Sunday, 10 December 2017

Interview: Grey Model Agency Founder Rebecca Valentine on Why Advertising Needs Older Models

In this feature I talk to Rebecca Valentine, founder of Grey Model Agency. Even though nearly half of consumer spending in the UK is by people over fifty, we seldom see older people in advertising; particularly in fashion. While this has been changing over the last year or so, there is still a disproportionate number of young models, even advertising products that few could afford in their twenties and thirties.

Michael Millen models for Lyle & Scott. Grey Model Agency

Here on Grey Fox Blog I've been trying to work against this, in a very small way indeed, by finding brands who will allow me to wear and feature their clothes and accessories. And it's not easy, as even brands and PR companies I've supported for years suddenly plead budgetary constraints when I ask for their help. I can't help feeling that this is often because I don't represent the youthful markets they all feel they need to chase. This myopia about even trying to awake the sleeping giant that is the older demographic is potentially self-destructive for an industry that often struggles.

In the professional modelling world there are few older models, but the most successful of the agencies that represent them is the Grey Model Agency. I've known their founder, Rebecca Valentine, for a while, but so busy has she been that I've only just managed to catch up with her to find out more about her agency as it bucks the ageist trend of fashion advertising. I talked to her about the agency and brands' attitudes to older models.
Brands can no longer [realistically] believe that their market [is] locked into brand loyalty at a young age, nor that... older men and women have a deep-rooted desire to return to their youth... Rebecca Valentine
Jon Campling models for Budweiser. Grey Model Agency

Q: Rebecca, tell us how you came to found Grey Models?

Fifteen years ago as a photographic agent I set up Streetmodel, a casting database of ordinary people, to service my photographer who needed interesting ordinary people for various commercial briefs. We also made the service available to the industry and noticed that the mature models, both male and female, were booked far more than others, which provoked the question, why? 

In 2015 when I had hung up my photographic agent coat feeling I had achieved everything I set out to, I wondered again at the mature model interest and why there was no agency dedicated to this interesting section of society. Having called on old friends, master photographer Paul Spencer and former model and Westwood muse, Sara Stockbridge to join me in a secret casting in London we discovered that my hunch that times were changing were correct. The event was attended by a diverse mix of elegant-eccentric mature models. The overwhelming feeling was that ‘It is time’, and so Grey Model Agency was founded based on signing atypical models to represent the much needed gap in the market.

Matthew Morris models for Esprit. Grey Model Agency

Q: Why did you start Grey Models?

Boredom mainly. I had become disillusioned with the creative industries, through advertising, music and fashion. There was such an emphasis on cheap bland art. Models all looked the same and indeed, so did campaigns, album covers and catwalks. We had all risen from the diversity of the 80’s when punk, New Romantic, mods and ‘casuals’ cared about their identities and their image. Music had the power to change international thinking over famine and economic imbalance. 

Gender was becoming less black and white and racism was being put in its place. It was the worst of times and the best pop times, which funnily enough seems to be happening again with art, music and fashion reacting against questionable economics and politics. Grey was a response to all of this. Ironically the shock of the new by representing the old agers who were making a difference in their youth 30 years ago.

Philippe Dumas and Zvona Vuckovic for Ghetaldus Optika. Grey Model Agency

Q: What is the attitude of brands generally to using older models? Does this change attitude vary in relation to older men and older women models?

Brands are changing their approach - slowly - and I’d like to think that Grey had something to do with that along with the positive press we have received across the world from launch, but I believe it is mainly due to the market pressure and desire for true representation in advertising. 

Blogs and social media has given the market a strong voice never-before seen, about what they want, what they need and how they want to be portrayed. The older demographic of course have all the disposable income too which is a new development. Brands can no longer believe that their market [is] locked into brand loyalty at a young age, nor that the petty chauvinistic belief that older men and women have a deep-rooted desire to return to their youth and do anything to accomplish that, still stands. 

There has been a major focus over the past two years on this issue for women, but mature men have been overlooked - either believed to already be well presented as silver foxes or unbothered by their lack of representation. It is an idle view and brands are discovering that it is to their financial cost.

Grey Models

Q: What advantages do you see there is to brands of using older models? What types of older model do you see being most successful?

