The cult of youth in the fashion industry

För några veckor sedan publicerades min artikel om åldersfixering i modebranschen på den nystartade modesajten Fashion Field. Du kan läsa texten här eller nedan.

There’s no secret that the fashion industry, just as many other industries, have a general fixation on youth. After a certain age – the early twenties are usually the cut off age for agencies – most of the models are not wanted anymore. The modelling job isn’t just an ongoing fight about being the prettiest, skinniest and most interesting but also being as young looking as possible.

For the past few years we have noticed a trend where older (over their 20s) models are making a comeback on the catwalk as well as in ad campaigns. Claudia Schiffer has once again become the face of Guess (she also fronted their campaigns in 1989), Stella Tennant has been seen on the Chanel catwalk as well as in the brands ads and Naomi Campbell closed the Roberto Cavalli F/W 2012 show earlier this year.

Ingmari Lamy born in 1947 is also a proof of this. She has been active within the fashion business since the late 60s working as designer, stylist and model. She took a break from the fast spinning world of fashion for a few decades but took up her modelling career again in 1991, since then she has walked for Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Galliano. Her looks and probably her beautiful white mane as well has earned her a continous flow of work. But ‘senior models’ are still the exceptions that proves the rule – the young are always preferred.

Lately we have also seen many very young models in the fashion spreads of magazines, on the catwalk and in adcampaigns. The controversial editorial “Cadeaux” in the December 2010/ January 2011 issue of French Vogue in which little girls were dressed to the nines took this to an extreme. A grown up fashion spread starring what looked like five year olds upset people in the fashion industry and far beyond, but no one seems to be upset or even notice that the models on the catwalk are getting younger and younger.

Fashion oracle Lotta Lewenhaupt has worked as a fashion journalist, stylist and fashion editor at various Swedish magazines since the late 60s. Today she author books and gives lectures on fashion as well as having a blog on Seniorbloggen.se. She believes that the fashion industry in particular always has been extremely fixated with youth compared to other businesses.

– Thank God we learned how to distinguish between women and girls in the 60s, which on the other hand lead to that the more commercial side of the industry became very obsessed with age, and has been so ever since.

Lewenhaupt claims that the use of very young women in fashion magazines and on the catwalk has a commercial aspect to it- it aims to reach and attract the target group most likely to consume. The mutable nature of teenagers’ consumption pattern make them the most interesting target group.

– Young people are also interesting because they have a strong need to feel belonging to a group. Many young girls want branded handbags which very often their parents are pressured to buy. To have the ‘right’ bag is a status symbol and a signifier of the desirable belonging to a certain group. Thus, it’s easy to understand why Elle Fanning is in MiuMiu’s ads – it is young girls who identify with the brand.

Another interesting target group is the mums who want to look like young girls, says Lewenhaupt. The fashion magazines address this group with famous faces like Madonna, which the readers can identify with age wise. Though, when Madonna appears in campaigns for Louis Vuitton and Dolce&Gabbana it is as a bleached blonde sexy milf even though she’s 53 and more likely to have a grey hair or two. The consumers buy into this image with an ”if she can do it so can I” attitude and buy the handbag, dress, accessory or whatever is advertised.

– Some fashion magazines use mature models – but an interesting aspect is that the so called mature women are almost without exception portrayed with clothes that can be considered ‘ageless’ (ed. note such as layers or oversize) which in its turn a wide audience can embrace. The fashion magazines know that the 40+ is an important target group. Though, when the fashion magazines address these mature women, they always use ’40+ ‘ even if they are talking about women aged up to 70 years.

Lotta Lewenhaupt can’t see any difference between the sexes regarding the age fixation.

– The boys are androgynous accessories in both fashion editorials and ads. That the men are presented as feminised versions of the male is very interesting. It speaks to homosexual men across all age groups – and the gays are another important target group seen from a commercial aspect which the magazines and advertisers of course are well aware of.

However, some improvement can be discerned, recently the editors of all 19 editions of Vogue worldwide jointly agreed on not using models younger than 16. It is a very important step in the right direction towards fashion’s youth fixation, and it will be interesting to see how it will take its expression in practice.

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