Age no barrier for China's senior catwalk models as fashion labels woo silver spenders

Ma Yinhong is one of a growing number of older models sought after by Chinese and international labels trying to court the country's growing faction of "silver spenders". PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI (AFP) - Wearing a bright floral ensemble with her short hair dyed blonde, Chinese model Ma Yinhong struts a Shanghai catwalk with a style and swagger that belie her 56 years.

She made her modelling debut just two years ago and is already in demand, working for leading fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana.

Ma is one of a growing number of older models sought after by Chinese and international labels trying to court the country's growing faction of "silver spenders".

She seems to embody this target market of older Chinese who are spending more on themselves.

"I never go out without dressing up and getting made up. I never let myself look like an old granny," Ma told Agence France-Presse at a recent show for Uooyaa, which used a mix of younger Chinese and foreign models as well as seniors.

Once confined largely to life insurance and healthcare advertisements, today's glamorous Chinese seniors are in demand for high fashion.

"They save me as 'best for last' in fashion shows after young models, so I am quite visible," Ma said.

By 2050, one in three people in China, or 487 million people, will be over the age of 60 - more than the population of the United States - according to the official Xinhua news agency.

This greying population, combined with rising incomes and living standards, means an explosion in consumption by China's elderly people is forecast in coming decades.

Once expected to selflessly stay home and mind the grandchildren, seniors - particularly women - have become a coveted market for products such as clothing, fashion accessories, cosmetics and travel, according to consumer research firm Mintel.

Portraying older models in active, youthful lifestyles sells well in a culture with a strong tradition of respect and deference towards elders, part-time model Liu Wei said.

"A sense of sophistication can show in the facial expressions of seniors," explained the 52-year-old.

He added: "Handsome young men, even with their good bodies, cannot convey maturity."

Liu began modelling only two months ago and does it as a hobby. The owner of two listed companies, he typically appears in ads as a successful businessman.

"The market for senior models in China is not huge yet, but it is growing," said Ms Michelle Chien, a modelling agent with ESEE Model Management, one of the city's largest agencies.

This echoes a trend now well established in Western markets, where brands have been keen to tap the pockets of the affluent baby-boomer generation.

In the past five years, catwalks globally have seen greater age diversity and models such as Jacky O'Shaughnessy, Jan de Villeneuve, and Elon Musk's mother, Maye Musk, making names for themselves as fashion stars in their 60s and 70s.

In her youth, Ma had hoped for a career in fashion design. She moved to Japan to study in the 1980s, but did not graduate as she could not afford the fashion fees.

But she did not start modelling until getting her first gig two years ago after sending her photo to a Shanghai fashion house.

Despite fashion brands embracing the grey hair and wrinkles that come with older models, Ma said it is still important to stay stylish and in shape.

She gets her hair done every three weeks and stays fit with daily breathing exercises and regular workouts at the gym.

Ma explained: "Keeping in good health keeps me on the catwalk. There is no age limit in fashion, so hopefully my dream can continue."

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