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Wanted: Grey-haired, wrinkled models!

A growing band of older models are being called upon by advertising companies in France to promote their products and make a statement.

india Updated: Apr 03, 2006 18:20 IST

In October Francoise de Stael strode down the catwalks for designer John Galliano. Last month she adorned the walls of the Paris metro advertising a brand of water. Not bad for any model, let alone a 74-year-old grandmother.

With her white hair and wrinkles, de Stael is among a growing band of older models being called upon by companies wanting to advertise their products, but eager to reflect the realities of an ageing population.

Sylvie Fabregon set up the Paris-based Masters modelling agency in 2005 for those over 45 years old. It is the only one in France which now has more than 600 models on its books.

"We realised that society is changing, and getting older, and that senior citizens also needed and wanted to be represented in advertising campaigns," she told AFP, adding that demand is growing from all sectors.

In a society where women smear themselves nightly with creams and use copious amounts of dye to cover any grey hairs, Unilever was the first to break the aging taboo, and openly celebrate wrinkles.

Last year, 96-year-old Irene Sinclair became the new face of Unilever's Dove soap on billboards in London, New York and Paris wearing a headscarf and with tick boxes marked "Wrinkled?" or "Wonderful?"

She said at the time: "Ive never been beautiful in my life but I feel I am beautiful now. Its about growing older gracefully."

De Stael, a willowy figure with cheekbones to die for, agrees it's all about attitude.

"Wrinkles reflect your life and personality," she said, during an interview at the Masters office, with the phones constantly ringing in the background.

"I can't say I'm proud of them, but they are there. It's an irreversible process and once you accept that then you feel better within yourself."     

Sylvie Fabregon set up the Paris-based Masters modelling agency in 2005 for those over 45 years old. It is the only one in France which now reportedly has more than 600 models on its books.

A former model, de Stael was forced out of a more than two-decade retirement at the age of 68 to supplement her pension. She has never looked back, appearing in dozens of television and ad campaigns, as well as films.

"I'll keep working as long as it lasts, and as long as I have the strength," she said, adding that although long days at castings and photo shoots could prove tiring, the job kept up her morale and kept her active.

"You have to photogenic. You have to have charisma, and be good-looking, perhaps not in the same way as a young person, but you have to have that something extra. So that a young person seeing you can say, 'I want to be like that'," says Fabregon.

A grandmother of four, she's even had a proposition to appear nude, which she promptly turned down as ridiculous.                                                 

But she and her colleagues could be increasingly called upon. "We have moved from the baby boom to the grandpa boom," sociologist Serge Chaumier told a recent conference organised by the online dating agency match.com.

According to his figures the over 60s represented 21 per cent of the French population in 2005, a figure set to double by 2050, while globally the over 65s are set to represent some 10 percent of the world population within 25 years.

That turns senior citizens in Western societies into a major consumer force, often with a comfortable disposal income at their command, which companies are keen to tap into.

In turn such consumers want to see a bit more reality in advertising campaigns, said Fabregon.

"I have taken my example from senior citizens I know, such as my parents. My mother wears jeans occasionally, she uses creams and perfume, but she and my father also travel a lot, and are consumers. Yet they are never represented in the ads," she said.

That doesn't mean every senior citizen can be a model though.

"You have to photogenic. You have to have charisma, and be good-looking, perhaps not in the same way as a young person, but you have to have that something extra. So that a young person seeing you can say, 'I want to be like that'," said Fabregon.

For 73-year-old former material shopowner Stanley Kaye, what that "something extra" is that he's got eludes him.

"I look at my face in the mirror and I ask myself what is it they see," said Kaye, who moved from England to the Normandy village of Garennes-sur-Eure six months ago.

He was launched into the world of modelling and showbiz by chance when he was approached by talent spotters 10 years ago during a walk in the park with his wife, Joan.

He appeared in dozens of British television comedies as an extra, and began getting bigger and bigger roles, so much so that it overwhelmed him.

So he quit and moved to France, but then began to get bored and was put in touch with Masters. Even though he doesn't speak any French, his smiling, quirky face has won him plenty of work from the likes of Giorgio Armani and Yves St Laurent.

He too featured in Galliano's spring/summer 2006 ready-to-wear collection paired with a very tall classic Australian model. "I must admit I was a little embarrassed, as I wasn't quite sure whether to hold her hand or not.

"I had these terrible shoes which didn't fit, and I was wearing a ridiculous kind of green and black jumpsuit.

"But if I get a job a week for the rest of my life, I'll be very happy. And it does help with my lousy pension."