Celebrating style at any age

By Zoe Walker

Elasticated waists and sensible shoes? Not these women. They tell Viva why being of a (certain) age is something to celebrate.

Writer and painter Jacqueline Fahey. Photo / Babiche Martens
Writer and painter Jacqueline Fahey. Photo / Babiche Martens

JACQUELINE FAHEY

Jacqueline Fahey will keep her black fingerless gloves on. "I think it gives quite a thuggish look," explains the charming 82-year-old, as she stands to have her photo taken. Today the accomplished artist, writer and feminist is wearing a gathered black skirt and black jacket with large hot-pink cuffs and scarf detail, and beautiful jewellery sourced from overseas: large silver earrings, a chunky bracelet sent over by her daughter working in Afghanistan, and a necklace bought in Mexico.

Fahey, who recently released a second volume of memoirs, entitled Before I Forget (Auckland University Press $45), has a commanding presence and genuine style, one that has evolved from the late 1950s when she remembers seeing true style for one of the first times: the Maori girls who frequented the Oak Hotel in Wellington in the late 1950s in their tight, knee-length black skirts and sweaters. "Chanel's little black dress done practical", she also writes in her memoir. It's a comment on freedom of expression away from the women's movement, which at times could be oppressive in its approach to dress and style.

Fahey rejected this perception of having to dress a certain way - something she continues to do now as she matures.

"Women have been told how to look by men for long enough and I, for one, am not going to be told by another woman," she writes in her book. "Picasso was very much a socialist, but he dressed really fetchingly; sometimes like a pirate, you know. I think artists - and especially women artists in Paris in the 30s and 40s, who were very much into feminist politics and social politics - they also loved to have a style." Fahey believes that how we look should be an intelligent comment on how we feel, an attitude that continues to inform the way she dresses.

"Presenting yourself in a drab fashion, you're presenting a drab mentality. The clothes you wear need to give some indication of how you want to be seen."

She admires young Japanese girls on the streets of Auckland, who she believes are really original and fun with their dress: a real style.

"They are very self-confident. They're projecting the idea that they're having a good time."

Fahey is still having a good time in her 80s, in life and in dress.

"I can't see why I should change. But I do think that women are hurried into old age by the perception of those around them," she explains.

"Men age much more than women, and are much dottier. And yet there isn't that prejudice against them. Which means we are far from having equality, in my opinion."

Jacqueline Fahey will feature at the Waiheke Book Festival, October 28, and The Women's Litera-ea on November 4.

NGA WAIATA

Nga Waiata has always been obsessed with fashion, but possibly even more so now she is in her 50s. "I really notice how it makes me feel. And I know the worst thing is to feel self-conscious."

The jeweller and artist prefers to embrace bold colour, luxe fabrics and interesting shapes with her wardrobe, with a penchant for local labels like Zambesi and Helen Cherry.

"I'm just really not into black or dark things," explains the vivacious artist. "You know, in the 1980s that's all we wore. I just can't wear black anymore - it just makes me feel depressed!" She's also rarely without a piece of bold jewellery of her own design, whether it be one of her crystal and hardwood rings or newer designs like a large cuff adorned with tiny shells or a big stone statement necklace. Nga Waiata turned 50 in February, and describes it as the beginning of a new life: she recently signed a lease to an apartment in Central Auckland, making the move from her longstanding home in Hawkes Bay. Her maturing approach to dressing is about wearing things that flatter - "I don't wear anything too tight!" - but still having fun. It's also about embracing the changes: she is allergic to hair dye, "so I just have to let it colour naturally". Her current bowl-style with stylish hints of grey is thanks to Ian at Me Salon. "I had the same haircut when I was five."

FIONA WILSON

"Fashion is definitely a much smaller part of my life now," explains Fiona Wilson, manager of iconic Italian furniture brand Kartell's flagship store in Newmarket. "When I was younger I spent so much money and time thinking about clothes - what to buy, what to wear, planning trips to exciting overseas shopping destinations ... Fashion was such a passion and a pleasure."

The 53-year-old's focus now tends to be on quality garments and interesting design - and balancing indulgence with awareness.

"We 50-somethings feel like we have the troubles of the world on our shoulders. The awareness of how fortunate we are compared to others makes me feel quite guilty for indulging myself in such fashion dilemmas such as whether the latest Alexander McQueen skull scarf will work with my 10-year-old Ann Demeulemeester suit."

What does remain from her younger days is an appreciation of brands with a strong ethos and aesthetic, "based on originality, personality, humour and, particularly, creativity. Leaders of the pack, not followers." Labels like Prada, Marni and Zambesi are favourites (she has been a Zambesi customer since 1980), and she considers Kartell to be the furniture equivalent of such brands.

"I used to be able to wear whatever style or shape took my fancy but now some allowances have to be made for the body shape changes that naturally occur in many women in their late 40s and 50s. But I have a clearer understanding now of who I am and what looks good - so that makes it easy to recognise the brands that fit my personal niche, and far less wasted time when shopping and fewer fashion disasters sent off to Scotties Recycle."

Maturity also means the confidence to try strong looks - like a pair of knee-high leather boots.

"Age does affect and restrict choices of style - it's harder to pull off a miniskirt and low-rise jeans - but if you haven't figured out what suits you and looks good after 50 odd years on the planet, you probably never will."

MAGGIE BRYSON

A sense of chic simplicity informs the style of interior designer Maggie Bryson, who has a penchant for labels like Dries van Noten and Anne Demeulemeester. "I like classical things that you can wear season after season," explains the 58-year-old. "I'm not into gimmicky clothes, I like things that are a bit quirky but simple." It's an approach that Bryson has had for years, having worked at Browns of London in the 1970s - "that was all about classical dressing with a twist" - and designed her own namesake label in the 1980s. That was sold through the Scotties boutiques, which has long been a favourite of women of all ages with an appreciation for interesting design and good quality - ideas that also inform Bryson's interior design work.

"I like to use good quality product," she says, "I've always been of the attitude 'buy cheap, buy twice'." Timeless, just like Bryson's wardrobe.

- NZ Herald

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