Fashion and Ageism

I don’t have a great deal of interest in the fashion industry per se, but like sport, it is a large part of what pays the bills in this country, so it matters. This is from an article by Alexander Fury in yesterday’s i newspaper:

“Fashion has an undeserved reputation for all kinds of faults – sexism, elitism, chauvinism…Ageism, however is possibly the one most often tossed about…

And yet, last week when the announcement came that Grace Coddington, creative director at American Vogue, would be stepping down from her role, the question on everyone’s lips was “What next?” Coddington has found new representation, with the New York agency Great Bowery, and her role at Vogue will continue, after a fashion, with her shooting several editorials a year and retaining an office a the magazine. “I’m certainly not going into retirement… I don’t want to sit around”

Grace Coddington is 74 – imagine someone of her age stepping down from such a pivotal role in any industry is easy,even understandable. What is remarkable is that the stepping down is actually a mark of gearing up,for new challenges and experiences.

Fashion is full of that. Witness Suzy Menkes, now 72, former fashion editor of The Independent and, for 25 years the fashion voice of the International Herald Tribune… Aged 70, she left to join Vogue, now reporting across its digital platform to multiple international editions. She has taken to Instagram voraciously…

Among designers Karl Largerfield is 82, Georgio Armani 81. Both resent new collections today as part of Paris’s haute couture week – Mr Armani has presented 2 already this month. There’s no sign of abating. Carmen Dell’Orefice, the model, turns 85 this year, photographed by Penn, Horst and Avedon in her youth, she is still working (perhaps partly due to the fact that her life savings fell victim to Bernard Madoff’s investment fraud)

I suspect fashion’s reputation comes from the fact that, apart from exceptions such as Dell’Orefice, most of fashion’s most public faces – namely, the models on billboards – are pubescent., Behind the scenes, however, it’s the powerhouse of knowledge and respect that age brings that helps you assert your place in the industry. Not only that, but one imagines the constant change and endless renewal of the industry not only motivates you, but encourages you to try something new.”

All fine, but there is another explanation. These are all baby boomers: they started their careers in the fashion vacuum after the war, so had plenty of opportunity to find their space and to keep hold of it. I wonder if those that follow will have the same opportunities to be working at the top of their fields. And that may be true in a lot of other fields.

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