Dame Judi Dench making history as the oldest British Vogue cover star at 85 is great news. But why?

Dame Judi Dench. Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage via Getty Images
Dame Judi Dench. Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage via Getty Images

Oscar-winning 85-year old actress, Dame Judi Dench, has just secured a spot in British Vogue's list of historical milestones as the fashion arbiter's oldest cover star. Yet another feather in Edward Enninful's designer cap. 

Sharing the cover on Instagram as he does with every new issue, British Vogue's Editor-in-Chief wrote the following about his June 2020 issue; "I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see Dame Judi Dench, the unassailable queen of stage and screen, starring on her first Vogue cover at the age of 85 – making her the oldest cover star in the history of the magazine. For the June 2020 issue, she speaks to @GilesHattersley about everything from why retirement is out of the question to her enduring love of champagne, and brings a message of hope from her own quarantine in the English countryside." 

An aside: There's something to be said about Edward's ability to move the needle for Vogue historically (across all their international editions) on several occasions, and doing so tastefully and gracefully. From Rihanna's September 2018 issue to Meghan Markle guest editing the September 2019 issue to Rihanna's durag cover - he inspires headlines with his bold editorial moves. 

READ MORE: Rihanna makes history as she fronts the May issue of British Vogue in a durag 

Judi's first-ever Vogue cover - which will be available for digital download on 7 May 2020 - was shot in March by Nick Knight before the world went into lockdown. Publications have since employed innovative measures by creating editorial spreads shot via FaceTime, creating their own CGI cover stars and even dropping a blank cover in response to Covid-19.  

READ MORE: Is SA's first computer generated influencer our first peek into life after Covid-19? 

Styled in garments from the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani Privé, and custom-made Catherine Walker, Judi Dench speaks on the "art of ageing gracefully" among the other intrigues of her life, love and career. Why, of course! The star's age is what makes this June cover a moment worth talking about. 

In the greater scheme of things, 85 is not too big a number, yet it is certainly an age to admire and one which rouses much amazement, gratitude and acclamation whether one is famous or not. At this age, Dame Judi is healthy, still working and as sophisticated as ever. Essentially, it shouldn't be surprising that an actress of her caliber is on the cover of any magazine, but given the industry's (at large - publishing, fashion, beauty, entertainment) ageist makings, we still make an event of seeing 'older' women receiving their roses while they can still smell them. 

Headlines are made about women embracing their grey hair, laugh lines and wrinkles, dating when they're older than a certain age, or working well into their 60s. But that's hardly any fault of the audience, but rather the manner in which sexist narratives around a woman's age - from as early as her 20s - are shaped and subsequently warped. So much so that it's not unusual to hear people exclaim "she looks so good for a 39 year old!" 

Additionally, casting models in their teens has been an industry standard for decades until recently, and this has opened a conversation about older models cementing careers alongside fresh(er) faces. A 2018 W24 article investigated this phenomenon locally, noting that "modelling agencies in South Africa book plenty of models who are 40 years old or more for local modelling jobs, but these models have not been popular on fashion runways." 

Carl Heunis, a director at G3 Models, said there is more of a demand for curvy women than older models.

“TV mostly books older models,” said Carl. 

In the article it was also further revealed that at Ice Models, older models are more popular when it comes to beauty related jobs involving perfumes and cosmetics. Operations director at Ice Model, Jane Celliers, said there have been some bookings for runway but more so for models in their late 30s but not older. 

Lara White, a director at Boss Models, said older models do get booked when the job is targeted for their age group but that fashion jobs mostly go to models between 16 to 30 years old, depending on the model and the brand.

READ MORE: Are fashion weeks in SA reserved only for the young? 

Conversely, there's a growing market for what I like to call the 'silver' darlings of social media - style muses over the age of 45 (and 45 isn't even old at all), who are living aspirational lives in chiffon and cashmere and seal their digital love letters to their followers with champagne kisses. Deborah Darling, Iris Apfel, Tracee Ellis Ross, Paula Sutton, Yasmin Furmie, and 68-year-old Fenty model JoAni Johnson are just a few of the names who come to mind and who - similarly to Dame Judi Dench - will not let age be a deterrent to living fabulous lives even when they become octogenarians (as Iris has already proven). 

So to conclude with Yasmin Furmie's Instagram bio; "Life is too short; do what you want, do what you like and never act your age!"

This is the most appropriate way to remind ourselves that besides the archaic pressure of the 'biological clock' (that medical advancements have since clapped back to) imposed on women, ageing isn't something we should fear. Age shouldn't be something women are shamed for by the younger guard in their respective fields or make us feel compelled to declare that we actually don't mind getting older as a means of diverting potential shaming and the aggressive marketing of anti-ageing products.

But what do I know? I'm just eagerly awaiting the day I turn 30.

Anyway, here's to more 85-year-old stars on magazine covers. 

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