Naomi Campbell in Honney in Agent Provocateur

Age may only be a number when you’re a household name

Last September, as models traversed a mountain of purple sand in Prada’s venue in Milan, frocked up in the brand’s spring/summer 15 collection, social media could barely keep up with the steady stream of praise that the show provoked.

But the outpouring wasn’t just for the beautiful brocades and patchworked leathers, it was also for the return to the catwalk, after a six-year hiatus, of the Australian model Gemma Ward. The reception that greeted her was as heartfelt and effusive as that which greets an old friend after a long absence.

Ward’s was not the only familiar face to make a welcome return that season, and it’s worth noting that she was only 26 at the time of the Prada show, having been scouted at age 14. But faces from the Eighties and Nineties – such as Violeta Sanchez, Amber Valetta and Kirsten Owens – all appeared in the Lanvin show, a decision which Alber Elbaz, artistic director for the house, felt was timely: “When I started working on the casting for the collection of the 125th anniversary of Lanvin, I thought that we’re an industry where we hire a girl for a season or two, and by the age of 17 she’s already retired by the fashion industry.

So I went back and I looked at many different shows that we have done and I called back a lot of the girls I like, from Violeta to Amber, to Esther [De Jong] to Kristen to Malgosia [Bela]. And I didn’t want it to feel like a coming back type of thing, but almost like a parade of women of different ages. And you know, it’s OK to have a bit of wrinkles; it’s OK to have a bit of grey hair, and it’s OK to have both in the same place.”

Elbaz is not alone in his thinking, for model casting has its trends too. In the 1990s, the cult of the supermodel reached such a fever pitch that it completely overshadowed the clothes; the blank-faced anonymity of the next decade was an obvious backlash, but there has recently been a return to personality-led casting.


True, in the Instagram-age the definition of personality is highly elastic: look no further than Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, reality TV ‘personalities’ with huge social media presences who are racking up appearances on catwalks, in campaigns and on magazine covers. Their modelling careers are not yet sufficiently established to determine whether they’re the real deal, or being used by designers to cash in on their online cachet. But the likes of Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn and Karlie Kloss – girls who are as well known outside of fashion circles as in them – prove that there are still mega-watt stars to be made.

Cara Delevingne and Kate Moss for My Burberry fragrance (Dan Medhurst)

The importance of getting the right “girls” means designers will work with casting directors and agencies in order to choose models that will resonate with their customers, without overshadowing the clothes that they’re showcasing. However, that’s a risk that designers like Diane von Furstenburg are happy to take. The New York-based designer has cast Naomi Campbell and Karen Olsen to close recent shows. “They are strong, intelligent, sexy, effortless, beautiful women,” says von Furstenburg. She’s describing Campbell and Olsen, but could just as easily be musing on the character of her customers – women who she hopes to empower at all stages of their lives. “They command presence, and the collection is always all about the woman, so with Karen and Naomi you really see the way those two things come together – the clothes celebrate the woman. Obviously they have a lot of experience and confidence, but all of the girls I cast have confidence; they all have a joie de vivre.”

Jourdan Dunn and Naomi Campbell for Burberry's spring/summer 2015 campaign

Confidence is the key when you’re essentially a very beautiful, very well-paid salesperson. Look at Kate Moss who, despite turning 40 last year, is still one of the highest-paid models in the industry, an almost constant cover star for the various international editions of Vogue and with plenty of ad campaigns under her belt. That longevity is no mean feat, especially when you consider that 10 years ago a tabloid exposé led to her losing many lucrative contracts.

Campbell too has had run-ins with the court of public approval, and the real courts, in the past, but has bounced back repeatedly. Indeed, she’s the face – and body – of Agent Provocateur’s current campaign, for which she was a natural fit in the eyes of Sarah Shotton, creative director of the brand

Lanvin ready to wear spring summer 2015

“She is a woman who is witty, gorgeous and completely comfortable in her own skin. This extra confidence is usually only brought on by the experience of someone who has been at the top of their game for a number of years. We believe that the women who shop in our boutiques are interested in seeing women who embody female empowerment.”

And it makes sense that luxury brands are interested in reflecting their customers – often older, experienced and, let’s be honest, well-paid enough that they can afford a designer label. But it’s a mood that resonates with lower-priced brands too, with Carolyn Murphy modelling for Marks & Spencer and Christy Turlington as a face of Maybelline cosmetics. Taking things to extremes has been the kooky Swedish brand, & Other Stories, which has championed age-diversity in its campaigns since it launched in the UK two years ago, most recently calling upon the world’s oldest supermodel, Daphne Selfe, and Ingmari Lamy, who came to prominence in the Sixties.

For von Furstenburg, choosing the right model is about more than just selling clothes: “Beauty is diversity and diversity is beauty. The runway is where we have the power to spread this message to the world.”