Since launch two years ago Grey has seen significant shifts in mature model trends. Initially, we couldn’t move for briefs calling for Helen Mirren or George Clooney lookalikes. Briefs began to widen to call for the long silver-haired sirens and chiseled silver bearded foxes, but more recently we have seen a further opening up to diversity within this age group to embrace more atypical looks; deepest wrinkles, weather-worn, slim and muscular, quirky, mixed race, beautiful body art - elegant-eccentric. 

It is a breath of fresh air and not whimsical in the least as these looks, or using them, delivers a powerful message visually and socially. Perception of beauty and economic identity is changing.
An expensive sharp well-tailored suit worn by an atypical male model, such as former fisherman-turned-top-fashion-model, Alessandro Bodio, can deliver the shock of the new. It is arresting, forces one to question their preconceptions, shows how models looks and a quality product can be juxtaposed. 
While there will always be a demand for the strikingly beautiful men and women whose looks make them seem unattainable, I also see a move towards the more atypical look that provokes and disarms.

Grey Models

Q: How do you see the future of Grey Models?

Already we are much mimicked around the world with agencies sprouting up from Russia, to Brazil, USA to Australia, but what they lack is the uniquely British approach to left-field identity, beauty and fashion. I receive many requests for Grey opening branches in Italy, New York, LA, but currently we need to establish our London agency and also be sure that the market can support an agency in different territories.

In London we are dealing with clients worldwide from Seoul to Toronto, we also represent international models from all four corners of the world and, when budgets allow, our unique-looking models are being booked and flown across territories. When we feel this movement is greater than London can deal with then perhaps we will look at more international branches. The future then is very bright!

Q: Many thanks Rebecca for that fascinating insight.

Click here for more work by Grey Models.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Christmas Gift Guide 2

Here are some more products for this week's Christmas Gift Guide (see also last week's here):

In looking for Christmas gifts there's one British brand I'd recommend that I've shared with you on the blog several times before: Sir Plus, based in Portobello Road, London. They make exceptional menswear using the finest surplus and eco-fabrics. Their Liberty print dressing gowns, boxers and pocket squares would make great gifts, as would their recycled cashmere beanie hats and scarves, with prices starting from £12. The brand’s current hero piece is the impressive Charcoal Field Coat (see below), inspired by the American Military M-65 field jacket. It’s made in England using a surplus wool-angora blend for a really soft finish, featuring real horn buttons, patch pockets, zip closure, raglan sleeves and moleskin-lined side pockets. www.SirPlus.co.uk


A great stocking filler for a stylish chap is a pair of silk knot cufflinks. I have cufflinks in many different shades to add a splash of colour to my shirts. A really affordable gift, I particularly like these quality silk knot cufflinks (see below) from Cuffs & Co. Priced at just £2.99 for one pair, or £14.99 for a set of six presented in an elegant black travel tin. Go to https://www.CuffsAndCo.com/silk-knots to buy and to browse their many other products that would make ideal gifts.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Budd Shirtmakers: The Making of a Bespoke Shirt

It's not until you've had shirts made bespoke that you can have a true idea of the extent of the skills, workmanship and knowledge that goes into them. I recently went through this fascinating process with Budd Shirtmakers who, since their foundation in 1910, have been in Piccadilly Arcade, between London's Jermyn Street and Piccadilly. 

The store, like all those on the prestigious arcade, seems small as you enter, but steep stairs go down to the fitting room and up to an area where Budd's experienced cutters cut luxurious cloths to clients' detailed measurement before sending the bundled cottons, linens and silks to the company's Hampshire workshop where the shirts are sewn and finished. Sadly there are few shirtmakers in London who still have cutting rooms on their premises and I felt privileged to be able to visit it to talk to the Head Cutter, John Butcher (who's been making shirts for over fifty years and whose tales of the history of London shirtmaking are fascinating) and James Macauslan, who was to cut my shirts. 

Being measured up by James Macauslan

Budd offer off-the-peg shirts of high quality, but I was going to experience the bespoke service from start to finish. New clients are asked to order at least four shirts to ensure that cut and fit are perfect and this was how I started my bespoke experience. James carefully measured me and we discussed fit and the many details that go to make up a shirt, such as collar shape, cuffs, length, placket and buttons before going on to the hard part, which is selecting the cloth. The finest cottons, linens and even silks are available to make shirts for all purposes, from the most formal for white tie and royal events, through to chambrays and denim for casual and workwear.

