Sixty-two-year old Tziporah Salamon is an ordinary woman featured in Lanvin’s fall 2012 ad campaign. As she sat in the makeup chair, dressed in a plush terrycloth robe while two women did her nails and another did her makeup, Tziporah Salamon knew the day she had longed for had finally arrived.
The 62-year-old New Yorker has a long resume of disparate jobs: school teacher, performer, hostess and shop girl, to name a few. But in April, she finally added model for a high-fashion house to the list.
“I felt like such a princess, a queen for a day,” Salamon said. “I was as high as a kite.”
For many, the life of a model is the stuff of dreams, an aspiration so far out of reach that we would never dare utter it to friends. But some fashion labels are putting the focus on women (and men) who aren’t typical calendar girls. Salamon is one of 11 “real people” selected to appear in French designer Lanvin’s winter ad campaign, which is generating buzz for using people of all sizes, colors and ages to create intimate images that resemble portraits.
It’s about bringing a sense of reality to fashion to show that the lofty world of high style is not as unattainable as it seems, said Alber Elbaz, creative director of Lanvin.
“Fashion doesn’t look good only on models, it can look good on different people of different ages and different body shapes,” he said. “We didn’t think there would be such a big talk because we just did it and we thought let’s try to work with real people. Let’s do street casting, let’s work with different men and women of different ages and see what comes out of it.”
None of them fit the typical model mold because they aren’t professional models. Casting agent Zan Ludlum found Salamon and 82-year-old Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock through the popular street style blog Advanced Style, which documents men and women of a certain age. Others came from street scouting, including one of the older male models, who was spotted walking out of a basement bar in New York’s East Village, said Ludlum, whose agency scouted the models.
While the Lanvin models are not professionals, they possess a certain mystique.
“It’s beyond visual. Sure, they might have great eyes or features but it’s more about their presence, their ownership of their own individuality,” Ludlum said. “You might see someone who has style, but if you strip away everything, are they still powerful? Because we are taking them out of who they are and putting them in new clothes. Are they interesting beyond what they’re wearing?”
Of course, pounding the pavement in search of raw talent is nothing new. But it’s becoming increasingly common as fashion and style slowly embrace different ideals of beauty. Earlier this month, American Apparel revealed that the new face of its ad campaign would be 60-year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy, who was spotted in a New York restaurant. In swimwear, Spanish designer Dolores Cortés chose an infant with Down syndrome to be the face of the brand’s 2013 DC Kids ads.
It would have been easy to create a beautiful photo with a beautiful model, said Elbaz, especially working with photographer Steven Meisel and some of the top names in hair and makeup. But, at this level, it’s important to think outside the box and move forward with each campaign, he said.
“I’m always looking for a story,” said Elbaz, whose career includes stints with Geoffrey Beene, Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent. “In high fashion we’re always accused of doing things that are not very relevant, not the real world. I know that it’s important sometimes to do fantasy but I felt like touching people and going back to different women and men, especially the idea of different ages and body shapes.”
It’s a timely message, he said, in an era of cultural bias toward youth-oriented ideals of beauty.
“The phenomenon I see today of women erasing their age—nobody is allowed to have an age anymore, nobody is allowed to have wrinkles or imperfections,” he said. “I thought, let’s change that, let’s show that fashion can be amazing on 81-year-olds and 17-year-olds, on Tziporah, who is not [European] size 36, and she looks gorgeous.”
While apparel and lifestyle brands have long been using “real people” to draw new audiences and generate buzz, it’s rare for a high-fashion house such as Lanvin to take this approach, said Sarah Collins, associate chair of fashion at the Savannah College of Art and Design. But it’s happening more often, in ads and on the covers of fashion magazines, she said, as part of the effort to democratize fashion.
“The effect on viewers is that it’s easier for them to pictures themselves in the clothes and identify with the clothing line,” she said. “Not only is it about democracy of fashion but it creates a buzz. How do you stand out as a fashion ad campaign? By using people off the street it does generate buzz.”
It also reflects the growing influence of street style blogs in touting alternative beauty ideals, said Ari Cohen, the writer behind the Advanced Style blog, which led the casting agency to Salamon and Murdock.
“I think the message is to embrace individuality and personal style, and alternative notions of beauty,” Cohen said. “It’s hugely important to show more diversity in advertising. By focusing on superyoung models and too much Photoshopping, advertisers set up unreal expectations for consumers.”
Even if consumers like what they see in the Lanvin campaign, that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to afford it. For Salamon, the vintage Lanvin jacket that she owned before the shoot will have to suffice, along with memories of being a queen for a day.
“What are the odds that my first time out as a model I’m with the top people in the field?” she said. “It totally came to me, I didn’t do anything to make this happen except be myself. It was all orchestrated by God, a gift from the universe.”
First published in CNN by Emanuella Grinberg