51-Year-Old Model Inès de La Fressange

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Jacky Naegelen / Reuters

French fashion designer and former top model Ines de la Fressange presents a creation by French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier as part of his Spring-Summer Haute Couture 2009 fashion collection in Paris.

Who says supermodels have to be 14 years old? Former French runway model Inès de La Fressange, 51, walked Jean Paul Gaultier's haute couture runway on Wednesday and stole the show from her younger colleagues. Kate Betts catches up with de La Fressange:

You looked so comfortable up there on the runway, is that from years of experience?
Well, I was lucky because I had the two best dresses in the show. They were long black tuxedo dresses. If I had to wear transparent black lace that would not have been so easy! (See pictures from backstage at New York's Fashion Week.)

The Wall Street Journal called you "voluptuous" but you look pretty much the same to me as you did 20 years ago on the Chanel runway. How do you keep yourself in shape?
Winston Churchill always said the best exercise is no exercise so let me put it this way; I do as much exercise as Churchill! And I never do Botox or plastic surgery either. I went to a beauty salon in July for a day and swore I would go back every day in September, but I haven't been back since.

What inspired you to go back to the runway, it's been a while, hasn't it?
Well, I've done a few over the years for friends, designers like Eric Bergere and Vincent Darre when he was designing Moschino, but not many. I felt that it was important to show that women older than 40 can be sexy, too. There are never images of women with gray hair or older women in the magazines. And women are always portrayed as sexy like a pin-up model from the 1950s, not something feminine or gracious, just provocative. I want to show that women can love fashion like I do and have a normal job and enjoy taking care of themselves and their families. Even when cosmetics companies use women of a certain age in their advertising, like Sharon Stone for Dior, for example, the photos are so retouched. There is really nothing in the magazines that I can identify with. I saw one photo in American Vogue of a model working, but she was wearing a twin-set and a tweed skirt, like in the 1950s. (See pictures of Paris fashion.)

Why did Gaultier choose you to be in his show this time?
I think he wanted to show that he is working for women, he is at their service, if you like. I like the fact that he didn't try to disguise me or make fun of me in some way, by making me wear black nail polish like the other models. I was wearing my own kind of makeup and my own hairstyle. I just went like myself. It was a charming message in the middle of a very sophisticated collection. (See the top 10 fashion moments of 2008.)

What does it feel like to be surrounded by all those young models?
Well, it's amusing to be a model when you're 50, let's face it! But I don't envy them in that line of work, having to wait around for hours, never knowing where they will be sent from month to month, there's not a lot of gaiety left in that business. When I first started modeling the ambiance was like a party, it was so fun. Models like Pat Cleveland and Jerry Hall had so much energy and personality and they had fun together. The runway shows back there were much more upbeat — even in the way we walked down the runway, greeting people, turning, smiling. Now they are just told to look the same and be impersonal. I walk on the runway like I walk down the street.

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