Joan Didion as It Girl: a sign of real change in fashion?

The internet has been abuzz this past 24 hours with the news that literary doyenne Joan Didion is the new ‘face’ of fashion brand Céline. The glee is in part due to a general love for Didion for being permanently cool for over 40 years, but there is also excitement about fashion houses embracing older and less conventional models. But is this a sign of real change in an industry notoriously obsessed with youth?

Age has been a hot topic lately, and not only from a gloom-and-doom point of view. There have been numerous media articles aiming to shift perceptions about old age and work (including this Old Masters piece in the New York Times), and a recent CR article by Patrick Burgoyne chronicled the way that brands and designers are waking up to the power of the ‘silver pound’.

Older women in fashion ads are actually nothing new, either. Over the last couple of years, Jessica Lange has appeared as the face of Marc Jacobs Beauty, Charlotte Rampling has modelled for NARS Cosmetics, and Angela Lansbury has graced the cover of The Gentlewoman magazine, to name but a few examples.

The particular excitement for Didion’s pairing with Céline is therefore perhaps due to her not being an actress or model, and instead coming from the world of writing, though her links to fashion have always been strong. Plus Céline can only benefit from her kind of cool, particularly with anticipation for a forthcoming Didion documentary, directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, running high. In a way, an icon such as Didion is an inspired, though low risk choice: personalities as strong as hers will always be popular, whatever age they are.

But does this mean that we are finally seeing a move away from youth been perceived as the only kind of beauty? Possibly, though the jury is still out. The average age of customers for high end fashion brands is shifting upwards but companies have been reluctant to reflect this in their ads. Without doing down such a joyous shift in how women are being presented in fashion, these ads still run the risk of feeling like a quirk, a little moment of PR stuntery before we settle back into using the usual fresh young things. (And the question also remains as to whether featuring older people in ads will actually attract older customers, or if they like seeing young people too.)

If fashion houses are serious about being more diverse and interesting in their depictions of beauty though, we want more. We want women in their 40s and 50s featured too (those decades in which you are no longer deemed youthful but are not yet old enough to be revered). And we want the ‘face’ of the brand for once not to be white. Now that would represent real daring.