Game of Crones (Part One)

A three-part mini-series about the trials of an older model

Part One – The Grey Rebellion

Grey Models, an agency for older fashion models, launched the first of their one-day intensive ‘Grey Rebellion’ Workshops in October - a ‘coaching session for new faces, returning models and pros’. It promises training on catwalk, poses, expressions, castings, fitness, contracts, and ‘a hi-res photo from a Master Photographer’ to take home.

This same month Italian Vogue dedicates itself to ‘timelessness’ as 73 year old Lauren Hutton graces its cover . So when the call to join the Grey Rebellion landed in my inbox, I wondered if it was time for this Grey-Walker to reject a life of House (of) Fraser and re-join House Givenchy or House McCartney.

Most top model agencies, including Models 1 and Elite, now have a ‘Classic’ section on their books especially for mature models. At the excellently named Mrs Robinson models are grouped into ‘Woman’, up to about 30 years old, ‘Classic Woman’ 35-55, and then ‘Retro Woman’ for those pushing 60 and above. Mercifully for us middle-aged baby-boomers, advertisers and designers are no longer patronising the older market by using only girls not yet sturdy enough of limb to half-turn on a stiletto heel. The Association of Model Agentsreports that from 60 legitimate agencies on their records there are now 723 ‘classic’ (30yrs +) working female models – that’s 9% of a model army of 8,135.

Liking the idea of older women having more visual representation and quite fancying a resurrection of my own modest modelling career, I rang Mrs Robinson and asked if I could sign up. ‘Height?’ they said. Literally like that, no pussyfooting around. ‘5’11’ I answered. ‘Ok, have you modelled before?’ ‘Yes', I said, 'in the early 90s’. 'Age?’ ‘Nearly 50’ I said proudly. 'Oh don’t worry they chuckled, we have ‘girls’ a lot older than you!' I wasn’t worried about my age, but concede that referring to 50 year olds as ‘girls’ caused a twinge of anxiety. It was arranged that I’d pop in and introduce myself.

I won’t lie, I was a little jittery walking into the agency. I’m past the days of spending hours in the bathroom getting ready – preferring to leave that to my teenage daughter - and wasn’t sure that my greying hair and loosening skin were up to focussed visual scrutiny.

  'Soooo of its time!'

'Soooo of its time!'

Sure enough, at Mrs. Robinson the bookers give me an excruciating once-over.  Winter is coming, I start to think, and worse. They examine my old modelling card and pronounce it 'Sooooo of it’s time!' I descend into my occasional confusion with fashion people – was this a good or a bad thing? - and proceed to look blank. Looking blank is usually a sign that you could be a good model of course, and so they asked to take some pics.

Two big lights are shone towards me, from left and right, and an iPad pointed in my face. Any instructions are painfully withheld. When I realise I’m supposed to know what I’m doing panic creeps in. Do I smile? Or maybe address my hunchy shoulders? Or at least - that old stalwart of the seasoned model - make like a tea-pot with a hand on a hip? So I try all of these things (suffering, as ever, from rarely being able to think a thing without also doing it).

'Well', says Fleur, 'you’re a bit rusty but you’ve got everything we need. You’ll have to get a whole new set of photos of course, and be looser in front of the camera, but the main thing to remember is that it’s not like it used to be. Don’t try to recreate your old poses, fashion’s changed– you’ve got to show personality'.

Ah, I ponder on this. Personality? But isn’t that kind of, err, to be expected? I mean… can you avoid it?

Fleur mercifully responds to my questioning look…'I know it sounds silly but look at some magazines and practice poses in front of the mirror'.

She explains that there are, realistically, about 5 castings a week for a model ‘of my age’ on her books. ‘Commercial work pays much better than editorial’, she smiles, ‘some things never change”.

They kindly offer to arrange a ‘Test Shoot’ for me, y’know, to test me. It’ll cost me £100, but I’ll make that back if I’m any good. Fleur says to take four outfits, two of which should make ‘a story’ and a couple of which should be ‘classic casual wear’.

'White Shirt?' I ask, 'God no!' ex-stylist Fleur is visibly startled by my glaring ignorance. 'No, maybe a v-neck cashmere or something, but not a White Shirt'. My suggestion shows I don’t know what’s current and have a lot to learn. The anxiety I felt with the mention of a “test” is growing like an unwanted pimple before a close-up.


In Part Two - The Test, I face my fears (and try to smile)


Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter

Responsible Knickers

Would you wear an old pair of knickers?

Let me try again, would you wear a pair of recycled knickers? 

Ok, put it this way, would you wear pants that had started life as waste destined for landfill?

I wasn't sure I would. I mean, I re-use leftover food, I wear pre-loved and vintage clothes, and insist on recycled paper - but is underwear going a step too far in the bid to save the planet?

Not according to young eco-entrepreneurs Cindy Liberman and Faith Leeves of new lingerie brand Lara Intimates. Cindy tells me, "40 billion metres of unused fabric is wasted every year when it is leftover or wrongly dyed. In the UK specifically there is approximately 350,000 tonnes of textile waste going to landfill sites annually". Cindy says that Lara Intimates "work with a UK supplier that sources luxury surplus fabrics from around the world. We call it 'reclaimed fabric'".

The company was started by Cindy and Faith when they graduated from the London College of Fashion and couldn't find nice underwear that wasn't literally costing the earth. Theirs is a conscious brand intent on reducing the size of unsustainable fabric mountains - by making bras and knickers out of them.
The pair buy up discarded textiles on the way to the dump, bring it to their East London studio, and craft underwear. They vow to use every scrap, creating no further waste. The website provides a revolutionary 'Trace Me' button on each product page so that customers can easily find out how their pants started life.

Visiting them online I'm keen to try out the new Find My Size Tool too, which simplifies bra-fitting down to a couple of measurements. I enter my digits, get a result of 30B, order a bra and enjoy that warm, connected feeling I sometimes get at the Bottle Bank. 

A couple of days later the black "Coral" halter bra arrives in the post. Made of two layers of sheer fabric with a pretty gold ring detail and clasping, it has a soft wide underband and no wires. I like the look of this. Flexible enough to be a bralette, but with the craftsmanship and thoughtful design of a high-end bra - all made in the UK from stuff no-one wanted!

I wear the bra all day. It's comfortable and trendy with its double layered vintage look. The underband is firm enough to lend support, but not so tight as to feel restrictive.

 Image from  Lara's Instagram

Image from Lara's Instagram

At my size, I'll be honest, I don't really need a bra, but for those days when I want to wear a tight-fitting top and nipple peekage threatens, I can now slip on something that will fit properly with both my body and eco values. 

So it might just be that the time for responsible knickers has come. Faith and Cindy certainly believe so and have just launched a kickstarter to fund their project. 

No more excuses for environmentally dodgy drawers then: I'm a convert...just like my underwear.

Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter


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