In 1996, Isabella Rossellini parted company with perfume and make-up house Lancôme because the company decided she was too old to continue as their ambassador. It made headlines around the world.
She was all of 44 years old and still outstandingly beautiful and sexy.
I think the date has cultural significance. That’s when the rot really began to sink in. Since then, perfume houses, make-up brands, fashion designers and everyone from car manufacturers to department stores (yes, you too, John Lewis) have been using younger and younger models to parade their wares, regardless of whether the model’s age is commensurate with the brand it is representing.
Whenever there’s a news report about over-50s, the papers use an image of people in their seventies. Why?
Nearly every day I receive a marketing email from a high-end brand or store because I have bought something from them in the past: labels such as Brora, Liberty, Mulberry, Barbour, Burberry and Jaegar. Most of these have repositioned themselves in recent years to appeal to a younger market.
Mulberry touts unadulterated bling for Alexa Chung, Lana del Ray and their pals. Liberty now angles for swinging metropolitan youth. Brora – and for that matter, Barbour, Burberry and everyone else – seem to parade nothing but preternaturally beautiful teenagers dressing up in their parents’ clothes.
None of it appears to be aimed at people like me.
This makes no sense at all. The price of the clothes, handbags and jewellery these children are modeling is so prohibitive that they have neither have the cash to acquire such items nor the experience to appreciate these brands. By the time they have saved up their pocket money, they’ll be as old as I am and thus not the target market. How does that work?
When I was a teenager in the Seventies, those brands were not the sole premise of callow youth. If anything, as a teenager I wasn’t their target customer. All the same, I could save up and buy a Jaegar tweed trouser suit (which I still possess but have no chance of fitting into, sigh) and my mother (roughly the age I am now) could buy something different that was more to her taste.
In other words, those brands were age-inclusive. But, nowadays, adverts for those labels seem to be sending me a message to get lost because I’m too old.
The advertising industry is missing a vital trick. In the UK, someone turns 50 every 40 seconds. We 50-somethings control 75 per cent of wealth. We spend three times more than any other demographic and by 2020 we’ll account for more than half the population.
We know that, but do they? As far as advertising imagery is concerned we are invisible and irrelevant. When was the last time you saw a 17-year-old driving a Mercedes or wearing a £10,000 designer dress in real life, rather than in the pages of a glossy magazine?
But it’s a sad fact that you rarely see a grown-up in an advertisement for such brands, even though we are the people with the means to buy them.
These are our role models
The media is also guilty as charged. In public life there are plenty of amazing 50-something role models: actors George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton and Kristen Scott Thomas; musicians Nick Cave, Annie Lennox and Neil Tennant; models Iman and Inès de la Fressange. Nigella Lawson. Tom Ford. Grayson Perry. Decrepit? Boring? Not one of them. Yet whenever there’s a news report about over-50s, the papers use an image of people in their seventies. Why?
Rossellini possessed that thing which in most cases is a lazy cliché: ageless beauty. She had it in spades. Which is why younger women aspired to be her, women of her own age felt warmly towards Lancôme for acknowledging that make-up wasn’t just for the pubescent, and men liked looking at the advertisements, too.
I’m not having a swipe at beauty and youth. I would hate for that demographic to be disappeared the way I feel ours has been. But why does everything have to be so monotonous?
When MAC released the Iris Apfel collection in January (she’s 90), it sold out within days. And I am delighted to see that Lanvin, Bulgari and Illamasqua all have campaigns launching in autumn 2012 featuring age-appropriate models (including Ms Rossellini, now 60). So here’s my challenge: is this going to be another marketing flash in the pan, or will others follow their lead?
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