Liz Hurley, Nicole Kidman and the significance of a fiftysomething woman on a magazine cover
Frankie Graddon | The Pool
Over the long weekend, when you weren’t eating ice lollies in the garden, you might have noticed that Kylie Minogue was all over the internet. Why? Because the pop star turned 50. “Bloody hell, she looks amazing,” said a friend, as we scrolled through Kylie birthday tributes on my Instagram feed. “I can’t believe she’s 50, she doesn’t look it,” she went on. But what, exactly, does 50 look like?
If the world of fashion media has anything to do with it, traditionally, a woman in her fifties equals waterfall cardigans and an Emma Bridgewater collection. That’s if anyone bothers to represent her at all. She is someone who only buys dresses with sleeves and wears sensible heels – maybe a kitten heel and probably in “nude”. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that (God, love a dress with a sleeve), but it has cultivated a very narrow and clichéd idea of what a fiftysomething woman is. One that isn’t particularly fair or accurate.
Just ask Liz Hurley, who, this week, is on the front cover of glossy weekly magazine, Grazia. Wearing a pair of black leather dungarees and a matching black cap, both by Versace (a nod to the famous 1994 safety-pin dress by the same design house), Hurley is about as far away from cardigans-ville as you can get. “Fifty-two and fucking fabulous,” wrote Grazia’s fashion director, Rebecca Lowthorpe, on her social-media feed. I defy anyone who has seen the magazine cover, or indeed an episode of The Royals, to disagree. Hurley is the embodiment of foxy.
So, too, is Nicole Kidman who, like Hurley, is also currently on the front of a fashion magazine. Covering the first edition of Tatler under the new editor, Richard Dennen, Kidman appears in a ruffled couture dress, her signature strawberry-blonde hair swept over one shoulder. "The new gilded age,” reads the strapline, possibly in reference to Dennen’s new reign at the magazine’s helm, but possibly also in reference to Kidman who, at 50, looks every inch as golden and gorgeous as she always has.
As the age-old fashion adage goes, two’s company, three’s a trend – and with Kylie, Kidman and Hurley all dominating fashion media this week, the tempting question to ask is: is fashion finally recognising middle age?
It comes as news to no one that the fashion industry has a history of ageism when it comes to women. If you’re not young, skinny and beautiful, then it’s not interested. Of course, it’s not alone in that – see also Hollywood, the music industry, the media world, etc, etc. Where fashion has begun to address its racial diversity and body-image issues, age seems to be the last taboo. The average age of a catwalk model? According to a report two years ago, it was just 17.
Over the past few years, we have certainly seen steps towards a better representation of age. When Joan Didion was announced as the face of Céline eyewear, at the age of 80, it not only garnered widespread acclaim, but started a trend for fashion houses to cast seventysomething and eightysomething women in their campaigns and on their catwalks. Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent, Jan de Villeneuve for Simone Rocha, Maye Musk for CoverGirl, Vanessa Redgrave and Tippi Hedren for Gucci. Dubbed the Greynaissance, fashion went from nought to 60 – or even 80 – in a matter of moments. And, as undoubtedly brilliant and necessary as it has been, what we’ve been left with is two fashionable extremes – the cool, skinny twentynothing and the cool, skinny, albeit silver-haired, octogenarian. But what about those in between?
A recent YouGov poll reports that 80 per cent of British women aged 45-plus don’t feel represented in adverts, with 70 per cent feeling ignored by the high street. I am not yet in this age bracket but, from speaking to many who are, my understanding is that one does not crawl under a rock as the clock strikes midnight on birthday number 45. Nor does one drop off a cliff, sartorially speaking. It seems glaringly obvious that a women in her fifties wants to feel excited by fashion just as she did in her twenties, and for the industry to have ignored that for so long is not only offensive but illogical – that’s a whole lot of spending power not being courted.
Do Liz and co signal a real industry shift? Granted, all three women are slim, beautiful – not to mention white – versions of a fiftysomething. They are by far and away not every woman, and I dare say few would truly identify with any of them. However, they are women in their fifties being put front and centre of the fashion arena – the very place that has made millions of women the same age feel invisible for so long. And this is significant. These magazine covers may not make you want to wear a ruffled dress or a pair of leather dungarees (dear lord, those dungarees), but they might just make you feel like you could.