'I want to be old like you': The icons and the influencers

Millennials are taking inspiration from these influencers, for whom age is just a number and grey hair, a badge of cool. Bucking norms and expectations, they are the ones we aspire to be, even in our 30s and 40s

Updated - December 03, 2021 10:04 am IST

Published - December 14, 2018 05:26 pm IST

Anti-ageing is dead. Well, almost — as a word, even if not as a concept. This year, the Royal Society for Public Health called for the term to be banned from the beauty and cosmetics business altogether. Last year, Allure magazine declared it wouldn’t use it. We couldn’t be more grateful. For those who are panicked that the world will now collapse into a dry, wrinkled heap, or explode into an oily, acne-ridden one, breathe. We’ve still got retinols.

At the beginning of the year, the Innovation Group London studied women of what they called the Elastic Generation, or Baby Boomers, between 53 and 72. They “are living according to how they feel rather than how they ought, whether that means divorcing or dating, travelling or starting a business. As decision-makers, entrepreneurs, caregivers and creators, Elastic Generation women continue to push the boundaries and upend the status quo,” says a J Walter Thompson Intelligence Report.

Amidst cries of ageism, the comfort of better means and the knowledge of a higher life expectancy, a movement was born. It had no template and it doesn’t define the person – the person defines it. Advanced style was mainstreamed in part after Ari Seth Cohen began a blog in 2008, at 35, where he showcased photographs of older women he was intrigued by, their pictures going with a story. Their clothing choices were always interesting, though that wasn’t the whole story. “Advanced Style has always been about the personal expression, spirit, vitality and creativity of my subjects. Clothing and style are a starting point to a much wider conversation about lifestyle and ageing, and how we should be free to be who we truly are at any age,” he says, in an email interview from the US.

It takes the edge off the fact that maybe you’re just as wild in your 70s as you were at 20. Or maybe you take something you already have, like Lyn Slater, and do a blog that catapults you into being an ‘Accidental Icon’ as she calls herself. Slater is a 64-year-old professor, who has a 575k following on Instagram (@iconaccidental).

If style is just the most obvious point to start at, what does it lead into? What has changed from a previous generation bound by destiny, domesticity and duty? When did pearls stop being the uniform of those ‘over a certain age’? We spoke to people who are living their lives with few regrets, admitting to their follies and foibles, and embracing life as it is — in the here and now. And to those younger than them, to understand the lure of what was once considered the twilight years.

Prabha Narasimhan, 67

“When you’re successful, you wear that confidence; not arrogance or aggressiveness, but confidence,” says Narasimhan, who worked in the travel industry, now runs a design unit in Chennai, and has a sense of style that inspires many generations. “If you can pull off certain colours and styles, you go ahead and do it.” She herself dabbles in the soft colour palette, “though the odd fuchsia does attract me”. She says improved fitness levels have given people the body confidence to experiment with a wider number of styles. Advanced style, for her, is the ability to mix a sari with an accessory from Forever 21, while access to technology has shortened gaps between generations.

Isla Maria Van Damme, 74

“Over the next two months, I’ll be taking 22 flights,” exclaims Van Damme, a designer of Belgian parentage, who lives and works in India. She’s known by her tinkling voice and her easier-sounding name, Loulou. The secret, she says, is “never to let go, to keep busy and, at the same time, don’t hang on to the old. It’s like a garment that you sometimes have to let go of — you keep the memory, but move on”. We are all inspired and influenced by what’s happening around us, whether it is food or people or colour. But, she says, you digest it, and do your thing. “There’s always been a certain simplicity in what I like. I prefer smaller budgets, which makes you think and respect everything you buy. I’m particular about proportions, colour. I love black and white, or a lot of white and earthy colours. I hate pastels.” More than anything, she doesn’t take life too seriously, “the ability to make fun of oneself”. Which is probably why she doesn’t attempt to ‘conceal’ her lines.

Shobhaa De, 70

She’s clear about who her advanced style icons are: Glenn Close, Judi Dench, Cher, Diane Keaton. The author herself “was born a gypsy; will die a gypsy. I’m a fashion philanderer, a fashion anarchist. I enjoy experimenting with clothes and accessories. I treat fashion as a form of self-expression.” We ask the Mumbaiite whether she feels being age-appropriate is a thing. “Depends. Who defines what’s ‘age appropriate’? Women know instinctively what is or isn’t appropriate. This has to do with conditioning and upbringing… I’m all for pushing the envelope, though. The sari is the safest answer and hides all the bits and bobs one accumulates over decades. I call myself a Sari Warrior because I want more young women to learn how to drape it and love themselves in it.”

