Grandma poses in lingerie designed by her for women like her

Brazilian grandmother Helena Schargel, 79, has launched several underwear collections with Recco Lingerie, modelling in the garments herself.
Brazilian grandmother Helena Schargel, 79, has launched several underwear collections with Recco Lingerie, modelling in the garments herself.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SAO PAULO • Wearing nothing but a lacy bra and matching panties, Brazilian grandmother Helena Schargel strikes a seductive pose during a photo shoot featuring her latest lingerie designs for women aged over 60.

"Wonderful, marvellous," the photographer gushed as Schargel, 79, posed confidently in a converted warehouse in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

After decades of working for a fabric company, the lithe and energetic Schargel emerged from retirement more than two years ago on a mission to drag older women out of obscurity.

Her tactic? Sexy fashion designed especially for them - and modelled by her.

"This project has a clear goal: to make women visible," she said.

She has launched several underwear collections with Brazil's Recco Lingerie. An activewear line with company Alto Giro was unveiled this year and more are in the works, she added.

Schargel, who helps with the designs, said Brazilian women older than 60 have long been overlooked by fashion companies, society - and even themselves.

She shares words of encouragement on her Instagram account, where she has nearly 18,000 women followers of all ages.

Messages such as "take a risk" and "you can do anything" pepper her feed, which receives hundreds, sometimes thousands, of likes and comments.


"I never thought about how old I was, never - this never worried me," she said, describing the popularity of plastic surgery in Brazil as "madness".

"It was only a few years ago when I realised I was no longer 33."

The daughter of Polish immigrants, Schargel began making clothes as a teenager and selling them in her parents' store.

It was the beginning of a lifelong career in fashion.

Along the way, she got married twice and had two children.

She now has five grandchildren, some of whom wear her designs.

Retirement did not suit the soon-to-be octogenarian, who moves with the ease of someone decades younger.

"I thank God that I don't need to go to the gym," she said, lolling in a lounge chair in black and white leggings and matching loose-fitting top and sneakers in her apartment.

"I do Pilates three times a week, which is good for me and my spirit."

Schargel's decision to model lingerie was daring in a macho country where older women are treated as if they "are not alive anymore", said Vogue Brazil editor-in-chief Paula Merlo.

"She reminds you that there is life after 60, 70 and it can be sexy, it can be fun and it can also be profitable."

After some initial butterflies, Schargel said she feels comfortable stripping to her underwear in public.

Determined to appear as natural as possible, she insists on no photoshopping.

"I always say: 'Please, leave all my little wrinkles just as they are,'" she said.

"They are very important. They show that I have arrived here."

At the hours-long photo shoot, a barefoot Schargel drifted between the dressing room and photo studio, showing off lingerie and pieces from her new bed-to-street line.

She moved easily in front of the camera as fashion photographer Pablo Saborido clicked away.

"I really like working with people outside the model profile," said Mr Saborido, 39.

Schargel said her lingerie is "absurdly comfortable". Some pieces even "help lift the butt", she added cheekily.

As the global population ages, she said the world needs to get ready for an explosion in elderly women in the coming decades.

"Twenty, 30 years from now, there will be many more grannies than young people," she noted.

"We need to prepare for this - companies need to prepare for this."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2019, with the headline 'Grandma poses in lingerie designed by her for women like her'. Subscribe