Think fashion advert and likely your mind wanders to the glossy pages of a magazine with lithe women bathed in a golden light draped over expensive furnishings. Or is that just me? For Helmut Lang, the natural conclusion as to where to shoot their new autumn/winter 2018 collection put them on a different track…South Wales, obviously.
It was in the town of Merthyr Tydfil where the American fashion label found not just its location but it’s glorious, glamorous models. There’s 66-year-old Pleung, raven-haired 77-year-old Gillian, 86-year-olds Dilys, who holds the record for world’s oldest female skydiver, and Margaret, a former funeral director, who also happens to be the grandmother of the campaign’s stylist, Charlotte James.
‘I’m from Wales and I have been making work here since 2014. Working on social projects and casting people from the local community in fashion shoots. Alex reached out and thought my eye would be a good fit for Helmut Lang', explains James, ‘I was looking for women who I find inspiring and who have a certain sparkle about them. Women who maybe overlooked by mainstream media, especially with the Instagram generation of perfectly edited imagery. We are all going to get older so it's important to show you can be confident at any age'.
James has spent most of her career focusing on Wales and the quiet beauty of the country. Based between London and Wales, she’s used it as the backdrop for several fashion shoots by juxtaposing the working class world of her heritage with the gilded world that the clothing comes from. Her images become a discourse about who is allowed to wear what and why as well as where and what is clothing appropriate. It’s a quiet commentary on the industry’s overt fascination with the ‘high-low’. With the assistance of photographer Alexandra Leese the starkness of the collection’s tailoring and 80s influencers feel at home within the calm of Merthyr Tydfil.
'We loved the idea of celebrating women of a older generation, who are often forgotten especially within fashion, we also wanted women who stood for something', Leese explains, 'We hoped it would inspire people and put a smile on their face. To show people you can be older, and still fabulous and that fashion isn’t restricted or aimed to one type of person, or at least shouldn’t be'..
On the topic of her grandmother, James adds, 'Maragret is my nan and I've always admired her sense of style- she is never without tinted shades and gold jewellery. She has a crude sense of humour and is one of the sassiest women I know.' But, for this stylist, all the women were inspirational. 'Dilys is a wonderful lady I heard about from a friend. She's the oldest skydiver in the world and as soon as I saw her pastel pink bobbed hair, I knew she was a lady we had to meet. She has such a powerful and positive energy. Gillian is an old family friend who I hadn't seen since I was a kid. I was reintroduced to her at a mod festival. She was the best dressed woman there, we stayed out together late into the night drinking and chatting. She told me she is always dressed up even while sitting at home so i was really in awe of her and thought she would be perfect to show that getting older doesn't mean you have to stay at home with your slippers on! I was hoping to tell stories of wise and confident women who hopefully everyone can learn a thing or two from! It was also a great opportunity to shine a light on Wales and give these women a chance to feel empowered and appreciated'.