Daljit Sean Singh

Daljit Sean Singh

Daljit Sean Singh, 49

He isn’t supposed to be on this advanced style list at all, but his beard, which he finds ages him, has made him attractive to the advertising industry. “My mother says I look like her grandfather,” he jokes. The upside, he says, is that when he actually decides to get rid of his beard (“Often people talk to the beard — it’s like it has a separate life!”) people will be pleasantly surprised by his youth. On a serious note though, the Delhiite, who has been troubled with alcoholism and homelessness in the past, says his life today is focussed on what it will be in the last one-third. So he keeps his body fit: “My aim is to touch my toes at 98 or be like Fauja Singh or Wang Deshun (the 82-year-old Chinese model).” Growing old is a privilege, the actor-model says. “I’ll age and mature, but growing up? It sounds pretty boring to me. I’ve seen a few grown ups, and no!”

Chinna Dua, 58

Dr Padmavati Dua, a Delhi-based radiologist known to everyone as Chinna, joined several sari groups a year ago. In the process, she rediscovered many of her 400-odd saris, most bought by her husband, TV personality Vinod Dua. If you look at her photos, they’re simply those of a woman having fun (@chinnadua, 16.6k followers). But while she loves wearing saris, even drawing bindis to match a motif, she’s also practical, wearing tights on a flight because she doesn’t want her clothes sweeping across public loos. Dua was reluctant to join Instagram initially, but has found it a wonderful connector since. “There is joy in just dressing up and stepping out,” she says.

Iris Apfel, 97

Fashion has always loved the stereotype: tall, waif-like, long straight hair. But even when the industry ‘took in’ colour and curls, it never strayed from one basic: youth, which was always synonymous with beauty. Until Iris Apfel happened. “Every time I do it, I do a different way. I like individuality. So lost these days. There’s so much sameness – everything’s homogenised. I hate it,” she says, in the documentary made on her in 2014. A textile curator by profession, today the New Yorker still features in fashion and style events.

145 East, Kolkata

Chinar Farooqui’s homegrown textile brand, Injiri, had Van Damme as her model. Since then, the 74-year-old has had people come up to her at airports, thanking her for being inspirational. Meanwhile, 145 East has people from 20 to 70 modelling its clothes. Rishabh Badoni, 22, a co-founder, says this isn’t the only reason the brand is a bit of an outlaw. The idea was to take the gamcha to everyone, because “it has a young soul”. The weavers aren’t the most sought-after either. The brand seeks to draw all of these together and overthrow the order of what is considered top-of-the-rung. Their newest model is Subrata Das, 69. The President of the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club declares, “I’d never modelled, but then I thought, I should try everything in life.”


Sarah Jane Adams, founder, Saramai Jewels (@saramaijewels, 179k followers)

The Australian has been coming to India for 40 years now, and named her antique jewellery brand thus, after her Parsi hosts ‘christened’ her Saramai. The hashtag that defines her attitude and age was crafted when a salesperson from a beauty brand tried to sell her a product that would ‘eliminate’ her wrinkles. Adams, 63, sports everything from fitted gold pants and live-in Adidas athleisure to tie-dye dupattas and block-print dresses. Her white hair coexists with her sometimes-red, sometimes bare lips. “Most of my followers are women aged between 25 and 45. I think when they see my feed it takes away the fear that many people feel about ageing. I am not shy to show my age, my authentic life; often nothing special, but sometimes though, very special. I do not identify through the colour of my hair, I rarely wear make-up, except for my signature lipstick, and I experiment with clothes, adventures and challenges. I’m not embarrassed to discuss the signs of ageing, the challenges, and yet I believe I have a zest for life which is larger than many folks half my age.”


Ali MacGraw, ambassador, Ibu Movement (@ibumovement, 12.5k followers)

Ibu was founded by Susan Hull Walker, conceived as a movement rather than a business, to engage women who buy and those who produce. They source from 35 countries (including India) and sell in another 15. “I describe Ibu Style as Global Glamour… While we do have Ali MacGraw (pictured) who is soon turning 80, her spirit is youthful, her style is casual and free and real, appealing to all ages, including the young. Our brand is driven not by age, but by respect — respecting the artisans as well as the allies — women of all ages finding their best self to put forward into the world,” says Walker.

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