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.
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