The Grey Model Agency isn’t explicitly an agency for grey models but if you are, it helps. It was launched last week by Rebecca Valentine, a former photographic agent, with a view to scouting, casting and signing models aged 35 upwards. Valentine came to the idea after realising a distinct “lack of supply” of older models alongside a shift of demographic in the beauty industry. “In the modelling world, once you hit 24 you’re can be considered past it,” she says. “But the truth is, people want to see older models, in campaigns especially. For a middle-aged woman, looking at an image of a woman half her age wearing the dress she wants isn’t going to inspire her, is it?”
The idea, says Valentine, is to focus on casting older models in younger roles; grey-haired women in tracksuits, that sort of thing. Basic retouching is considered a necessity in photography, so that will happen, but extensive use of Photoshop won’t (“otherwise, what’s the point of casting an older model?”). A handful of the people on the agency’s books are former models, answering that difficult question about what happens when models hit their mid-20s, but the rest are “elegant and eccentric” civilians. Dancers with dodgy hips. Former PRs. Masseuses.
In the last few years, fashion has cottoned on to the grey pound by fostering more diversity in fashion campaigns. A hatful of older campaign stars including Joan Didion, Cher and Joni Mitchell are valiantly subverting media perceptions of how we see age. Now, older models front Dove campaigns. If they’re Cher, they land the cover of Love magazine, and if they’re Veruschka, they walk on Giles Deacon’s catwalk. It figures that the modelling world is following suit; older shoppers are no longer placed at the weak end of the market, so it makes sense to ship in models who speak directly to the buyer, women who celebrate age.
But what of the men? This week, George Clooney revealed that he thinks men age better if they accept it gracefully rather than fight it; if they welcome the wrinkles as they roll in. But while Hollywood has long been accepting of older men (not so much the women) it hasn’t always been the case in fashion. Here, three “older” male models explain what it’s like modelling when you’re considered “past it” and the terror of seeing a grey beard in the mirror.
“Mid-30s are tricky for a man. I don’t know if I look my age. What does a 35-year-old look like? But obviously, while we’re still young, we fall into society’s perception of what is old now. I think that 40 is the new 30 but at my age, you’re no longer seen as a young man, even if you feel like one. I still do, but according to the mainstream, I am too old to model. But the thing is: say, you’re modelling a fashion brand, the guys my age are the ones with the money so how are they meant to identify with a model who is a teenager and could be a boy or a girl, looks-wise? We, the mid-30s, are where it’s at.
“I never really thought about modelling as a full-on career; my background is more music and art, that sort of thing. And, of course, I look in the mirror and think: ‘Oh God, I’m going grey’, but to be honest, I’ve had silver streaks since I was a teenager so I’ve sort of found peace with it. I think it’s widely known that men age better than women but I think [the perception] of ageing is changing. And I think using older models will help.
“I have a beard but I didn’t consciously grow it for modelling, to look the part. I spent many years on the road and I just got lazy and didn’t cut it. It comes and goes. I think it’s my lifestyle that makes me ‘seem’ younger than I am, it hasn’t been conventional or mainstream and that probably makes a difference. But I still find it weird when I get attention from younger girls.”
“I’m a performer and a dancer, among other things, but yes, I suppose modelling is something I do. It started when I was scouted in Brighton by an independent label. I hadn’t thought about it before, I was more focused on my other jobs, but I enjoyed it so I thought I’d apply to the agency. To be honest, now I’m 45, it feels like the right time.
“I recently landed the Esprit AW campaign. I’m the oldest model in the group, but it’s the first time I’ve been able to do more than whisper ‘I’m a model’. I sort of can’t believe it, really. I suppose that modelling at 45 defies convention but that’s not just the case for this industry. I mean, at 45, I am ‘too old’ to be a dancer. For example, it takes longer to repair if you get injured. But that said, it does feel very rewarding to be considered a model at this age and to get that campaign.
“I don’t think about ageing on a day-to-day basis. I mean, sure, sometimes I look in the mirror and think: ‘Look at my beard, look how grey it is’, or think the hair on top is thinning. But ultimately you have to feel your age, you know, to let it bother you. I don’t think about it. I suppose it’s considered easier to age if you’re a man, because people use words like ‘distinguished’ when they talk about older men. But my aim is to work at an agency which makes it OK to be older, regardless of gender. I hope that what I do empowers men and women my age.”
I think that society does view age in a different way now. Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t see tattoos or albino models, or even gappy teeth, so society must have changed its attitude towards beauty. The idea of what is good looking is very different, and I hope to help change perceptions. I don’t mean I think I’m good looking at all, and I find the fact that I have been signed surprising, but I don’t see myself as the classic black model, if that makes sense. Or at least what’s considered classic. I am skinny, black and old; I look like ‘a father’. I think black male models are stereotyped as being buff or ripped, not tall men who like to dance, like me.
“I’ve done all sorts, some PR and marketing, but I’ve always been interested in fashion, I just didn’t think that I’d fit in. I’m going for a more elegant look, you know, incorporating dancing into my shoots. People would probably assume I’m at home sipping Ovaltine in front of Corrie. But I still go to clubs and I still see the same people there and we’re all still dancing, which must say something about society, perceptions and the reality of what it’s like to get older.”