The end of summer in New York City , as night follows day, brings diplomats, heads of state, more diplomats and lots of talk on the East River at the opening of the UN General Assembly. It also brings film festivals galore downtown, galas across midtown to raise money for everything from Alzheimer's to horticulture. And, of course, New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side.
What's new in fashion this year? It doesn't seem like much on the surface: hordes of beautiful models on the runways; more designer vying for fame and money. But if you look a little closer, something new does reveal itself. Some of these designers are real innovators. And they get where the world is going -- that the 50+ demographic segment is growing most rapidly, and that the boomers will soon hold an incredible 70% of disposable income in the U.S.
Sure, the young, thin millennials are still standing in the center of the spotlight, but it is clear that even the fashion industry has gotten the memo about where the money is and where the demographics are headed.
It's a bit ironic: Fashion always posits that it's avant-garde, but it's just now coming to realize what the ostensibly "boring" industries realized years ago. Health and financial sectors have long been gearing towards an older population, and even the travel sector is in the mix. For good reason: in two decades, the over-50 crowd in the American Market will spend $13.5 trillion, half the U.S. GDP, and an amazing $21 billion on clothes each year.
So what is the fashion industry doing to dress the boomers well?
Carmen Marc Valvo's show this past Friday illuminated two interesting features about fashion for an aging market. Not only did many of the models have gray streaks in their hair, but the new fashions covered more skin -- especially in those places sensitive to an aging-yet-fashionable 21st century boomer.
Could Carmen have noticed the growing interest among governments, policymakers and global institutions in the silver economy? Could Carmen have caught on that the economy is beginning to treat those of us over 50, 60 and 70 as sources of work, economic growth, spending, and activity?
As a boomer himself, perhaps it's not surprising that Mr. Valvo is sensitive to the changing needs, demands and desires of this exploding market. And his strategy has been getting attention. Last week's lead article in Women's Wear Daily reports on the aging demographic market the fashion industry is trying to catch.
There will be detractors, of course, arguing that fashion is a young person's game. And the reply is simple: It's the market, stupid. With 45% of the U.S. population over 50, demand will shape supply. And with fashion -- much like technology -- as a leading American export, one can expect this to go global With two billion people over 60 by midcentury, the market for aging-yet-fashionable set is exploding.
So as the UN Ambassadors meet on the East River and corporate execs dine at galas around town, one wonders how they'll be dressed. And for as forward-thinking as they may think they are, they would be wise to listen to the murmurs around the Lincoln Center. Fashion, of all industries, is showing that aging is the greatest opportunity of the 21st century.