A silver-haired woman graces our cover this month, exuding chic and confidence in a jet-black Saint Laurent tunic and sunglasses. You can’t miss the parallels with an iconic image shot by Juergen Teller for a Céline campaign in 2015, which featured prolific American writer Joan Didion, who was then almost 80.
Fashion has come a long way since—diversity is far more visible on covers and the runways—but still has a long way to go. At the very least though, we now greet it with open arms. Our cover star Ong Bee Yan, or Yan, as the 65-year-old part-time model, grandmother of two and co-founder of 1degreeC, an artisanal home-grown coffee brewery, prefers to be known, notes the incredible impact of the campaign that helped create this welcoming climate: “It’s amazing and truly inspirational to see her front a campaign at [nearly] 80! It really gives mature women the confidence to get out of their comfort zones and not let age define who they are.”
Related article: It’s All About Attitude For Our April 2021 Issue
This is precisely the message that Yan herself is empowering others
with. Just one look at her Instagram (@grey_evolution) and you’ll see her warmth and motivating energy. As she continues to document her family, style and work, she hopes it will encourage fellow seniors to challenge themselves to learn new things and take up new experiences.
“People are concerned about growing old, about the illnesses that will affect them in their old age; that they’re no longer useful to society or that they can’t learn new things,” she says. “But everyone has to grow old some day. It’s inevitable. That’s life.”
She herself has struggled with ageing, particularly prior to coming out of retirement to run a small business. “I was starting to forget simple things,” she shares. “There was a period where I couldn’t recall a telephone number that was given to me just a few seconds ago. The fear of having dementia crept into my mind, as my mum and sister had it. However, since I started working again and keeping myself busy, I’m more alert and my memory is more acute.”
My aim is to collaborate with someone on a fashionable, age-appropriate clothing line, and conduct workshops on skincare and makeup for mature women.Yan
Yan started her modelling journey just two years ago and already, she has scored a string of gigs. Her recent ones include campaigns for The Modern Singapore Collective, an exclusive collaboration with KrisShop, Design Orchard and the Singapore Tourism Board, UOB’s International Women’s Day, IT Cosmetics and Unda. “So far, it has been an interesting and exciting albeit nerve-racking journey for me,” says Yan, who admits she’s camera-shy despite her line of work and her seemingly effortless appeal. “I do get butterflies in my stomach at every gig, as I don’t know what to expect—it was the same with this cover shoot. As I was heading to the studio from the car park, I said a prayer, which is what I usually do, and just told myself to do my best.” That said, Yan shares that fashion shoots are the ones she enjoys the most, “as I get to express myself through my poses”, though she’s game for other types of shoots too. “Being a health-conscious person, I’d like to showcase fitness clothes. I want to prove that one can teach old dogs new tricks.”
It’s clear that Yan wears the clothes and not the other way around because she’s so refreshingly comfortable in her own skin. In some ways, her own style evolution also permeates this fashion story. “In my teenage years,” she says, “my clothes were mainly mini skirts with thick belts and tank tops. I also liked hipster bell-bottom blue jeans and dolly tops. As a young adult, I went for grunge and quirky fashionwear.” Even today, she still likes designs with a little quirk as she continues to explore her personal style. “I’d wear an oversize shirt dress with an unusual collar or sleeves and pair it with either baggy pants or skinny jeans. I just can’t imagine myself in what my mother used to wear when she was 50.” With her sartorial flair, it’s no wonder that fashion is something she hopes to pursue. “My aim is to collaborate with someone on a fashionable, age-appropriate clothing line, and conduct workshops on skincare and makeup for mature women,” she lets on.
Related article: Beyond The Vines Aims To Put Singapore Designs On The World Map
You can definitely expect to see more of Yan—she’s just getting started. The self-professed elderpreneur and upcycling enthusiast also wants to conduct other workshops. “I want to encourage seniors to pick up new skills such as soap-making and candle-making,” she says. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to run a home-based business after learning these skills.” So far, she has had a lot of support from her family as well as people she has met along the way. “I meet many amazingly talented, beautiful and warm people in this industry. I’m learning new things, I’m enjoying what I do, I’m interacting with many young people in my work and I think that’s what keeps me feeling young!”
For now, Yan is enjoying life and opening herself up to all sorts of possibilities. She’s a great example for people of any age. “Love what you do and do what you love. That’s my motto.”