Age is just a number for China's senior catwalk models | Inquirer Lifestyle
Ma walks along a street in central Shanghai. AFP via China Daily/Asia News Network

Age is just a number for China’s senior catwalk models

Chinese model Ma Yinhong (right) talks to her friends at a cafe in central Shanghai on Dec 26. At 56 years old, Ma is one of a growing number of older models. AFP via China Daily/Asia News Network

BEIJING — Wearing a bright floral ensemble and 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 modeling debut just two years ago and is already working for leading fashion brands.

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 said 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 ads, glamorous Chinese seniors are in demand for high fashion today.

“They save me as ‘best for last’ in fashion shows after young models, so I am quite visible,” Ma says.

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 Xinhua News Agency.

This graying population, combined with rising incomes and living standards, means an explosion in consumption by China’s elderly 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 like clothing, fashion accessories, cosmetics and travel, according to consumer-research firm Mintel.

Silver spenders

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

“A sense of sophistication can show in the facial expressions of seniors,” explains the 52-year-old.

“Handsome young men, even with their good bodies, cannot convey maturity.”

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

“The market for senior models in China is not huge yet, but it is growing,” says Michelle Chien, a modeling 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 older generation.

Age is just a number for China's senior catwalk models
Ma walks along a street in central Shanghai. AFP via China Daily/Asia News Network

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

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 modeling until getting her first gig two years ago, after sending her photo to a Shanghai fashion house.

Despite fashion brands embracing the gray hair and wrinkles that come with older models, Ma says 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.

“Keeping in good health keeps me on the catwalk,” she says. “There is no age limit in fashion. So, hopefully my dream can continue.” Xinhua