When I read about a new agency that was featuring mostly 40+ models that had proudly grown out their grey hair I knew I had contact them.
It was always my intention to run a PRO Ageing issue this month so this was a dream come true!
Rebecca Valentine is the force behind this amazing agency taking the world by storm. I had the pleasure of talking with her via Skype when the agency was in it’s first month.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. It’s incredible what you’ve achieved in a few short weeks of the agency being open for business.
Can you tell me how the agency came about?
After watching the market for a few years and noticing how increasingly brands were opting to use more mature models in their campaigns I was surprised that no-one had started a specialist mature model agency in the UK. When I researched the area early this year I found that my suspicions were correct and that the market was moving towards a truer representation of this age group and although some agencies carried ‘classic’ models I only found one dedicated to mature models and then only female ex-fashion models. The timing seemed to be right to launch an agency dedicated to representing the diversity within this 35= age group and once I got the ball rolling it began to snowball with enthusiasm from the models I approached and the national and international press.
Who are the women on your books? Everyday women, ex models or a mix?
I wanted Grey to compete at the top level for advertising and editorial commissions so it was important to ensure our models were professional, so many have previous modeling experience or an acting or dancing background. Of course Sara Stockbridge is internationally renowned for her modeling career with Vivienne Westwood and that together with her unconventional approach and consistent re-modeling of herself as an actress, a novelist and a front woman in a band provides the perfect blueprint for the type of person we want to attract to our books. That means that some of our models have been selected on looks and personality without a performance background but still they possess an outgoing nature and zest for life that provides them with a natural presence in front of the camera. I wouldn’t call them everyday women, far from it, they are men and women who are inspirational, aspirational with a plethora of experience and wisdom to back them up.
What does it mean for women being over 40 now to say a generation ago?
Both men and women are very different from a generation ago. They have lived through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when popular culture positively encouraged expression through appearance, fashion and art. Especially here in the UK where we have a strong heritage of individualism borne out of a suppressed, perhaps oppressed society. Internationally this age group is more media-savvy than any before, they understand their power and recognize their merits to influence media and advertising. Many have even been involved in shaping this world and now they want to use their powers to influence perception to better represent their choices and lifestyle now.
I love how you’re influencing the change of perception of what it now means to be 40 plus. Where do you see these changes leading how this market is viewed in the future?
I hope the hugely positive response we have received internationally since our launch only a few weeks ago is not a reaction to a novelty idea, and signals instead a long-awaited move away from the strive for perfection and return to youth that we have seen for over 30 years now. The whitewash of perfection and youth over content, individualism and personality has killed much of the creativity that we used to see in advertising in the 70’s when the industry was young and opportunities were wide open to the creative teams who were really pioneers. In latter years it seems to me campaigns have been client-led with creative teams working within very narrow briefs. By embracing diversity the breadth of opportunities will be rekindled. As well as winning campaigns and commissions Grey plans to create our own campaigns, TV shows, charity collaborations and continue to scout for elegant-eccentric models to prove to marketers that age does not spell drab, unaspiring or safe.
How are women ‘ageing well’ and staying fitter and healthier to achieve that youthful glow?
I think there is a dawning realization that nips and tucks, botox, fad (quick fix) diets and baby-blonde hair does not strip the years away and replace with a dewy return to youth. Like everything worth having in life it takes work commitment and most importantly belief. A clear picture is emerging as we get to know the models on our books that the trim figures, glamorous hair and healthy complexions are the result of years of yoga, pilates, lots of water, lots of exercise and outdoor pleasures, fun, a willingness and courage to change and an embrace of the new. This is the case for both men and women.
Can you tell me about how the tide is turning on women embracing their age as opposed to fighting it by turning to surgery to try to look like 20 or 30 years olds? I believe you’ve used the term pro ageing as opposed to anti ageing?
Yes, in addition to the answers above, we are beginning to see a change in approach from the beauty industry who are being forced to act on market opinion that wants to talk about pro-ageing products that complement the changes in skin texture and complexion as we age. I am hearing that beauty PR’s are being advised to describe products as pro-ageing rather than anti-ageing and this is one of the biggest changes of approach in decades.
Do you feel like it is achievable to change the way media portrays the over 40 age group?
It is achievable, indeed unstoppable. Despite popular opinion it is the market that changes and influences the media and marketing industries (who are continually trying to find ways to ‘tap in’ to that market, gain their understanding and support so they might reach them with their product). I feel the old adage of power and influence is gained through fear and greed is waning. Now power through knowledge is taking root and this age group have more knowledge and experience than any other. However, for the change to come sooner rather than later we do need to bring a call to arms and have more features like this one repeated continually throughout the consumer and trade press; TV shows embracing the ‘grey’ and advertisers taking the baton from beauty and fashion houses to begin appealing to the 40+ market via a true, non-caricatured, representation of age.
I just love how you’re smashing stereotypes. Where do you see Grey heading in the future?
We want to preserve archetypes as these are representative too but we do not want the market limited to eccentric or staid. Our hashtag eleganteccentric aptly describes the ‘grey’ area that is being overlooked. The word grey is perhaps used ironically in this instance as this is such a colourful diverse section of the 40+ demographic. Grey model, Matthew Morris has a shaved head, beautiful body artwork and a grey goatee but our focus here is not on alternative but beautifully individual. Tattoos and piercings wont get you on the books of Grey alone. Similarly we have had very attractive people apply to the agency but as pretty or handsome as they are they do not stand out. A great recent signing is Jon Campling, both actor and model, Jon’s look is very much his own, he is very handsome but he also lives his look and that shines through. We also look for models with a very adaptable look such as Alex Bruni whose beautiful Italian looks can carry a fashion feature in Vogue as comfortably as a fresh-faced beauty campaign for Oil of Ulay. We are continually on the hunt for these ‘new’ archetypes and plan to launch a TV show in a nationwide hunt for the next top Grey model.
Thank you so much for your time. Grey is already such a huge success and I look forward to seeing the change in perception and marketing of older women.