Happy 50th, Elle Macpherson!

The Body has now turned 50 – but, what with becoming a TV host, her beauty and bras businesses and her re-creation of her 1994 Playboy cover, she's on the radar more than ever 

That clever fellow AA Gill once wrote a piece about Elle Macpherson for Tatler magazine in which, though spending quite some time with the Aussie super-model, he contrived to report not a word that she spoke, directly or indirectly.

His conceit, one assumes, was that the attraction of ‘The Body’ – so nicknamed in the Eighties, after bagging three consecutive covers for Sports Illustrated’s annual swimwear issue – lay in just that: her body, rather than her conversation.

It’s true that the model’s utterances have not always endeared her to the wider world. A silly remark from 2008, about eating powdered rhino horn for its dermatological properties, springs to mind.

So does a spat over editorial approval with the Sunday Times’ Camilla Long from around the same time (a time when she was splitting from Arpad Busson, the billionaire father of her two children, as it happens).

Still, at least there’s no grudge held by Long, who now tweets her praises of Macpherson’s Intimates bra range.

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We may squirm when we read The Body’s tweets, or the vacuities on her own site. But our grudges are as nothing compared to hers

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And the rest of us? Well, we may squirm when we read The Body’s tweets, or the vacuities on her own site. (Let’s spare ourselves that pleasure.) But our grudges are as nothing compared to hers.

It was recently reported, for example, that Elle Hates Gwyneth’, because the relationship that developed into Macpherson’s 2013 marriage to her latest billionaire, property developer Jeff Soffer, overlapped with a close friendship between Soffer and Paltrow.

On the other hand, you can’t deny her loyalty. When a failed lawsuit was filed against Soffer last year – alleging he’d been illegally at the controls of a helicopter that crashed and killed his best friend – Elle, who was a passenger, vehemently denied any cover-up.

It’s quite a CV

Of course, covering up is hardly the style of a woman who built her first fortune on disrobing for the cameras. Once established as a model, the ex-law student started with calendars and associated reality TV shows, before progressing in the Nineties to keep-fit videos and her Intimates underwear range.

Next came her The Body beauty range, an ‘ambassador’ role with Revlon and – punctuated only by a few weeks in the Meadows Clinic, Arizona – a burgeoning career as performer, presenter and producer.

On the big screen, working with George Clooney, Hugh Grant, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Anthony Hopkins and William Hurt, she successfully held down roles in several respectable flops.

On the small screen, she shone as Joey’s girlfriend in five episodes of Friends. And it has been on television that she has dug another goldmine.

She became host and executive producer on the now-defunct Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model in 2010, and did the same in America on NBC’s Fashion Star. (Think B&INTM, but with aspiring designers instead.) Her personal wealth is currently estimated at $70 million.

A message about mature women

Clearly, we may applaud her financial nous. But at high50, we don’t celebrate people on such vulgar grounds alone. So why are we lighting the candles on The Body’s semi-centenary?

Well, yes, because of her body.

Like it or not, only the very strongest wills can resist the messages poured out by the media and marketeers. (You’re too fat, too thick or too timid; you need a bigger handbag, or engine, or salary.)

Elle Collage
Playboy revisited, 20 years later

And we know how most 50-plus women feel when they are bombarded by images of impossibly skinny teenagers, who are held up as the acme of beauty; or when stating their ages is always preceded by ‘not bad for’; or when they can only find the latest looks in size eight.

So when Elle reprises the Playboy shoot that she did at 30 for last month’s edition of Bazaar magazine in Australia, it matters. That she can make the transition to her second act with so much physical grace sends a message to the markets and to mature women everywhere. Namely: you’re important, too.

 ‘Real and lasting change’

It’s a message that we’ve been waiting for – and that we predicted some time ago. Interviewed by high50 back in 2011, former model agent Melissa Alexander told us: “There is a big group of powerful girls who have never really lost their power. Mark my words, when that lot start hitting 50, I think that’s when we’ll see a real and lasting change.”

The agent Harriet Close, of mature-model-specialists Close Management, is pretty gung-ho, too. She’s a former catwalker, and has been banging a high50-style drum for the past 15 years. She set up her agency precisely because the fashion business was ignoring the demographic realities of the high street and happily replacing women with anorexic schoolgirls.

“There has been some movement,” she says. “Make-up and fashion brands have started trying to reflect the realities of the changing market. But as with the recent Marks & Spencer campaigns, they’ve relied on celebrities to get the idea across. If Elle keeps modelling now, it will make a real difference.”

Working girl

So Elle isn’t a celebrity then? “Not in the same way,” says Harriet. “She may have become a celebrity, but it’s really in the context of modelling, which is a working girl’s job. She’s not an actress or a singer or Tracey Emin.

“She’s a proper model who has become a successful businesswoman. And in fact, I always think of her as a model, not a celebrity.”

Karen Diamond, a director at Models 1, agrees. “Where you see 50-plus women in big beauty and fragrance campaigns,” she says, “90 per cent of the time they’re movie actresses, because they have such a big reach.

“Honestly, in the real world, you’ve got to be quite interested in fashion to even know who Elle Macpherson is, let alone that she’s a top model. And even she’s not a great example of the bias, because of the profile she gets through her television shows and her businesses.”

One of her own star clients, Yasmin Le Bon – who turns 50 this autumn – might be a better example, she says.

But notwithstanding such semi-centennial landmarks, Karen at first maintains that it’s business as usual: “Fashion responded to the ageing of the market 20 years ago by using Sixties girls like Twiggy and Marie Helvin.”

However, she does admit: “The so-called supermodels are the first generation whose careers weren’t interrupted by kids and marriage. To that extent, they make great role models for other women.”

What’s more, she adds, now warming to the theme: “They’re proving there are no age barriers in fashion any more. They’re in great shape, so if they wanted to wear a micro-mini, it wouldn’t hurt.

“Of course, they might not think something that flimsy was appropriate to their age or self-image – but they’re not going to be wearing a calf-length black skirt, either.”

So long may Elle flash those thighs. Long may she and her ilk strut the runways. Long may she use that Body to sell support-bras and moisturiser.

Mind you, she could use a knee-lift.