That ’70s Fashion Is Back In Vogue


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As a boomer who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, I am delighted to hear that there’s a retro revival going on for the spring/summer fashion this season – that ’70s fashion of flared sleeves and bell-bottomed pants, knit ponchos, Bohemian dresses and tops, fringe on jackets and bags, and knee-high sandal boots will soon be everywhere! Not that I’ve kept any of my old clothes from 40 years ago for repurposing now, but the seventies fashion has always been my favourite!

According to Vogue magazine, designer Jonathan Anderson said that we’re living in a generation and a moment in fashion where you see a lot of nostalgia. “That’s because, fundamentally, we are living in a moment where no one knows where they are going and everyone is trying to work out whether they fit.” Now, this sounds a bit pessimistic, but it’s true that boomers are all about nostalgia. Pop culture and Hollywood are also enhancing that ’70s effect – Mad Men, American Hustle and Inherent Vice are all visually a feast for the eyes with the ’60s and ’70s fashion, makeup and music.

I personally think that we should not read too much into the trend. Fashion designers and creative directors just need to draw from the past and look into the future. There’s always the theory that fashion looks back in a 30- or 40-year cycle. I have not been excited about fashion trends for the last five years, but I am excited about this retro ’70s look because it brings back fond memories of my youth.

In case you’re still wondering what to wear (should you want to be fashionable), here are the top looks this season:

– Tops or dresses with bell sleeves paired with a suede long-strap bag

– Crochet tops and dresses with a fringed hem

– Soft suede high boots with long fringes

– Bell-bottomed pants and jeans

– “Flatforms” and chunky heels

– Short is out and long is in: maxi dresses with a slit at the front and preferably filled with patchwork

For all of you women boomers who want to have some fun this spring/summer season, just pick the style you like that will give you some fond memories, look fashionable but not ridiculous!

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True Universal Healthcare Should Cover Drugs


Continuing on the subject of healthcare, Canada does not truly have universal healthcare because it’s the only country among a list of 11 developed countries with universal healthcare that does not offer universal prescription drug benefits! With Obamacare, even the U.S. might one day surpass our country in drug coverage.

According to CBC News, about one in 10 Canadians say they can’t afford to take their medications as prescribed. In a recent issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers say the extra total cost to government of providing universal pharmacare could range as high as $5.4 billion, but would likely be about $1 billion, depending on exactly how much can be saved through bulk purchases of medications and other measures. At the same time, it would save the private sector the $8.2 billion annually it spends on prescription drugs, mainly through employee health plans. Saving costs aside, there were many cancer patients who sadly chose to die rather than to incur the exorbitantly high costs of cancer drugs or to impose this financial burden on family members.

According to a recent Global News 16×9 news report, using Manitoba/Ontario as the dividing line in the country, the further West you live, the better it is for provincial drug coverage. For instance, with the recent breakthrough cancer drug which costs $3,000 per month, B.C. covers this drug cost but Ontario does not. Then there’s the issue of patient compliance. Studies in the U.S. suggest that providing prescription medications for free to patients increases the chance they’ll actually take the medications they need and, in the long run, improves their health and reduces their demand on the healthcare system. CBC also reported that Health Minister Rona Ambrose would not say whether she would favour a pharmacare program. She does think Canada can get a better deal by working together on a bulk purchasing system, instead of every province and territory buying drugs for their plans separately. Canada currently has one of the most expensive systems for purchasing prescription drugs in the world.

According to The Council of Canadians, a universal pharmacare program would demand federal oversight and accountability. One of the many positive outcomes of federal involvement could be an ending to the severe drug shortages Canada has been experiencing. If we negotiate with Big Pharma as a national bulk purchaser, we may be able to afford to purchase more of the drugs in short supply.

But I agree with the Council on one important point: Canada created a national and universal healthcare program so that all Canadians could have access to the care they need regardless of their ability to pay. But without pharmacare, Canadians are not able to afford their prescription drugs. This means that patients might skip pills, cut pills, or not even fill in their prescription due to cost.

