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Why the Fashion World Embraced Age Inclusivity in 2017

From the runways to magazine covers to red carpets, men and women of all ages were heralded for their style this year — but does this so-called "trend" have staying power?
Celine Dion leaves from The Mark Hotel for the 2017 'Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between' Met Gala on May 1, 2017 in New York City. Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for The Mark Hotel

Celine Dion leaves from The Mark Hotel for the 2017 'Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between' Met Gala on May 1, 2017 in New York City. Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for The Mark Hotel

As with every September issue of Vogue (and maybe everything else in the world), the release of this year's edition spurred outrage of varying severity on social media. Cover star Jennifer Lawrence graced the front of four different versions of the magazine to mark the publication's 125th anniversary, but even if the Oscar-winner had been featured on 12 covers and personally hand delivered them to every subscriber, a vocal faction of the internet would likely still not have been satisfied.

"Celine Dion is the ultimate style icon of 2017 and should've been on Vogue's September issue and I'm incredibly upset,” one Twitter user posted. "Dear Vogue, Cancel your Jennifer Lawrence September Issue. Burn the photos. Treat Celine Dion like the Queen of your Universe. Fin.," wrote another. Even our own Editor-in-Chief Alyssa got in on the debate — albeit it a much more reasoned and comparatively very chill manner: "Celine Dion September Vogue or nah?"

If you're wondering where this groundswell of grassroots support for 49 year-old Queen Celine originated, consider that she is part of a small but highly visible group of men and women of a certain age who made their signature senses of style widely known this year. Youth may still be the fashion industry's most valuable currency — shout-out Kaia Gerber, age 16 — but if you didn't notice some older, wiser ambassadors getting theirs in 2017, you weren't paying attention.

Dion, with an assist from stylist Law Roach, delighted in avant-garde designs on the red carpet and in a particularly memorable video for Vogue from Paris Couture Week. Jane Fonda covered Town & Country unretouched at 79 and paired a form-fitting, hot pink Brandon Maxwell dress with a $1.75 million necklace that she casually threw on backwards at the Emmy's, like only a boss could. At 73, Lauren Hutton became the oldest woman to ever appear on the cover of Vogue. (She's now 74). Helen Mirren, 72, became a face of L’Oréal Paris and was the star of Allure's September issue, in which the magazine pledged to stop using the phrase "anti-aging" for good. In addition, the internet's favorite heartthrob Jeff Goldblum, 65, delightfully modeled Louis Vuitton PJ's in GQ; Harrison Ford, 75, covered GQ's 60th anniversary edition this fall, and Brad Pitt, 53, gave his first in-depth, post-divorce interview inside GQ Style's summer issue, complete with a heady desert photo shoot by Ryan McGinley.

Photo: Scott Trindle for 'Allure'

Photo: Scott Trindle for 'Allure'

Elsewhere, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Carla Bruni, Helena Christensen and Claudia Schiffer, all over age 45, caused a social media meltdown when they closed the Versace runway show in Milan this September. Irish designer Simone Rocha cast septuagenarian models Jan de Villeneuve and Benedetta Barzini in her show, and Whoopi Goldberg, 62, proved she was as in-the-know about buzzy designers as any downtown youth when she attended the New York Fashion Week presentations of Fenty Puma and Vaquera. And after initially biting one of his creations, Gucci entered into a business partnership with Harlem icon and fashion stalwart Dapper Dan, eventually featuring him in an ad campaign.

The concept of an older person dressing well — "older" obviously being a very relative term here — is not new or particularly novel. But nothing is too sacred, too silly or too reductive to be commodified online and turned into a microtrend by the fashion industry. It would perhaps be overestimating meme culture to imply that for some people, the Tumblr-ready irony of Dion wearing a Vetements Titanic hoodie or the impulse to tweet "DAD!" at photos of a Raf Simons-clad Goldblum holds any meaningful weight.

Still, with a glass-half-full outlook, making some room for the living legends among us is a refreshing change of pace. Don't forget, fashion designers and casting directors have historically been so youth-obsessed that laws were enacted and in-house policies adopted to restrict a minimum age for employable models.

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Fashion icons who've lived a little life can of course teach us all something about dressing with confidence, a product of the self-assurance that comes with age. Sure, a video of Bella Hadid or Kylie Jenner wearing couture would have likely gone viral, too, but would they have been able to sell munching on pomme frites in Margiela with the same freewheeling, untethered panache as Dion?

"There's always a level of eccentricity with the older, revered people in the industry," says Corey Stokes, stylist and editor-at-large for High Snobiety. "Either they have a loud personality or a louder wardrobe to make us want to pay attention."

As much as he admires the undaunted self-possession of a Lenny Kravitz or Dapper Dan, Stokes isn't sure the recent attention paid to senior looks actually amounts to a significant shift toward age inclusivity in fashion. "We can also comment on designers like Demna [Gvasalia of Vetements and Balenciaga] and Chromat, who make sure to show models from all ages, ethnicities and body shapes on their runway," he says. “But to be honest, that's hard to read as genuine and not just a PR stunt. I'm not even sure what it'll take or what that shift looks like."

But even if age-inclusive casting is still more the exception than it is the rule, it did appear to be more widespread this year. Designers like Rachel Comey, Shayne Oliver for Helmut Lang, Eckhaus Latta and Vaquera worked with models (and in some cases, non-models) who were well outside of their 20's. The Fashion Spot reports that for the Fall 2017 season, 21 models older than 50 walked in women's shows in New York, London, Paris and Milan. That is a small number proportionately, but it's one that has been climbing steadily since over the last four seasons, the site says, up from just 5 during Spring 2016 shows.

The Versace Spring 2018 finale. Photo: Imaxtree

The Versace Spring 2018 finale. Photo: Imaxtree

As to the "why now?" of it all — a good two years after a Celine campaign starring Joan Didion inspired several think pieces, but not, at the time, a lasting trend — it's possible that the current embrace of the Whoopis and Fondas is less about propping up deserving heroes and more about addressing our own present-day fears. Naomi Fry, a culture writer based in New York, suggests that older celebrities may be an enduring comfort in a tumultuous world. "Whereas usually fashion thrives on the new and the young and on the trendy, things feel in some way unprecedented," she says of the current political climate. "Possibly now, there is the sense of, 'OK, is there a future? Will we be here tomorrow? Will we be here the day after tomorrow? What will that look like?' Maybe partly that's why people might be looking to older icons."

In internet-y terms, it's a shift away from commenting "mom" under a photo of Dion as an adoring stamp of approval toward a more plaintive cry for reassurance. "Yas, Mom!" vs. "Please, Mom?!," as it were.

"Young people are what gives us hope, because they have so much ahead of them still," Fry adds. "Of course, that's still true in some senses. But in other senses, you want to see people who are keeping on, have been doing their thing for a while and are still able to do that — and look amazing in the process."

We'll have to wait and see whether this year marks a genuine stride toward age inclusivity, or if these examples prove to be largely PR stunts, meme bait, or isolated exceptions to the fashion status quo. But for now, it may be enough of a good thing to see that existing industry platforms can be used to demonstrate that being recognized for dressing well or having stellar personal style doesn't end at 25 — and neither does the prospect of a better life on the other side of our current problems.

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