Diversity within the fashion industry has been a hot button topic for as long as one can remember, revolving mainly around the lack of representation of races and body types that fall outside of the industry’s narrow definition of beauty. However, one dimension which is often glossed over is that of age — indeed, the overwhelming majority of fashion models are between the ages of 16 and 25, and models over the age of 40 are almost nonexistent in fashion PR materials. Meanwhile, the inclusion of figures such as Cindy Crawford or celebrated novelist Joan Didion are oftentimes one-off gimmicks pandering to nostalgia or novelty to gain column inches.
However, one particular brand that has stayed constant in its use of elderly models is Danish label Han Kjøbenhavn, which has consistently won acclaim for its ability to inject the vitality and charisma of senior citizens into its lookbooks and conceptual short films. In the scarcity of authenticity that our generation often suffers from, we could learn a thing or two from Han Kjøbenhavn’s silver foxes, who wear their hard-earned wrinkles with a devil-may-care attitude only attainable by living a long life.
Intrigued by the stories behind these well-weathered faces, we spoke to brand co-founder Jannik Wikkelsø Davidsen to find out more about the stories behind their cast of models who are redefining what it means to be young at heart.
How did you scout these elderly models?
We found them during the casting of our first short film — I think it was in 2012. A few of them we found on the streets, some on casting sites and one was part of a homeless program. Regarding the homeless [model], we had to make a deal with the people from the program as well as the individual. The people from the program were important as they made sure that he was on location, did his lines, as well as being semi-sober… or at least sober enough to stand straight when the camera was rolling anyways.
Can you tell me a bit more about the models? Did they have any experience in fashion prior or did you kickstart their modelling careers?
Nah, no experience at all, which is the whole idea. It is important that we use people with no history or even interest in fashion. We need people to come into our world being comfortable, being themselves, and not trying to do stuff for personal gain, but to make the project work.
Why did you decide to work with elderly models in the first place? Are you actively gearing your collections towards the elderly too?
It’s not about their age but about the life they have lived. It is important that we work with people who have stories to share, which also can be seen in their facial appearance as well. We know our “models” pretty well by now and know about the life they have lived. A lot of the stuff in our films and shoots are based on an episode or a story which comes from their own life. It’s important to keep everything we do based on the truth, but then build on that and take it into a new creative direction — that way, the models become real in the world we create.
What are the differences between working with an elderly model compared to a young model?
We don’t use young models — the young people we use are from our own crew, friends of friends, or working in the company. That said, I often feel a disconnect between the young model and the role they play in the creative concept. Again, that’s also up to the brand to be able to direct that and make it work, but often, it just doesn’t work.
Often the issue of diversity in the fashion industry concerns race but age is often forgotten. How do you think your lookbooks are overturning preconceptions of the elderly?
I don’t do anything to break conventions or conceptions — I do what I feel is right for my project. It’s not my job to say what’s right or wrong in the world, but it is my job to create the most spectacular and interesting story for people to discover.
What do you think the elderly bring to the table in terms of how they dress themselves when compared to younger people?
Again, they have lived a life. They are confident, they know what they are. That’s the most important thing. You can dress the biggest douche in the good stuff and it will still be wrong. So for me, work on yourself and figure it out — then you will always find a way.
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