I’m glad to hear that the Council and its allies, including the Canadian Medical Association, are lobbying all levels of government to expand medicare services to include home and community care, long term care, mental and dental care, and pharmacare. The Council also said  that very successful pharmacare models are operating in other countries and Canada has fallen behind. Let’s hope, for the sake of aging boomers and seniors, that this concerted lobbying effort will result in progress soon!

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Ontario’s Hospitals ER Need Overhaul

hospital-operating-room, global

Healthcare in Canada is top-of-mind for me having just gone through a laparoscopic surgery for appendicitis last week at a major downtown Toronto hospital. Thanks to the wonders of modern medical science, such a surgery is far less invasive than an open surgery and also drastically shortens the recovery time. I was discharged from the hospital in less than 12 hours after the operation.

Most of my friends consider this a minor surgery. When compared to two of my friends who are currently fighting cancer, my health crisis was really minor and I was thankful to the team of surgeons who took care of me in the Operating Room. But never at any stage did I consider my surgery minor, because it took a full hour for the operation to take place and I was put out the entire time. During this time, a micro-camera was inserted into my airwave down my throat to watch my heart during surgery and all my muscles were paralysed. Under such circumstances, anything could have gone wrong and I’m grateful that everything went smoothly due to the skills and professionalism of the surgeons.

But my experience in the hospital’s emergency room was absolutely nightmarish and I would not want that to ever happen to me again or to any of my friends! Having been diagnosed via an abdominal ultrasound by a private clinic that I might be suffering from acute appendicitis, I was advised by my family doctor and the radiologist to walk immediately across the street into the emergency room of a major hospital. Once I got in, I literally could never have imagined that I would be starved and dehydrated for more than 50 hours before I was given surgery. Even though I walked in with a detailed ultrasound report from the private clinic, the hospital’s emergency doctor insisted that I had to go through the hospital’s own abdominal ultrasound again to confirm the diagnosis. He then forgot to ask me whether I had any allergies to the dye they use for CT scans, and when wheeled into the CT imaging room, the technician refused to conduct the imaging due to the single hive I got from the scan last year.

To make a long story short, I had to spend an extra 24 hours in the emergency room and even stayed overnight because I had to be given steroids and antihistamines in preparation for the CT scan. I was lucky that because it was a very treacherous snowstorm day, I was given a bed to spend the night after a lot of pressure from me. In the meantime, they still could not give me food or drinks (except for the IV drip) in anticipation of a possible surgery. Once the CT scan confirmed that I was inflicted with acute appendicitis, it took four hours for a houseman surgeon to see and interview me. Seven hours after the diagnosis, another team of surgeons tried to talk me out of surgery by offering to give me antibiotics to stop the inflammation so that I could be discharged and return to the hospital at a later date for surgery. I had to insist on going through surgery because I told them there’s no way I would go through this ordeal again. Besides, if I went home and my appendix burst, a straightforward, uncomplicated condition would very rapidly have turned into a life-threatening, complicated one. Eventually, the surgeon in charge was convinced and agreed to perform the surgery immediately. Once I got into the Operating Room, everything immediately improved. I had full confidence in the team of surgeons and I was right – they did a beautiful job on me and the problem was fixed!

But why does anyone have to go through those long hours of inefficiency and backlogs in the emergency rooms? Most of the nurses and doctors on duty were overwhelmed with the number of cases they had to deal with and my experience was absolutely horrible. According to Andre Picard of The Globe and Mail, hospitals in Canada are routinely at overcapacity – meaning they have more patients admitted than they have beds. I witnessed the patients on stretchers in hallways during the best of times. During the winter flu season, the situation is even worse. As Mr. Picard said in his article, “What flu season does, more than anything else, is remind us that our health system is too often contemptuous of patients. The winter surge also shines a spotlight on some chronic administrative illnesses that we talk about incessantly, but do nothing to resolve.”

The Ontario government either needs to work with the Federal Government to look into a two-tier healthcare system so that the congestion in emergency rooms of hospitals could be relieved; or they should seriously look into improving the administrative inefficiency and reducing bureaucracy and start showing some compassion for patients instead of sending them home or asking them to stay away from the ER!

