The return of the supermodels: Vogue puts older stars on its cover

At what point does the fashion industry allow us to look our age? And is this welcome progress, or just window-dressing?

Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen in Milan, 2018
Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen in Milan, 2018

Four supermodels in their fifties will appear on the cover of Vogue’s September issue, coinciding with a new series that looks at their rise and lasting impact. 

The models adorning the Vogue cover – Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford – first came to fame in the early 1990s and are the subject of The Super Models, a new docuseries that will air on Apple TV+ in September. Their continued rock-star status hasn’t been matched by their younger counterparts, so the Vogue cover taps into nostalgia for the decade that gave birth to the supermodel.

Fashion has always been a notoriously youth-oriented industry. But could the supermodel Vogue cover – along with the recent trend for older celebrities choosing to be photographed without make-up – point to a growing appreciation of a more mature and natural beauty? 

There could also be a financial motive. Paula Karaiskos, model agency Storm’s head of press, told The Guardian that putting the likes of Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss on magazine covers is “an attempt to appeal to the ‘silver dollar’ – older consumers familiar with the original generation of supermodels who now have more buying power”.

Natural progression?

Anna Murphy, fashion director for The Times and author of Destination Fabulous: Finding Your Way to the Best You Yet, applauds Vogue’s decision to feature older cover models, but points out that the group are still strikingly beautiful women who have no doubt also benefited from photographic retouching. She told Saga Exceptional: “That cover really sums up the contradiction of where we are in this moment. It’s a huge step forward that we have four women in their fifties on the cover of Vogue – showing age as something to be celebrated rather than feared wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago.

“The problem is that although older women are now ‘allowed’ to appear on magazine covers, they’re still not allowed to look natural. We’re sort of talking the talk and half walking the walk – half-stuck in these retrograde ideas about wrinkles being the worst thing that can ever happen to you.”

Earlier this year, Vogue Philippines featured the magazine’s oldest cover star to date – a 106-year-old tattoo artist named Apo Whang-Od. Her wrinkles not only offer a roadmap of her fascinating life but also give a transcendental beauty to her face. Clearly, the fashion magazine industry finds wrinkles acceptable on people over 100, but where exactly is the age cut-off applied? Martha Stewart adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 81, but still looked remarkably crease-free.

A billion-pound industry has also emerged over the past few decades that feeds into ideas of “perfection”. “The trouble is, if you start having interventions, you can’t then become old in the natural way,” notes Murphy. “And because all this stuff is quite new, we don’t yet have that much data on what it’s like to be 70 or 80 after decades of Botox. I totally get it – there’s no judgement from me. I look in the bathroom mirror and think, ‘Oh, I don’t like that bit’, but I just don’t think erasing a bit of your face is the solution.” 

So where will the fashion industry be in 20 years’ time? Getting back to the September Vogue cover, Murphy adds: “The power that would come from having these women exactly as they are – looking fantastically, naturally their ages – that is a change we need and that I would welcome.”

Written by Bev Hislop