Fashion: Glad to be grey: The fashion world may be waking up to the force and spending power of the over-50s. Kate Constable reports. Interviews by Belinda Morris

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Indy Lifestyle Online
At last, we are waking up to the potency of older men and women.

It is no secret that the over-50s are the fastest growing segment of the population, but what might come as a surprise is their financial and economic muscle: the combined income of the UK's older population has been calculated at over pounds 100bn. And by early next century it will constitute 50 per cent of the electorate.

Our stereotype of what it means to be 'old' may need to be adjusted. This has begun in the United States, where a dynamic term has been coined for the over-60s: 'the grey panthers'.

The Royal College of Art, in London, will be hosting a symposium, 'Designing for our Future Selves', from Tuesday to Friday next week. Rebecca Osborne, from the RCA, explains: 'It's not about designing for older people so much as realigning what is old.'

There will be a series of lectures and an exhibition, which will be open to the public from 15 to 19 November. It will in-clude a wide range of work by RCA students addressing the special needs of an ageing population.

To understand these needs, prejudices may have to be ditched: this generation does not always act its age. They may wear jeans and a T-shirt and sport rebellious black leather (like the 50-year-old Mick Jagger) or influence what we buy by fronting cosmetics campaigns (like the 50-year-old Catherine Deneuve).

What these older people will not be is invisible. And these pictures prove it.

For more information on Designing for our Future Selves, call John Bound, Design Age, Royal College of Art (071-584 5020).

PERRIN JESSOP, 64, works on the reception desk at the Tower Restaurant, South Bank University, London.

Life for me began at 60. I'm doing as much now as I did when I was younger and I feel more useful than ever before. I took a course in bakery and confection at the university about nine years ago and went on to teach. When the restaurant opened to train students on the hotel and catering course, I was invited to go on reception and tutor students in front-of-house skills. I think that my experience working with my husband in the Foreign Office in the Far East probably came in useful.

I call the job my charity work. I put in a lot more hours than I need to and I spend a lot of time with the students - giving advice. I'm like a house mother, mother confessor and agony aunt all rolled into one]

Turning 60 wasn't depressing. I didn't see it as life being over. I feel young, both mentally and physically - I'm very lucky to have good health. If you have your health, you can do so many more things.

I think that working with much younger people keeps me stimulated; that and regular visits to the ballet and the opera. As far as clothes are concerned, I love them and it is only my physique that determines how I dress, not my age.

JOAN BURSTEIN, owner of London's best-known designer emporium, Browns of South Molton Street.

What keeps me feeling young is working in a fast-moving industry with lots of young people; it's very stimulating. What keeps me looking young, I have to admit it, is vanity.

What you eat and how fit you are make a difference, obviously. I play tennis, I walk, I exercise a little every morning. I try to go to a spa once a year and I do a juice fast from time to time. But I'm all in favour of plastic surgery: if it makes you feel better, go for it.

As far as the shop is concerned, I'm not ready to take a back seat just yet. I still go on buying trips and when I'm at home I go into the office every day. And I'll continue to do this as long as I'm able to keep travelling. I need to travel to be inspired. I want to be able to embroider on Browns - you can't rest on your laurels in this business. Like being a designer, you're only as good as the clothes you last offered in the shop.

There are lots of other things I'd like to learn about if I had time. I'd love to be able to speak French fluently, if only to speak to my two French grandchildren. And so, if I stop work, I'll do that and I'm hoping that one day my daughter will take over the reins so that I can stop. But meanwhile, I'm thoroughly enjoying fashion: finding new, young designers. It's an exciting business - otherwise why should I stay in it for so long?

JEAN HANNA, 69

My husband and I have just moved from the house we had lived in for many years into a barn conversion: one we did ourselves.

I'm sure many people felt we ought to have moved into something ready-made, but I would not have missed it for anything. Everything about it was wonderful - I'm almost tempted to do it all again.

If doing that has kept me feeling young, so have my dogs. I used to breed black labradors and walking them is very good exercise. Of course, living in a village means getting involved in all sorts of activities: flower arranging in the church, preparing food for the harvest supper; it's possible to be constantly busy. The clothes I wear reflect my lifestyle. I live in jeans because they're

comfortable and practical and I like easy, smart clothes from Jaeger and Marks & Spencer.

RITA BROWN, 63, 'Saturday girl' at Mulberry at Home, Harvey Nichols, London

I definitely don't feel my age. I work with young people, both in the shop and during the week when I work for a group of young doctors in Stevenage. The people I work with don't treat me as an older person and I love talking to them and listening to them. Society has changed so much. I suppose I'm envious of the opportunities open to young people today - so many more than we had.

Clothes have always been important to me. My interest goes back to when I was very young and influenced by the Hollywood movies. I found costumes from the Thirties particularly inspiring, they were so glamorous. In the Sixties, I used to buy second-hand designer clothes and I was especially fond of Jean Patou and Pierre Balmain.

Later, my daughter went to work for Joseph as a buyer and through her I got to know the newer designer names. I still have a Kenzo peasant skirt that I bought in the Seventies, which I still wear in the winter with thick tights and an Aran sweater. At the other extreme, I have a John Richmond jacket that came from his first collection out of college. I'm even wearing clothes my daughter wore as a teenager. I know that people think I'm eccentric - I stand out in Stevenage - but I like to look different.

(Photographs omitted)

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