Valentino and Prada Celebrate the Art of Aging on the Runway

valentino runway
Courtesy Valentino

Once the domain of the young and lithe, runway shows are now embracing the art of aging and inclusivity in a move that looks like it’s going to stick.

Grey hair is the new norm on the runways.

Earlier this month, Italian luxury label Prada welcomed actors Jeff Goldblum, 69, and Kyle Maclachlan, 62, to open and close its Winter 2022 menswear show.

“The collection celebrates the idea of working – in all different spheres and meanings,” the head of the label, Miuccia Prada, said in a statement. “Through these clothes, we emphasise that everything a human being does is important. Every aspect of reality can be elegant and dignified … elevated, and celebrated.”

Aging men have always been treated differently than women of the same age, but older women got a boost at Valentino’s recent show, too.

The 57-year-old supermodel Kristen McMenamy opened Valentino’s show earlier this week, a shift that also included average-sized models. It’s a move the label says is part of “rethinking the rituals and processes of couture” and “promoting an idea of beauty that is not absolute.” 

The New York Times noted the shift elsewhere in the industry, too,

Alessandro Michele at Gucci, Jonathan Anderson at Loewe and Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent have also shown a decided taste for vintage humans, building campaigns around not only the likes of Ms. McMenamy (Gucci), but the 76-year-old novelist Susanna Moore (Loewe) and the 65-year-old Jerry Hall, who first made a splash in the prehistoric 1970s and stars in a forthcoming Saint Laurent campaign.

Grey area

Aging isn’t what it used to be.

The cast of the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, are the same ages as the stars of the ’80s hit NBC sitcom, The Golden Girls were when it started. Except, even while dealing with death and divorce, the AJLT characters don’t retire to Florida to play cards in the humid afternoon and hunt for single widowers enjoying early bird specials.

For Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda, there’s youthfulness, stubborn as it may be, not just in appearance, but spirit, too. Women driven by careers, relationships, and sex—even amid menopause and the more than occasional young person calling them “ma’am”.

Image courtesy And Just Like That

There was hip surgery for Bradshaw—an overlooked birth defect, not post-menopausal bone loss, but hip surgery nonetheless. But once the surgery’s over, she’s back to wearing heels on the uneven New York pavement like a 20-something. Miranda, her once tawny bob now a distinguished silver, is back in college, even.

That’s not to say they’re defying aging entirely, resistance is evident in the collective state of suspended disbelief that crow’s feet just haven’t set in yet.

The art of aging

On the screen and off, Botox and fillers have never been more popular, nor has plastic surgery. And hair dyes are available at every supermarket and drug store if a trip to the salon isn’t affordable.

But despite the readily available options, Covid saw grey hair and wrinkles trend, with stars like Andie McDowell and Jodie Foster strutting the red carpet undyed and undeterred. It’s a move that’s beginning to look every bit revolutionary as the stars and now labels embrace the inevitable aging process, especially when it’s so easy to turn back the clocks, or at least, the appearances of them.

It’s perhaps why there’s now such an allure to aging. When surgery-obsessed stars like Madonna—she’s a year older than Maclachlan—look 30 years younger than they really are, it brings a certain mystique to those celebrities embracing their age. Stars like Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep, and Hellen Mirren have long championed growing old naturally while their contemporaries deny their plastic surgery as they struggle against the tug to smile.

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, now 87, once said that women get more radical as they age. And that could explain both sides of the coin—the radical desire to stay young, and the radical desire to embrace the years not everyone gets to experience. It is less the right or wrong question, and more the do you or don’t you.

Steinem is also quick to praise life after menopause—a word hardly ever spoken in Hollywood.

“Remember when you were 9 or 10 and you were this independent little girl climbing trees and saying, ‘I know what I want, I know what I think’?” she told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2015. “That was before gender descended for most of us.”

“Ironically, I found by 60 you’re free again. So you’re the same person you were at 9 or 10, only now you have your own apartment, you can reach the light switch, you hopefully have a little money. So you can do what you want,” Steinem explains.

Prada and Valentino aren’t the first to bring older people to the runways, nor are they first to embrace models with average body types. But the choices are aimed at disrupting status quo, and bringing diversity and inclusivity to the industry in a more consistent and meaningful way, according to Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli.

“This collection interrogates the body, this collection challenges the canon,” he wrote on Instagram after the show. “It does so, after a long reflection, and it does so in order to represent a wider idea of beauty.”

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