The Beauty of Age
Updated: Aug 24
Dame Judi Dench has just become British Vogue’s oldest cover star for the June 2020 issue, which caused a whole lot of celebration and congratulations on an incredibly widespread, and far-reaching scale. The cause for celebration was not a magazine being sent out to newsstands during Covid19 - which actually is no mean feat - but the fact that Dame Judi Dench is 85 years old.
The attention is of course, and without question, well-deserved. She looks absolutely amazing, is an acclaimed actress of many decades, and is a damn fine role model for a new generation who will also be dealing with a completely different set of societal rules, when Covid19 lets us out of its isolation clutches. Dame Judi Dench has a wealth of experience, not only due to her life span, but her multi-faceted career. She is arguably exceedingly better placed to be held up as a guiding light for the demographic that denotes the readership of Vogue. Personally, I think we could all do with more of these refined role models, rather than some of the “influencing” that occurs out there at the moment, but that is a personal observation. So, whilst I sincerely applaud all of the attention, and the resounding gasps of wonderment, I am a little surprised at how “ground-breaking” this appeared to be.
Maybe it is because my job as a trend forecaster has kept me apprised of this “phenomenon” for nearly ten years now and, to me, it was hardly news. Except that it was! No-one had thought to put an 85-year-old on the cover of (British) Vogue, even though we have been embracing and tracking the ageing Megatrend since 2009 (at least this was when it started to appear in the early adopter phase). The Vogue cover was many things: beautiful, well-thought out, immaculately done, and… new! Seriously? This got me to thinking, why did the general populace, on such a seemingly mass scale, not seem to be apprised of this trend direction?
Ageing and our “newfound” celebration of it, has been visible for many years now. Iris Apfel was the tender age of 90, when she became the face of Mac in 2011 (now that was ground-breaking, inspired and bloody brilliant), and a slew of further initiatives arose. Personally, I have been writing, presenting and consulting on the acceptance of ageing trend since 2010, when I started instructing companies to embrace and appeal to this strong consumer cohort. It was as clear as the nose on your face that this was a trend on the rise: a demographic with an incredible amount of spending power, a curious nature, and loads of time and, as it was my business, I was emphatically informing anyone that would listen to get on board.
But therein lies the rub - it seems that not that many people were actually listening.
And that is of course the trouble with forecasting. As I always explain in my presentations, forecasting, is a little like Steve Jobs, telling us that we were all going to have a computer on our desk, at a time when the reality was most computers were still the size of a room. As if!
Suffice to say, as forecasters we see things that not many people do, and definitely way before they have become reality – it is our role (the laughing is just extra).
We then need to convince others that what we are saying is not science-fiction, but will be reality. And on top of that, it can take a long time before the trend curve ascends so others can visualize it, hence, getting people to buy in can be… well, uh… difficult. As is now clearly the case!
The embracing of age happened for manifold reasons. Globally, ageing societies and the healthcare cost associated with them, meant governments had to take the issue in hand. In short, caring for the aged was costing A LOT. and people were living much, much longer. On top of this, traditionally collective societies such as China for example - and the rise of the new middle class - were turning away from the traditional footholds of collectivity and becoming more individual societies, which saw, due to the one-child policy of the past, many ageing parents being left alone - an extreme burden on the state. So much so, that a decree was outlined with people risking a bad social credit rating if they did not visit/care for their parents. Very Black Mirror!
It was this international need to focus on ageing populations for mainly health care reasons, that initially propelled the trend and the knock-on effects that occurred. And then things started happening relatively quickly (in trend terms that is). The fact that the demographic had huge spending power, (predicted to hold 70% of the USA’s entire wealth post 2030, pre Covid19 – things change), had loads of free time, loved travelling, and were technically and social media savvy, made them a demographic to pay attention to. “Although the 50+ generation is well known as one of the most powerful consumer groups, they are surpassed only by the 75-year-olds, who are consuming even more.” (Tootelian and Varshney, 2010). On-line dating for 75-year-olds became a thing, as did the Senior Stitch - a rise in tattoos for the over 65’s - a not incidental decline in photoshop, as we demanded to see the real and embraced the beauty of age (distressed, torn fabrics anyone?), and by 2018 (nine years later mind you) fashion houses were sending “senior” models down the catwalk with much acclaim.
Voila! A Megatrend has arrived.
And so, here we are: June 2020 British Vogue cover, with an 85-year-old, amazingly accomplished and stunning - yet not classically beautiful - woman on the cover. As the Guardian stated: “And yes, her wrinkled skin doesn’t go unnoticed, either – unsurprisingly (or should that read surprisingly?), given that fashion magazines, like the rest of society, aren’t exactly known for celebrating getting older.”
Well now they are. Not before time I say.