When the pandemic scuppered last year’s York Fashion Week, the Silver & Sassy catwalk event went with it, right at the last minute, and so too did all the hard work and enterprise of a brilliant team of women behind it.
Undeterred, founders Annie Stirk and Rachel Peru are restaging the event and have regathered their cohort of fellow models, all local women, to step out onto the catwalk at Goldsborough Hall next month, determined to celebrate the power of getting older and wearing grey, white and silver hair with pride.
Rachel, who has modelled for numerous UK and international fashion brands, says: “I first started noticing my grey hair as a teenager and, after a terrible ‘80s perm and grey roots, my school nickname became ‘Biddy’.
“When I decided to ditch the dye at 46, the initial response from others wasn’t overly positive, with lots of comments like ‘you’re too young to give up’. My silver hair has helped me to stand out in the modelling industry and you certainly don’t have to become invisible with grey hair.”
The Silver & Sassy event will be a celebration, too, of resilience. Annie says: “My mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer the day after lockdown was announced. She sadly died and we had to endure all the restrictions around the funeral that everyone else has had.
During lockdown, Annie, 71, appeared on Steph’s Packed Lunch to talk about ageism in fashion. She models for Copper and White, Hearts Boutique in Easingwold and is an ambassador for Hey Estrid and for Capri Clothing.
She says: “There were no live castings, so I had to become familiar with doing self tapes. I reached my peak casting for a vacuum advertising job doing a piece to camera while pushing a vac and trying to look glam.”
Rachel says: “As the majority of my modelling work is London-based, work pretty much came to a stop last year, so it is great to see things picking up now and I’m back doing what I love. It did give me more time to work on my Out of the Bubble podcast so I continued to interview and share other women’s over-40 stories.
“I’ve already been involved in some great campaigns, including the Playful Promises Ageless Fashion lingerie campaign, at 51, so I’d like to think attitudes are starting to change in the industry towards older grey-haired women.”
Former ITV Calendar presenter Christine Talbot will host the event. “Sassy is certainly the perfect word to describe the amazing women taking part,” she says. “I also love the fact that vintage clothing will play a part. Some of my favourite wardrobe items are from vintage and charity shops. In fact, I may well be wearing one of my vintage frocks on the day.”
Sara Anson, who is styling the event, has the following tips for wearing vintage. “Look out for classic items such as a great blazer or perfectly worn-in jeans. Your local seamstress is your friend, as sometimes a small alteration is all it takes to make something fit you perfectly. The same goes for items in your wardrobe. Could switching the buttons on an old jacket make it wearable again?”
Most of the clothes and accessories will be new collections from brands including Jigsaw, Cabi, Figleaves, Fenwicks, Copper & White and Natalia Willmott jewellery.
This will be an especially sisterly event, as Annie and Rachel’s own silver sisters will be modelling in the show too. Rachel’s sister Deborah Beau, a freelance content creator and writer living in France, stopped dyeing her hair in her early 50s. “In the early stages, when my roots were really visible, people didn’t know how to react,” she says. “I got quite a few disgusted looks from French men and women, as if I was letting myself go. The whiter my hair became, the stronger I felt. I felt very self-confident and authentic after a couple of months and I received a lot of compliments from people all over.”
Annie’s younger sister, Cecelia Brodigan, a leasehold housing specialist, is learning to live with becoming immobile from the waist down, having been struck with a rare autoimmune disease last year. She decided to embrace her grey in lockdown. “My hairdresser says, ‘I have customers who would pay a fortune for that colour.’ I can’t believe it’s my own.”
Other models will include Sue Fiore, an estate agency assistant in Malton and Pickering, Heather Sandler, who writes poetry and children’s stories, and Annemarie King, who decided to go grey in 2018. She says: “It feels like power, this silver transition. It feels radical. It feels like freedom.”
Meanwhile, Liz Somers, 53, says her grey hair has given her a new lease of life, while vicar Sue Sheriff, who decided to ditch the dye at 55, says: “Someone came up to me after a service I had taken in church and said, with the sunlight shining through my hair, they thought I looked just like an angel. I’ll take that.”
Rachel and Annie would like to expand on their Silver & Sassy project in the future.
Annie says: “Goldsborough is a perfect setting for our fashion show with the beautiful orangery overlooking the stunning gardens. Once we have run this event, we would very much like to roll it out across other venues in Yorkshire.”
The Sassy & Silver catwalk show takes place at Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough, on September 30, 2-5pm, sponsored by York Gin and Figleaves, with afternoon tea. It will support York charity Kyra, which provides courses, therapies and events for vulnerable women. To book tickets go to www.tickettailor.com/events/goldsboroughhallgardens/548438/. Instagram: @ silverandsassy_