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Monday, February 18, 2013

Designing for Grown Up Women

If you are a fashion designer and aged around 23, you probably consider anyone of 40 to be elderly, and a 60-year-old to be so ancient as not to be worth even the slightest consideration.

This is entirely understandable, but also commercially suicidal in today’s highly competitive fashion market.

For the older woman customer has changed. These days she is unlikely to be a crinkly-haired granny clad in elasticated waist trousers and a fleece who puts her feet up with a cup of cocoa and a copy of Saga magazine.

She is far more likely to be a sassy, savvy, gym-fit woman with highlights, Acne ankle boots and Rouge Noir nails who shops at My-Wardrobe, Matches and Reiss and is probably running a PR firm, editing a magazine (Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, is 63) or, hey, like my co-director Cyndy Lessing and me, a fashion website, SoSensational.co.uk

Not only has the older woman changed, but – vitally important to you as a designer who needs to sell his or her products – she has more disposable income than any other female demographic and, most relevant for you, she likes to spend her money on fashion and luxury goods.

According to a Mintel report, the UK population aged over 55 is in control of around 80 per cent of the country’s wealth. In 2008, it was worth £5.4 billion, and by 2014 – that’s next year – it is forecast to grow to £6.4 billion.

According to a 2007 Mintel report, women aged 50 to 69 buy more designer fashion and luxury goods than any other group.

In mid-2006 approximately one in five people in the UK were aged under 16 while one in six people were aged 65 or over. According to market analysts Datamonitor, in 2000 there were about 132 million over-50s in Western Europe. By 2025 there are expected to be 177 million.

If those statistics have made you feel it may be worth taking a fresh look at your attitude to grown up women we have some suggestions which may be helpful. And the good news is that, you will almost certainly be able to extend your line to appeal to an older clientele (as these images from successful luxury brands highlight) without compromising on your aesthetic vision.

Garment length 
This is a vital area to consider. If all the dresses in your collection finish four inches above the knee, your brand will not appeal to a stylish older woman. Take a look at the shapes. Will any of the styles work if they are longer? Big, high profile players like Erdem, Preen, Roland Mouret, Antonio Berardi and Jonathan Saunders have all produced wonderful dresses that are on-the-knee or over-the-knee, which would appeal to a stylish woman of any age.

A perfect example of a new designer label which has taken on board the need to produce longer hemlines  is a fabulous fashion brand called Art on Fashion, which can also be found on the SoSensational Directory. Their offering is beautiful dresses, tunics and tops, in amazing prints created using specially commissioned artwork from artists in Japan, Europe and the USA.

They could quite easily have produced garments appropriate only for a very young clientele, featuring vest tops and short dresses. What they have done, instead, is to offer those things, but they have also produced wonderful and very on-trend over-the-knee dresses and longer-length tops which would appeal to the kind of woman – of any age – who would probably like Erdem, Preen, Berardi, Mouret, Saunders, et al.

Sleeves are a tricky subject. It is quite likely that the image which shimmers into your head is of horrid, polyester sleeves added to a frock as an afterthought. In fact, sleeves are a key trend this season – especially bracelet-length sleeves, which play into the whole retro mood.

Fabric quality
The quality of the fabric will be largely determined by your production budget, but if you have the budget flexibility to produce a few garments in a fabric that is slightly weightier, you may find you have expanded your appeal. Lining can also make a garment appeal to an older customer. But if you can’t afford to – or don’t want to – line a garment throughout, you may want to line the skirt of a dress, especially if it is in a very light colour and very see-through.

Selling online? Give the customer the information she needs 
If you are selling on the web, give the customer as much information as you can. Key pieces of information include whether a garment is lined, the length of a garment and whether the garment is true to size. Not only do you increase the chance she will buy, but you will cut down on returns, which can be a big cost for a fledgling business. And when it comes to length, don’t rely on a model shot making it clear what length a garment is. Even if you publish the model’s height, it can still be hard to judge the correct length, so a simple measurement – in inches and cms – is simple but effective.

By Jan Shure
Jan Shure is the former fashion editor of the Jewish Chronicle, broadcaster, blogger and an award-winning magazine editor. She is co-founder of SoSensational.co.uk, the shopping website for grown-up women.

Images courtesy of Browns, Matches and My-Wardrobe, all available to shop at SoSensational

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