says the petite new model with upswept blond hair and a wasp waist of the kind not seen since Scarlett. “But I called back the next day after I stopped dancing, and he was dead serious. There really is work for someone my age!”