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, Canada.com, 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 http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com (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.