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When cosmetics company Nars featured Charlotte Rampling, then 68, in its advertising campaign in 2014, it propelled the older woman to the forefront of fashion.
François Nars, the former make-up artist who created the brand, says: “I don’t put an age limit on beauty. I don’t care if they are 20 or 68.”
But, increasingly, companies do care – and not in the way you might think. Cosmetics and fashion brands are turning to older models to appeal to wealthy older customers and to give their brands a more authentic feel.
Marc Jacobs’ beauty line chose actress Jessica Lange, then 65, as its first celebrity face, while American Apparel turned to Jacky O’Shaughnessy, in her 60s, to model its lingerie, and J Crew featured septuagenarian Lauren Hutton.
Dick Stroud, founder of 20plus30, a consultancy specialising in marketing to older consumers, says the imagery is “just about catching up” with the overall age of the population and the buying power of older consumers.
Conlumino, the retail research group, estimates that in the UK alone, over 65s will spend about £6.9bn on clothing and footwear this year, 15 per cent of the total market. By 2019 this will go up to £8.7bn. Although over 65s tend to spend less on clothing and footwear per head, their buying power will be boosted by the fact that they will be more numerous.
In the US, Hana Ben-Shabat, a partner at consultants AT Kearney, says official statistics show that the over-55s accounted for 30 per cent of US clothing sales in 2013. However, they accounted for 40 per cent of spending on personal care products and services, which includes everything from shampoo to spa days.
With the overall US clothing market worth $200bn and the personal care products and services market worth $76bn, Ms Ben-Shabat says the over-55s’ share of spending is significant: “If you are a retailer or a consumer goods company, you can’t ignore these customers.”
Maureen Hinton, Conlumino’s group research director, says this is a generation that has always been influential. “The baby boom generation has been driving fashion, retail and consumerism in many ways since the 1960s,” she says.
This is not a generation that is ready to look old. “Nowadays, 60-year-olds and 40-year-olds are dressing very similarly,” says Lord Wolfson, chief executive of UK retailer Next
Yet retailers still have to make adjustments – for mature women in particular. As the body ages, its shape changes, especially around the waist. Many women prefer to cover upper arms which have lost their firmness. At about 70 to 75, the body starts to change again. It begins to shrink and the legs become thinner.
To achieve the right fit, N Brown uses in-house models aged from 40 to their late 60s. Marks and Spencer, meanwhile, is presenting autumn ranges where 90 per cent of dresses will have sleeves.
In Japan, where the demographic shift is greatest, retailers are altering the shopping environment for what is known as the “grand generation”. Aeon, Asia’s biggest retailer, is developing malls with wide aisles, plenty of seating and a more upmarket feel. The malls focus on selling products geared at the needs and popular interests for silver-haired shoppers, from wigs to pet-care and smaller portions of food.
The shift is also affecting behaviour in the global cosmetics industry, which has always played on the fears of ageing women. Now, older populations have opened up an opportunity to celebrate a whole new category of consumers, according to L’Oréal, the world’s biggest cosmetics group by sales.
The choice of Helen Mirren as a face of L’Oréal “helps us speak directly to a group of women who are often ignored by the fashion and beauty industry”, says Elen Macaskill, head of the group’s UK arm.
Jean-Paul Agon, chief executive of the French group that produces Lancôme creams, Kérastase shampoo and Maybelline mascara, in June described this generation as a “completely new segment of consumers [that] represent a new and gigantic opportunity for our company”.
The big difference between the upcoming older generation and previous cohorts, is that they are living healthier lives for longer, which is where the opportunity lies for companies such as Estée Lauder of the US and Shiseido of Japan. Shiseido, which also owns Nars, will next year launch a range specially designed for senior people.
As Mr Agon puts it, the 55-year-old woman of today looks more like a 45-year-old of the previous generation. “With all the new products and formulations that we will invent, women 65-plus will look younger than the woman of 55 today. This will mean gaining a total of 20 years’ . . . appearance in one generation. Quite a change.”
The bonus for cosmetics groups and retailers is that older consumers have a greater concentration of wealth and are prepared to pay higher prices, according to Stephen Bond, director of the Demographic Users Group, a collection of retailers who rely on population data to help them make business decisions. So catering to their needs makes sense.
“I’m ‘Prepared To Pay’. If there was a coat of arms for the 55-plus shopper, that would be it,” says Mr Bond.
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