Sunday, May 20, 2007

"Rage" of the Age

It seemed that the main topic of discussion this past Thursday, was aging and the age issue. I began the day reading Cathy Horyn’s front page New York Times Thursday ‘Style’ section article, "Older, Better, But Harder to Dress", which dealt with (what she and others) perceive as the challenges facing ‘mature’ women as they shop for clothing these days. Say what??? Of course, I was not asked my opinion but if I had, I would have gladly given my opinion. And to all those women over a “certain age” who complain that they cannot find suitable clothes for them, I have two words for you (to paraphrase Joan Rivers), “Grow Up”!

The suggestion that the majority of styles 'out there' are only suited to the very young is like complaining that you can't lose weight or stay on a diet because the restaurants only serve “fattening food” or that the stores only stock high caloric items on their shelves. I say, "Seek and ye shall find"! As a consumer over a ‘certain age’ myself I can attest to the fact that my problem is not finding 'age appropriate' stuff (whatever that means) but being able to pay for all of it.

We’re at a moment in fashion which is marked not only by variety in terms of styles, but variety in terms of how to buy clothes (in retail and thrift shops, vintage stores, online, at auction, etc.). If anything, it’s a perfect time NOT to be an adolescent because the 'growing' trend has been towards the decidedly ‘ladylike’, more grownup, and sophisticated, as well as for covering up rather than baring. (It’s all about fabric these days). And that includes arms (admittedly, one's upper arms and going sleeveless has long been an issue for the older woman). Not only are there many designs that feature sleeves, but sleeves have become an obsession with designers who continue to focus on their shape, length, silhouette.

And if you feel as bad about your neck as Nora Ephron, (who penned the entertaining book about aging, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”), not to worry, there are mock turtlenecks, high turtlenecks, dramatic sculptural collars, a variety of interesting necklines, and a myriad of scarves in every length, width, fabrication, and color which would make both the perfect camouflage and fashion statement.

In addition, fashion designers have been enamored with experimenting with proportion, and playing with volume, which by definition contributes to a wide range of creations that could easily be considered supremely suitable and flattering for the more mature body.

As for the complaint that there are far too many baby dolls, minis, low rise skinny jeans, prepubscent pinks, etc., the way I see it, for every babydoll, there's a chemise or shift; for every low-rise skinny jean there's a high waisted full cut trouser; for every cloyingly sweet pastel there’s black, navy, tan, white, and gray; for every mini dress there's a knee length shirtdress. (As for that mini dress, put one over a pair of pants and you've got yourself a chic tunic!). And it's positively 'democratic'. The article's focus on very expensive labels (like Lanvin, Marni, Dries Van Noten) and the contention that the cut and fit (that can only be found in high end design names), is the key to looking good, is ridiculous. Sure it's nice if one can afford the best but there are smart trench coats, neat safari jackets, crisp blazers, great white shirts, knee length pencil skirts, a plethora of 'tailleur', matched and unmatched suits, great knitwear, little black dresses, evening gowns, etc. at every price level, from couture down to mass chains like H &M, Target, and The Gap.

While I'll be the first to admit that looking smart and chic in the summer (a time that's more difficult to cover up), is more of a challenge to those over a certain age, my suggestion would be to take a lesson from octogenarian Iris Barrel Apfel, a woman whose amazing personal style was the focus of a last year's exhibit at the Costume Institute of the Museum of Art, "Rara Avis". (And a woman who also single handedly negates Linda Well's observation that “The choice is to wear something juvenile or be a total killjoy”). She is far and away t he best dressed, most modern, and hippest looking woman in the room, and she usually chooses solid colors and unfussy, clean, architectural lines (which are a perfect foil for her statement making accessories).

When I asked what her urban summer uniform is, without hesitation she said, "a crisp white shirt and a pair of jeans" (men's jeans in fact). Add a fabulous necklace and great bag and simply put, the age less, timeless look is hard to beat. And let’s not forget that we're at a moment when accessories 'rule'. They can be used to dress up, add personality, and literally transform the simplest, most classic basics.

I think one of the biggest mistakes older women make (and perhaps most women in general) is that they often complicate their lives and their fashion by trying too hard to be ‘fashiony’ while they overlook the obvious: that it’s most often the simplest, most basic elements that not only stand the test of time, but are the least aging and look the best.

And speaking of looking the best and aging both subjects, including “The Anti-Aging Phenomenon”) were served up along with fresh fruit, chicken breast, and chocolate dessert at Fashi on Group International’s “The Con vergence of Health & Beauty Luncheon” held at the New York Hilton. The Moderator was Gregory Stock, PhD, CEO and President of Signum BioScience who has appeared on such high profile TV shows as Charlie Rose, Oprah Winfrey and Larry King. His passionate and upbeat introductory speech was fill ed with hope and optimism about what the future holds and he observed that “we yearn to defy aging, and we can almost b elieve it’s possible here and now. We’re in a very amazing, special time and entering unchartered territory.”

Two major unprecedented events which he singled out as contributing to the “watershed moment we’re living in right now”: 1- The Silicon Revolution (thanks to technology we’re actually “animating the inanimate”; 2- The Biotech Revolution (“life has begun to understand itself”). He promised that in the future, we’ll be talking about reworking our biology, slowing down and reversing the aging process, managing our emotions, and changing human reproduction.

He then addressed the three highly credentialed and equally qualified panelists who sat on stage, and engaged them in discussions which focused on the connection between nutrition, health, beauty, and skincare; customer loyalty to brand and customer expectation (is it greater these days? you bet!); the connection between the skin and the rest of the body; what we can expect in the future and pondered whether or not the “new status symbol” was “aging well without surgery” (the jury is out…it’s a matter of choice).

For her part, Nicole Fourgoux, AVP, Garnier Nutritioniste stated that “we are what we eat” and noted that “we want our products not only to be attractive but consumer friendly and down to earth.”

Howard Murad, M.D., CEO and founder of Murad, Inc. talked about the connection between the skin and every organ in the body and emphasized how important it is to find what can be done to minimize damage. He attributed his success to the know ledge that “understand ing the person is as important as understanding the product”. He also stated that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “our goal is to get you to believe you are beautiful”. “It’s not about perfection but about feeling good about yourself.”

Lynne Greene, Global President of Clinique ( who received perhaps the most rousing applause when she was introduced) described her company’s products as “Hope in a J ar” (and there’s “more and more hope”) and went on to talk about the part illusion plays in the business. “We’re at an interesting illusionist place…the feeling seems to be, “If I look young than I am young” (a thought process similar to “I think therefore I am”). She said women “expect to look good as long as they can and they don’t care HOW (and she emphasized HOW) they achieve that”. “We are in the world of beauty” and it’s all about “the quick fix”. “The ability to quickly change one’s appearance is where it’s at right now.” In terms of customer loyalty, she had no delusions about what the most important factor is: “The claim vs. the reality of what it is BETTER be there.”

Speaking of ‘Hope in a Jar’, in addition to the delicious three course lunch, each attendee received his or her very own “Hope in a Jar” goodie bag filled with the following samples: DDF’s Cellular Cleansing Complex; Murad’s Energizing Pomegranate Moisturizer SPF 15; Garnier’s Nutritioniste ‘Skin Renew ’ daily regenerating serum and their ‘Nutri-Pure’ detoxifying wet cleansing towelettes; and Pearl Ice’s Cooling Eye Mask. I intend to try then all. Where there’s hope there's life.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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