The Post-Materialist | Fashion Grows Up
December 19, 2008
A report from our Berlin correspondent on design and society.
One of the more interesting trends in fashion this year has been a vogue for older models. The theme seems to have started in March, with the New York premiere of Hats Off, a documentary about the 93 year-old actress and model Mimi Weddell. As the New York Times reported when it interviewed the effervescent Ms Weddell, her motto is “Rise above it!”, which implies not just the ability to transcend small anxieties, but also the idea that higher things — even ages — are better things.
Come June, the fashion press was aflurry with reports that the Spring 2009 men’s shows in Paris had been “stormed by elderly male models”. Yohji Yamamoto, Ann Demeulemeester and Agnès B all employed over-50s in their catwalk shows. One model, New York magazine reported, walked as though slightly lame, another cheerfully played a flute.
In August, Ari Cohen launched Advanced Style, a street fashion blog focusing on stylish senior citizens, caught by photographers in New York and elsewhere. In a blogosphere somewhat burned out on lookalike street fashion blogs — not to mention conformist fashion — the eccentric septuagenarians featured in Advanced Style stood out as something fresh and new. “Since moving to New York four months ago,” Cohen explained in his first entry, “I noticed how awesome so many of New York’s older men and women styled”. It didn’t take long for Mimi Weddell to show up.
The Japanese (who have one of the world’s most rapidly-aging demographics) were also in on the trend. The November issue of lifestyle magazine Ku:nel featured a cover story about two old Dutch ladies in traditional dress. One was 95 years old. “My Fashion: Weird Dressing-Up Session in South Holland”, ran the headline, and inside the ladies (working-class Catholics from Walcheren and Zuid Beveland) gave tips on how to achieve their truly outlandish, centuries-old hairstyles, lacy hats, and make-up techniques.
My own contribution to the admiration of the style of the elderly came in a blog entry entitled What are you wearing, living national treasure? This looked at cover stars from a Japanese crafts magazine called Living National Treasures, people designated as “important intangible cultural properties” by the Japanese government.
What interested me was the seeming contradiction between the flamboyance of these precious living relics and their adherence to traditional, collectivist belief systems in which creativity, individuality and originality rank far below values like seniority, impersonality, hierarchy, rules, and tradition. “The Important Intangible Cultural Property dresses in ways which express collective and ancient values, not individual modern ones,” I mused. “Any flamboyance we may see in their work wear and “street fashion” is accidental — and absolute.”
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