I do not want to sound ungrateful because ultimately, my acute health issue got fixed. But God forbid that I, or anybody else, has to be admitted into ER again, because the picture is not getting prettier! In my post-surgery check-up with my family doctor, she said that she is constantly in awe of how her patients have been nicely treated in the Toronto hospitals and how much value-for-money those healthcare services bring. This is what we public relations professionals would say – she’s drinking her own Kool-Aid! The waiting period inside and outside ERs should really be reduced as soon as possible. Canada’s universal healthcare is no longer a national pride – it’s fast becoming a major problem for us with an aging population and no immediate solution!

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Effective Marketing To Boomers And Beyond

Depend Ad

I was recently interviewed by The Globe and Mail in an article published on January 28 about marketing retirement products and services to boomers. I mentioned that it’s very challenging to get the tone right when marketing to boomers, not just for retirement products and services, but for consumer brands as well .

But there are a few examples of brands that have got it right. The first that comes to mind is Kimberly-Clark’s seven-month-old “Underawareness” ad campaign for its Depend undergarments. According to The New York Times, “Underawareness” is a portmanteau of “underwear” and “awareness.” Even though it is aimed at consumers under 50 because nearly half of those who experience some form of urinary incontinence are under 50, it’s a clever way to talk to boomers as well. There is nothing more unglamorous than incontinence – yet, a lot of senior citizens depend on Depend diapers to protect themselves on a daily basis.

According to the brand, the goal of the campaign is to reduce the stigma of the products by showing that bladder incontinence is common and affects younger people more than many people realize. It also highlights that the products look more like underwear than resembling bulky diapers decades ago. The voice-over in the commercial said, “It’s time to bring it out in the open – it’s time to drop your pants for Underawareness. A cause to support the over 65 million people who may need Depend underwear. Show them they’re not alone, and show off a pair of Depend, because wearing a different kind of underwear is no big deal.” Instead of using elderly models, print ads and billboards in the campaign feature attractive models and the brand wanted to show the product outside of its packaging to show that even diaper-underwear could look fashionable!

According to market research firm Euromonitor International, the incontinence underwear category in the U.S. has grown steadily from $1.19 billion in 2008 to $1.55 billion in 2013 – an increase of 30 percent due to an aging population. What I like about this marketing campaign is that Kimberly-Clark understands that by addressing the stigma of incontinence products, the brand could substantially grow for both the boomer and seniors markets as well as the younger-than-50 market suffering from incontinence. It is a bold and gutsy way to embark on a marketing campaign addressing the normality of incontinence with a more fashionable underwear look than the traditional ugly and bulky diapers. Even though the ad campaign wasn’t supposedly aimed at us boomers, how could you not look at these commercials and ads and say, “I can wear that with dignity when the time comes?”

In my last blog post, I commented on Celine and YSL using more mature, authentic women as their faces, namely Joan Didion and Joni Mitchell respectively. But I think it is Prada Menswear that has gone one step further by making Prada a fashion brand for both boomers and millennials. All right, they haven’t gone all the way out to use a boomer face yet, but Prada’s Spring 2015 menswear campaign features the 45-year-old Ethan Hawke as one of its dapper models. Hawke may not fit the boomer demographic in his actual age yet, but his “Before Midnight” and, more recently, “Boyhood” fame clearly made him a boomer father by association.

The other three faces for this campaign are much younger millennial actors – the 27-year-old lead actor of Oscar-nominated movie Whiplash, Miles Teller; the 24-year-old British actor in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, Jack O’Connell; and  the 20-year-old male lead of the movie Divergent, Ansel Elgort. Even though Hawke is not even 50, he looks like a father to the other three younger kids in the same ad campaign. This, in itself, should appeal to boomer men without alienating their younger counterparts.

In fact, fashion brands seem to be fascinated with age and experience this season. Apart from Celine and YSL, Dolce & Gabbana – usually an exceptionally youthful brand – featured a cluster of charming grandmothers gossip with the brand’s embellished leather bags and golden crowns gleaming against their widows’ weeds in the fashion ad. What a brilliant way to demonstrate the spirit of D&G’s Sicilian heritage!

