On Monday, L'Oreal Paris announced that Helen Mirren, 69, would be a new face for the brand in the UK. She’s the third sexagenarian in the last few months to land herself a beauty endorsement deal; Jessica Lange, 64, did a campaign for Marc Jacobs Beauty back in February and Charlotte Rampling, 68, is currently the face of Nars. Then, of course, there’s Tilda Swinton, 53, who will also front for Nars this coming winter. It certainly feels like a trend, but will featuring older women become the norm in beauty advertising?
First of all, it’s not exactly a new concept. L’Oreal Paris has a long history of tapping older women as spokesmodels. Diane Keaton, 68, and Jane Fonda, 76, both joined the brand in 2006. Ines de la Fressange, 57, became part of the fold in 2011. Then there’s Ellen Degeneres, 56, who became a CoverGirl ambassador in 2008. And we can’t forget the inimitable Iris Apfel, 93, who had her own MAC collection and is currently a model for & Other Stories. Linda Rodin, the 66-year-old model-turned-stylist who’s the creator of the cult favorite beauty brand Rodin Olio Lusso, has been featured in countless glossies and landed an effusive feature in the Chicago Tribune this month. Rodin weighed in on Mirren’s new L’Oreal Paris gig, telling me, “Bravo. Helen Mirren is and always has been an inspiration.”
The idealist in me -- yes, she’s buried in there somewhere -- wants to believe that brands really are committed to portraying beauty at all ages. And indeed, I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I look at the women in these ads. They are all forces to be reckoned with, and damn it, I might just be willing to buy a L'Oreal Paris product because Helen Mirren is awesome. “It’s less about age and more about spirit. This new crop of spokesmodels embodies a confidence that can be relatable to women of every generation,” Gwen Flamberg, beauty director at Us Weekly, told me in an email. “Have you seen those pictures of Helen Mirren in the bathtub or in the red bathing suit? Who wouldn’t want to look like [her]? Confidence is every woman’s best weapon.”
As a woman who no longer sees anything of myself in the baby-faced models featured in most advertising, I find these images of strong, stylish, badass older women comforting, because I want to think that they are the future me. I’ve definitely fallen victim to the beauty and fashion industries’ favorite buzzword: aspirational. I totally want to be as amazing as Tilda Swinton is when I’m in my 50s and I WILL WEAR ALL THE NARS LIPSTICKS IT TAKES TO ACHIEVE THIS. Obviously that's an exaggeration, but these ads definitely spark feelings in me.
As a brief aside, I don’t think we can talk about older women being portrayed publicly as -- gasp! -- sexy without discussing the French connection. In one of my favorite pieces ever written on the topic of why women over 40 should still be considered viable sexual partners and presumably attractive enough to be in beauty ads, an editor at Vanity Fair France told Elle.com last year, “Sex appeal doesn’t go away, because [the French] don’t have such a precise definition of beauty. Quirkiness and charm are more valued than a static idea of perfection. In the United States, beauty is almost mathematical and can only be achieved in your 20s.” It should be noted that L’Oreal Paris, as the name suggests, is a French company. And Nars founder Francois Nars, who tapped two of the ladies mentioned above, is just about the French-est person I’ve ever met. Marc Jacobs can be considered an honorary Frenchman, for all those years he spent designing for Louis Vuitton. So take notes, American companies, and get braver about hiring older women. (This would also be a good place to mention that all of the women mentioned above are very white, so let’s fix that, too.)
But there’s definitely a part of me that’s cynical about all this. I can’t help but compare it to the stunt casting that happens on runways. “Hey, let’s hire a 60-year-old,” I imagine a 30-something marketing person saying at a meeting. “It’ll show that we totally get women.”
I was curious to see how a “regular” woman in her 60s perceived these ads, and I was lucky enough to find Geri Brin, 67, who founded the website FabOverFifty back in 2010. The site currently receives 500,000 to 550,000 unique visitors per month. A vet of the fashion and beauty industries, Brin wrote and edited for Fairchild Publications for over 20 years, did tons of freelance writing in the fashion and beauty space, and started a custom publishing business. She launched FabOverFifty because “I realized women in my generation wanted something on the Internet that really would be theirs,” she says.
Brin calls BS on the beauty industry. “It is pure lip service to put actresses or celebs [in ads] addressing a population that doesn’t even care what these women are doing,” she says. “We love Helen and Ellen, but we don’t give a damn what Helen Mirren uses for her makeup. We’re just too smart for that.” Brin notes that by the time a woman hits 50, she knows what looks good on her. She also said that, not unlike younger women, her generation appreciates reviews from peers, and trusts them much more than brand advertising. “We like to look the best we can. When a whole group tells you they like something, particularly if they’re your peers, you tend to believe them more and listen to them more,” she says. She also believes that people become less susceptible to marketing as they age, so brands need to start interacting with baby boomers in different ways.
“[Older women] want to be spoken to on a much more personal level, and I’ll use Dove as the best example,” Brin says. “That campaign was brilliant, because it was real women.” She also thinks brands should establish more organic relationships with and get real feedback from these women, if the goal truly is for them to use a particular brand’s products.
In her Chicago Tribune piece, Rodin said, “I find it hysterically funny that 40 years later, when I'm wrinkled and a mess, they love me." While the marketing or the motives behind this trend may not be perfect, getting some love and admiration -- and yes, a nice paycheck from a beauty company -- in your 60s is definitely not a bad thing.