Designing for a Long, Healthy Life

Designing for a Long, Healthy Life

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It’s August and real New Yorkers know that means two things:  First, if you need a shrink you’ll find it, as Woody Allen once quipped. Second the opening of NY Fashion Week is just around the corner and with it the opening of the global season from Milan and Tel Aviv to London, Paris and, yes also Johannesburg South Africa. 

There are hundreds of these shows globally, week after week, and even one for kids. Yet in our era of the baby boomers exploding into their 7th decade, an era  when by 2020 there will be a billion of us over 60, where is the fashion for the post 60 demo? 

New York’s Fashion Week at the Tents at Lincoln Center ought to be one that has features for our global aging population, if only because that’s where the money is. Are there such fashions for those who are not as young or as skinny, but never-the-less as interested as the twenty and thirty somethings?

Even the prominent, genius and courageous Muccia Prada, herself “older” demurs on this one. “I’m not brave enough to use older models,” she told the Daily Mail. Miuccia Prada, one of fashion’s most powerful figures, won’t stand up to ageism.
Last year there was at least one such brave sole, the beautiful and elegant Carmen Dell Orefice who, at 81, was still modeling. Dell Orefice correctly noted the self-interest for those actually selling the stuff: “I think America may be growing up and accepting the fact that the bulk of life exists beyond 50. Because demographically…the vast population is over 60.”

She’s right that soon around the globe there will be more of us over 60 than under 14, a fact which is having as much impact on public policy as markets. This is particularly true in those countries across Europe and developed Asia where old to young is already disproportionately high. Norway is not untypical where those aged 67+ will roughly double by 2035 to one million.  At that time, 20 percent of Norway’s tiny population of roughly 5 million will need products and services geared to seniors

In New York, increasingly known globally as the most prominent and successful of the “Age Friendly Cities,"  take a gander at the ages of some of the best known fashion’s icons:  Betsey Johnson- 71, Donatella Versace- 58, Ralph Lauren- 73, Valentino Garavani- 81, Donna Karan- 64, Kenzo Takada- 74, Jean Paul Gautier- 61, Diane Von Furstenberg- 66, Carolina Herrera-74, Giorgio Armani-79, Calvin Klein-70,Tommy Hilfiger-62, Vera Wang-64, Vivienne Westwood-72 --  the vast majority of whom will be showing at The Tents in a few weeks. 

But, my dear aging designers if you don’t want to create for your demographic peers for pure business reasons then do it for your social conscience. Add to the environment, education, the poor and the homeless a service for the aging global population.

If people feel good about themselves, which fashion can accommodate, they are more likely to engage socially and economically, and that’s as good for our health as it is for economic growth.  Like travel, healthcare technology and financial services, if you can create products that enable active aging you will also advance healthy aging.  

Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.