Octogenarian Chic on the Catwalk

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Jean Paul Gaultier A/W11
Jean Paul Gaultier A/W11

Shopping trolleys, quasi-orthopaedic shoes and silver bouffants: we chart the greatest senior style moments on the runway

Historically, the fashion industry has privileged the young and the new above all else — but recently, things have been changing. As a breakneck-speed fashion calendar has resulted in houses like Miu Miu revisiting their archives, and the obsession with youth has been counterbalanced with highly influential, older women such as Joan Didion and Cher taking their turns as the faces of Céline and Marc Jacobs respectively, it is a time of reflection for us all. 93-year-old Iris Apfel is now one of the most celebrated creative icons of fashion, and blogs and documentaries including Ari Seth Cohen's Advanced Style honour the chicest silver haired ladies with an innate flair for fashion — proving that women of a certain age can (and undoubtedly should) continue to serve as sartorial inspiration. Here, without further adieu, we pinpoint the most succesful examples of senior chic on the runways... 

Jean Paul Gaultier A/W11
French actress and comedienne Valérie Lemercier (at the time, 47 years old) opened Jean Paul Gaultier’s A/W11 show by stepping out on the runway with a voluminous bouffant accessorised with large earrings and traditionally lined stockings, giving her the distinct air of an older woman. The girls that followed wore an assortment of looks often stereotyped to the elderly: grey-tinged beehives, bouclé jackets... some even dragged fur-covered shopping trolleys. The message was one of carefree spirit, and the recognition and empowerment of all stages of womanhood. A strong proponent of casting nontraditional model types in shows Gaultier once told Interview magazine, “I think there is beauty at every age. Beauty is there, everywhere, but you have to see it.”

Vivienne Westwood Red Label S/S13
Pearl necklaces, grey pin-curled chignons, pillbox hats and retro glasses all played a starring role in Vivienne Westwood's Red Label S/S13 show, adding demure charm to pastel pink pantsuits and diaphanous silk dresses with pussy-bow necklines. At 74 years old, Westwood herself remains as exuberant as ever and, giving the metaphorical middle finger to those who believe older women should become more conservative as they age, she closed the show wearing a pair of knickers with stockings and platform heels, a black moustache drawn on her upper lip and with a black circle drawn around one eye.

Miu Miu Resort 2015
Miu Miu’s Resort 2015 collection presented a different take on aging in fashion by repurposing crocheted squares (those used to construct larger quilts) into chic little vests. The craftiness of the hand-crochet was reminiscent of a slightly octogenarian feel but, paired with micro suede minis and paisley shirts, the collection overall gave off a brilliantly vintage feel. The season previous, Mrs Prada explained that her A/W14 collection was inspired by a girl who had raided her granny's closet for vintage treasures, and the theme definitely continued. Both Prada and Miu Miu's collections have always been thoughtful and pragmatic in terms of age and its influence in fashion – and some of the success of her collections has definitely been attributed to their connections to a different time, or the contrast or new and old to create a signature look. In an interview with T Magazine, Miuccia Prada said, “It is much more of a drama for women, the business of aging. No one wants to age, and I really think we should find a solution. Especially because we live so much longer.”

Céline S/S15
For Céline’s S/S15 line, Phoebe Philo offered her own unique take on octogenarian chic by turning out shoes that verged on orthopaedic — but in the best possible way. The show itself was a celebration of women of all varieties — as she told Style.com backstage, being a woman is, “A huge amount of different things, all of them fulfilling, all of them equally important.” An all-too-rare moment on the high-fashion runway, the shoes (a quirky reference to a grandmother's closet with their glove-like shape, pull-on tab and elasticated fit) proved that it’s possible for women to look good and be comfortable, too. 

Gucci A/W15
Alessandro Michele presented a eclectic new look that fused the effortless eccentricity of Wes Anderson's Margot Tenenbaum with the signature hallmarks of 70+ style for his big Gucci debut. Think: snuggly, supersized fur coats, chunky glasses, leather loafers, and ditsy-print floral blouses. The show shook up the normal conventions of time perception in fashion — repositioning heirloom rings, brown berets, and lace camisoles as modern, new season style neccessities. Additionally, each guest’s seat was marked with a quote by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. "Those who are truly contemporary are those who neither perfectly coincide with their time nor adapt to its demands… Contemporariness, then, is that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disconnection."