Old gold: seniors find second life in modelling

Tall and dapper at 78, Yvon Castaing is not your average grandpa: the Frenchman is a professional model, a second career he stumbled on 15 years ago after retiring from his first.

Advertising used to focus almost exclusively on the young, the nubile, the energetic. But as Western populations age better and better, models over 60 - sometimes way over 60 - have become increasingly bankable.

Castaing is, well, straight from central casting, the perfect gentleman in a blue-and-white striped shirt matched to his blue eyes, and as crisp as his diction is clear.

"I am a dandy, I admit it," he says disarmingly.

Born into a large family in 1932, Castaing started his career with a brief stint in the hotel business but found his calling selling perfume at the esteemed French luxury house Hermes.

"I was a good salesman," he said with a smile. "I guess that's why I also like modelling - you have to sell yourself."

His new career started in 1994 after a chance encounter with Beatrice Costantini, an actress who also heads Agence Di, a Paris-based agency specialised in actors that offers a large selection of seniors.

"When I started my agency there was a demand for grandmother types - little old ladies with grey hair, tiny grannies who made jam and biscuits," Costantini told AFP.

"But over the years the traditional grandma is no longer true to type. People now want healthy dynamic seniors," explains Costantini.

Castaing had long flirted with the idea of becoming an actor, even taking lessons and appearing in a few amateur plays. So when Costantini asked if he wanted to cast for an advertisement, it didn't seem like too big a leap.

Over the next couple of years, he had walk-on roles in movies for Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese and French director Claude Lelouch, but today he only does commercials and print ads.

- Old is gold -

---------

Business is booming. Having wrinkles, it seems, is no longer a taboo.

"There is definitely a market for seniors today," said Costantini, whose agency has more than 500 models on tap in its "Young Forever" department.

Nearly 30 percent of people in France are over 55, demographically typical of many rich nations. So old is becoming gold, and ads for stair lifts and dentures adhesive just don't cut it any more.

Françoise de Stael, also 78 and one of the leading lights on France's seniors modelling scene, has seen the profession become far more competitive as brands look to corner the seniors market.

"You have to struggle every day to keep your place in this milieu," she said. "There are a limited number of opportunities, and there are more and more people showing up for senior castings, some of them only 50. You need a lot of patience."

A former fashion model, De Stael says that apart from the cash "it's good for morale."

"We remain young because we work with young people. That's what I really love about this job."

But a sunset-years career on the catwalk or in front of a camera can have its perils.

"I did a shoot on my 60th birthday in which they asked me to jump on a trampoline," Castaing recalled. "I did it, but it wasn't easy and I wound up with an acute inflammation of the knee."

"Sometimes they ask us to do very stupid things to give an image of dynamic seniors, able to do the same things as youths", De Stael said.

Paradoxically, working behind a camera well into their 70s has made both models less self-conscious about their looks.

"I used to be too narcissistic. But at some point, you really do realize that beauty is only skin deep," Castaing said. "Being young is all in your mind."

De Stael says she won't invest in cosmetic surgery or rejuvenation shots just to stay competitive.

Being philosophical about looks doesn't mean letting oneself go, however.

Castaing cycles and swims every day, and is careful about what he eats. De Stael walks vigorously, and takes special care of her hair and nails.

"The engine gets tired but the bodywork's still OK," said Castaing.

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