THE AGE OF BEAUTY
At 58, Lou Kenny defies the stereotype of model material. It may be 40 years since the start of her career, but her allure is proving as potent as ever. By Cushla Chauhan. Styled by Mark Vassallo. Photographed by Charles Dennington.
At 58, Lou Kenny defies the stereotype of model material. It may be 40 years since the start of her career, but her allure is proving as potent as ever.
Amid the glamorous fashion and shiny young faces on Vogue’s August issue storyboard, it’s the grace, elegance and damn fine cheekbones of Lou Kenny – the beautiful 58-year-old model we photographed for these pages – that mesmerises me the most. There’s something utterly captivating about seeing a mature woman on the pages of a magazine, perhaps because it’s so unexpected, a positive celebration of the fact that a woman over 40 with grey hair can be so entrancing.
When I call Kenny the next day she has just finished teaching a private yoga class in London, where she’s temporarily based. “I’m looking out on a gorgeous garden on a bright sunny day,” she says in a serene kind of way.
That Kenny is a long-time yogi goes some way to explaining her admirable posture and toned body, but there’s no doubt she’s also been blessed with a natural beauty, one that in 1977, when she was 18, saw her selected as a house model for Jantzen Swimwear. At the time, Kenny was studying social welfare in her hometown of Melbourne, so considered the role as simply a convenient way to cover her petrol costs for the week. “I had a nonchalant attitude towards it, to be honest,” she says.
It wasn’t until she had graduated and was working in welfare full-time that an opportunity to shoot a TV commercial for L’Oréal in Sydney proved too good to pass up, and life took a new path. “It paid me enough to put a deposit on a house,” she says of the job, adding with a chuckle that house prices were vastly different “back in the day”.
Kenny’s modelling career took off in the 80s and continued until she was into her 30s. During her two pregnancies, she choreographed shows for the likes of Georges and Country Road. “I was literally giving birth and a girl had to come in and get notes so she could pick up the choreography and finish off the parade!” she recalls. In her late-30s she ran her own modelling agency, one that sought to promote diversity with the inclusion of Indigenous models on its books, but left that after qualifying as an Iyengar yoga teacher and moving down the coast in Victoria to open her own studio.
But the modelling world wasn’t done with her. At 54, having moved back to the city to care for her elderly mum, Kenny sought a new stream of income. “I had a few jobs to tide me over, then got back in touch with my agent and dusted off a portfolio and a modelling bag,” she explains. “But they don’t even use portfolios anymore, and nobody has a modelling bag!”
While certain aspects of the industry have changed, she notes: “I feel it’s very similar.” Today, as a 50-plus model, Kenny is in hot demand, gaining representation with overseas agencies, appearing on the catwalk during Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival earlier this year and captured in a campaign for lingerie company Berlei.
Interestingly, she says that posing for that shoot wasn’t as daunting at this time of her life as it may have been in the past, because as a younger woman she had dealt with the same insecurities most women face. “It’s only now that I have finally come to a stage in my life where I do feel confident and I do feel happy and at peace within myself.
“I’m expecting this is the beginning of a new era for me, and I have another 20-plus years. I mean, the women kicking goals in that area are in their 80s, so I figure I’m just starting again.”
Lou Kenny wears a Zambesi jacket, $1,360, shirt, $425, and pants, $540. Bassike earrings, $440. All prices approximate; fashion details last pages.