Continuing with the salute to more mature women, Givenchy’s face this season is 47-year-old Julia Roberts while Burberry’s campaign starred iconic supermodel Naomi Campbell cuddling the 24-year-old Jourdan Dunn (somehow giving a slight hint of a mentor-mentee relationship).

Mature men and women inspire a lot of younger people, and it just appears that marketers are slowly and gradually beginning to get it!


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Mature Models: Diversification or Gimmick?

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I was recently interviewed by Canadian Press (CP) about two marketing campaigns for leading international luxury brands featuring older models – Joni Mitchell for Yves Saint Laurent and Joan Didion for Celine. The CP article subsequently got picked up by The Vancouver Sun, The Province, The Windsor Star, Brandon Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Leader-Post, The Star Phoenix, The Huffington Post Canada,, and the websites of Global TV News and CTV News.

The excitement about the 71-year-old Mitchell and 80-year-old Didion emerging as fashion’s newest faces generated a lot of buzz and attention in the media, both online and traditional. When the CP reporter asked me whether this was a marketing gimmick just to be different or whether the two luxury brands were trying to appeal to boomer consumers, I shared with her my thoughts as follows.

Using mature women as models for fashion brands is not entirely new. In my blog post entitled Model Boomers on February 17, 2009, I’ve already said that the fashion industry is finally getting it – you really need boomer models to appeal to boomer consumers! At that time six years ago, the 50-year-old Madonna was donning the ads for Louis Vuitton; 52-year-old Jerry Hall was the new face of Chanel; 50-year-old Twiggy was the model for Marks & Spencer; Ines de la Fresange, a former Lagerfeld muse, walked the Paris haute couture runways at 51; and Lauren Hutton becoming J. Crew’s 2009 cover girl. This trend has progressively been continuing throughout the years.  What’s new now with Mitchell and Didion is that they were not even style or fashion icons when they were younger. Canadian Joni Mitchell (who now lives in California) is a musical icon while Joan Didion is an American literary legend who has inspired so many journalists and writers. The current marketing strategy is not just focusing on external beauty, but a celebration of individuality and inherent beauty. It’s another way of saying: Beauty is not just skin deep – it’s ageless!

So are YSL and Celine trying to appeal to boomer consumers or are these two campaigns using older women more like marketing gimmicks? As luxury brands, of course, they are trying to be different and edgy. The industry chat and word-of-mouth publicity alone have been generating a lot of media and consumer buzz and that’s what advertising is all about! But I also think that marketers are following the money. In Canada alone, boomers comprise 29 percent of the national population and control more than 70 percent of Canadian wealth and close to 60 percent of consumer spending. Discerning boomer women can definitely afford luxury brands and they are not attracted by young, bone-thin and waif-like fashion models. They want to see authentic, mature women role models exuberating confidence, wisdom and vibrancy in fashion advertising.

I would also hope that these luxury-brand marketers are also, at the same time, trying to appeal to younger intelligent women who are inspired by the two musical and literary icons. Maybe by appealing to more mature consumers, YSL and Celine are also trying  to develop new markets among brainier, younger women who are not necessarily yearning to look like the skinny fashion models on the runway.

Having said that, impressive marketing campaigns are useless if they don’t have products that appeal to their target consumers. I took a quick look on the YSL and Celine websites and I have to say that there are very few items on either one that would appeal to me! It’s always a very fine line marketing to boomers – you do not want to offer dowdy-looking apparel to mature women consumers who are still stylish and fashion- conscious. At the same time, you also want to stay away from designing and making clothing that would just appeal to these women’s daughters and granddaughters who might not be able to afford these luxury brands anyway.

I salute older women who continue to pay attention to fashion and be individualistic in their own styles. That’s why I always like the fashion blog (as pointed out by Professor Ben Barry of Ryerson University in the CP article as well) which features stylish, mature women in the streets of New York City. It is truly a brave and refreshing initiative which should be replicated here in Canada as well.

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