After I'd left, James got to work striking out the pattern and cutting the cloth for one trial shirt. This is done to ensure that the final products are exactly right in terms of fit and style. I returned for a fitting to review the cut and shape before being instructed to take the shirt away for wash and wear. After this, I provided feedback on any outstanding issues, allowing for James to make small changes to my pattern, amendments to the trial shirt itself and cut the cloth for the remaining shirts. These bundles were then sent down to Andover where they would be completed.

Gwen and Di working on my shirts

Sewing a collar

The collar is sewn onto the body of the shirt

Quality checks

Pressing the shirt for packing

The proud shirtmakers and the proud owner

I had the privilege of travelling down to see my shirts being made. Tucked away in Andover is the Budd workshop where a group of highly experienced shirtmakers work their magic to produce the final product. I was shown around by Di Bainbridge and Gwenda Witt who told me that each shirt takes one to two hours to make, depending on the complexity of the cut and details such as pleats, collar shape and the properties of the cloth. 


Wearing one of my shirts (with a tab collar) at Budd's Piccadilly Arcade store

Styling all four shirts

All of the women can make a shirt from start to finish and the years of experience and the skill levels are impressive. I was totally in awe of the care required, for example, simply to sew a cuff onto a bespoke shirt. As she sews the cuff onto the sleeve, the shirtmaker carefully folds the cloth of the sleeve to make the small pleats which gather the cloth into the cuff. I was struck by the level of care that goes into each shirt. It happens rarely, but with a complex shirt, if a few stitches are minutely out of place the shirtmaker will not be satisfied and she will undo the work and start again. I began to understand why the discerning customer prefers bespoke shirts as I watched the women and tried to keep up with their explanations of the complex work they were carrying out.

I left not only with my shirts but also with a deep respect for the conscientious skills displayed by Budd's shirtmakers. The shirts, of course, fit to perfection, but I will wear them with considerable pride for the skills that have gone into them

To find out more, go to Budd Shirtmakers or find out here about the bespoke shirts service.

Leaving Budd's workshops in Andover

This feature is a collaboration with Budd Shirtmakers. All views are mine alone.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Wood, Spice, Citrus: Some Favourite Fragrances for Man (or Woman) for Christmas

I was reading recently that fragrance companies make most of their annual sales in the few weeks before Christmas. This got me wondering how much goes untouched or is passed on to Uncle John the following Christmas. The problem is that a scent is a very personal thing. Some people won't wear it; for those that do, the same fragrance may vary slightly on different people. Buying is loaded with uncertainty. 


I don't wear colognes every day, but most of my shaving creams, moisturisers etc are scented to some extent. I prefer warm spiced/woody and fresh citrus perfumes over sweeter florals so I thought I'd have a dig around on my dressing table and in the bathroom and show you some of my favourites. I'd recommend any of these as seasonal gifts for those who prefer scents of wood, leather and spices like cinnamon and cloves or the clean smells of lime and lemon. I emphasise; this is a very personal selection based on what I happen to own.


The woodier scents start on the left and become softer and more floral (to my nose) as we move to the right. I use the Gruhme No.14 (probably my favourite and British made) and Murdock Fougere most frequently, the DR Harris Arlington, Pink After Shave and Heath Cream Shave after shaving almost daily and the more floral Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo, Colonia Pura and Floris JF for evenings out.

Applying fragrance: a guide for men

I use fragrance sparingly so that there is just a hint, a faint aroma. There's nothing worse than overpowering everyone who walks past. A subtle hint for any lady I kiss on the cheek is what I aim for. Who was it who said that she sprayed her perfume in the air and then walked through it? That's the level of application to aim for.

I occasionally use fragrances instead of deodorant. This works best when it's not too hot - for summer use proper products work best. I apply a small amount under each arm: take care not to overdo it.

If you find yourself in London I suggest a visit to the Floris store in Jermyn Street (where it's been since the eighteenth century) and to DR Harris at 29 St James's Street. Both are fascinating and historic (and smell delicious). You can try before you buy in all good stores.

Note: As far as I know, all these products are British-made with the exception of the Italian Acqua di Parma.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

A Grey Fox Christmas Gift Guide

As we enter December, I’m on the look-out for Christmas gifts and will bring some suggestions over the next week or two. Details below.


From top left clockwise: Regular readers will know I love to support small brands and I recently came across a new business making a luxury scented candle just for men: the Seven Scents Man’dle (top left). The Seven Scents brand was created earlier this year at the school gates by two mums looking for a stylish candle made with quality organic fragrance. Produced in small batches in Leicestershire to guarantee the highest quality control, the Mand’le fragrance is a delicious Cuban Tobacco & Oak. 

