Who is this ‘ageless’ Helena?

by Natasha Slee

Helena Bonham Carter, Vogue Cover, July 2013

Helena Bonham Carter, Vogue Cover, July 2013

With blemish-free skin and chiseled, almost hollowed cheekbones, this month’s Vogue cover could be mistaken for an unknown European model, some fresh 20-year-old. In fact, the face of Vogue’s Ageless Style issue is Helena Bonham-Carter, 46-year-old actress, epitome of British eccentricity and stalwart of beauty in imperfection.

Helena on Vogue is wrinkle free and frozen in a pout; her normally wild hair scraped back and replaced with a much more PC feather fascinator. The only indication this is our Helena is the voluptuous cleavage encased in an Agent Provocateur corset.

Image retouching is the norm and Vogue is competing with a newsstand of perfect female faces and ‘ideal’ body shapes. Yet the extensive post-production on Helena is jarring, even more so in an issue which celebrates age – it’s journey and the wrinkles that come with it.

The extent to which Helena has been manipulated and transformed becomes obvious at the first page turn: Tilda Swinton stares up at you on page three, a Chanel advert. At 52, Tilda may be older than Helena, yet her image belies a greater beauty than that of the cover. It is real, and recognisable: Tilda has crow’s feet, her lips are puckered, her eyelids crinkle like tissue paper.

Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, is producing a film for schools which exposes and explains the extent of retouching in the fashion industry. This unease with post-production is palpable in her editor’s letter, referring not to Helena’s age, but instead her ageless style. “Her look is impossible to categorise, part street urchin, part Victorian grande dame.” Alexandra draws together Helena’s style references, from youthful irreverence to the considered presentation of ladies, demonstrating why she is many ‘ages’. Perhaps the cover choice was beyond Alexandra’s control.

This healthier definition of ‘ageless’ continues into the interview.  Chloe Fox writes refreshingly of Helena’s filthy laugh, her diligence as an actress and her endearing, scatty personality. Yet once again, the images tell a different story. She is almost unrecognisable: bird’s nest hair tamed, brows perfectly defined, ubiquitous feline eyeliner. Audrey Hepburn came to mind, and with it the realisation that Vogue has fallen into an age stereotype trap. Audrey, of course, being the ageless woman we simply all want to be.

Such stereotypes are littered throughout the issue. Le Smoking once again commended as an ‘ageless’ outfit; the classic leather bag applicable to an ‘ageless’ lady. Almost comical is the piece on sunglasses, because what better way to hide an aging face than oversized shades – just ask Anna Wintour.

Sadder than those rich Vogue readers booking their next botox injection and the young impressionable readers who believe Photoshop is reality, Helena’s cover is a sad disservice to the actress herself.

James Ivory is quoted in the Vogue interview: “Helena is as real a person as you could ever hope to meet.” If only it was the real Helena on the cover.

Natasha Slee
LCF BA (Hons) Fashion Journalism

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