Another interesting company is Jayjee, a luxury British waistcoat brand (middle top) founded in 2016 by Indian fashion designer, Jaysree Pawar who, working together with her husband, aims to inject spice and colour into the British gentlemen’s wardrobe. Jayjee’s flagship product is the double-sided Nehru waistcoat, one side made from beautiful colourful handwoven cotton Ikat fabric and the reverse from the highest quality plain or herringbone English wool. The finest cotton Ikat fabric is dyed in India using a technique dating back to the 12th Century before being hand-made and manufactured in London, England.

I’m also excited by the success of another partnership, Donhall & Bell, the brainchild of Londoners Peter Mulhall and Martin Bell who got together five years ago to offer men a sleek, modern slipper (top right) as an alternative to mainstream footwear. 

If you'd like to give a touch of Italian luxury in a Christmas stocking try the rather fetching Carl Friedrik briefcase, (middle) designed with Scandinavian minimalism in mind. Carl Friedrik’s Vallance briefcase comes in a variety of colours and can be matched with wallet and laptop case. 

Gift vouchers have the great advantage of allowing the recipient to select their own gift. Peter Macdonald of Empire's Union is a tailor whose made to measure service I've used myself and I can vouch for his care, quality and stylish input into anything he makes. You can make a gift of a voucher (bottom right) for his services. More information at Empire's Union

I've featured Sarah Gilfillan of Sartoria Lab on the blog before. She's one of the most talented menswear stylists I've come across and a voucher will buy her professional advice for a man (or woman) looking for help with their shopping/wardrobe or styling. Very highly recommended. Sartoria Lab (bottom middle).

Finally, these cufflinks from EDG London (bottom left) are designed and made in the UK.

All these gifts were selected by me - many thanks for the brands for their help in providing images and information

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Ultimate Advent Calendar Launched in St James's London

Living in London and being interested in all things sartorial, I'm commonly around St James's simply because of its concentration of shops selling stylish menswear, accessories, watches, and other manly treasures.

To mark the festive season, St James's has today launched The Ultimate Advent Calendar to promote the area as the perfect shopping destination for Christmas and to give twenty four lucky entrants the chance to quality gifts from local retailers. 


The Ultimate Advent Calendar at St James's Market

St James's has the advantage of being fairly compact and it contains an excellent selection of stores offering everything from the best menswear and womenswear to watches, jewellery, photography equipment, books, art and antiques. While there, the visitor can pop into The Royal Academy, ICA and Christies and eat and drink at some of the most prestigious hotels and restaurants in London. St James's Market (pictured above) opened recently to provide an even richer choice of destinations for shopping in the area.

The seasonal installation is in St James's Market and a door will open each day of Christmas to display a festive scene. This giant calendar will be complemented by an Instagram advent calendar (@stjameslondon) which will each day reveal a gift to be won. Each has been given by one of the retailers, restaurants, art galleries and hotels found in St James’s.

HOW TO ENTER

The Ultimate Advent Calendar runs from December 1st to December 24th. To enter, for a chance to win a unique gift from St James’s brands including John Smedley, Trickers, Emma Willis, Aspinal of London, Barbour International, Floris and many more, visit www.stjameslondon.co.uk.

This is a collaboration with St James's.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Sipahi Leather Belts Made in England: A Blog Competition

For the past few months I've been wearing a beautifully made leather belt by a new company, Sipahi & Co, who manufacture in the UK. You now have the chance to win some of their products in a blog competition, but first please watch this video:


As you'll see from the video, the oak bark tanned leather is from the last existing tannery of its kind in England's West Country and the buckles are made in one of England's last foundries. It's products like this that fuel my enthusiasm for British manufacture and I'm very pleased that Sipahi & Co have agreed to offer prizes to three lucky blog readers in a competition. See below for details.


The prizes, to be won by three separate winners, are as follows:

1. One belt of your choice with personal monogramming and a cardholder with monogramming
2. One belt with personal monogramming
3. One cardholder with personal monogramming

To enter the competition simply visit Sipahi & Co and sign up for their newsletter. You will be entered into the draw for one of the three prizes. Entries close Friday 8th December. Sipahi & Co will announce the winner after that date.

This is a collaboration with Sipahi & Co.
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