Sarah Grant donned a swimsuit to make her Australian fashion week runway debut on Thursday, at the age of 71.
Wearing a black scoop-neck one-piece with a breezy floral over shirt, Grant walked the Aqua Blu show to a capacity crowd at Carriageworks in Sydney.
“It’s great for older women to see a more mature person wearing an outfit because then they can relate to it, and it’s good for business because baby boomers are one of the largest demographics when it comes to buying fashion,” Grant says. “Wearing a swimsuit wasn’t a problem for me because 70 is the new 50. We are all healthier and living longer now, and you’ve only got one body so you may as well be proud of it. It’s about empowering yourself and others, whatever shape, size or age you are.”
Grant may be new to Australian fashion week but she is a veteran of international modelling. Her first catwalk appearance was for Pierre Cardin in New Zealand at the age of 16.
“I snuck in to watch a dress rehearsal and he decided he wanted me in his show,” says Grant. “I was a lot taller than the other girls so they had to take the newspaper stuffing out of the shoes for me.”
From there, the only way was up, and out of the Antipodes to Europe and America, where she worked for titles including Vogue in Paris, Italy and London, and was shot by royal family photographer Norman Parkinson, and Helmut Newton.
“He tried to get me to pose nude on a motorbike but I refused,” says Grant of Newton.
Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld and Zandra Rhodes were among the brands she walked for in Paris, Milan and London before returning to Australia, where she appeared on the cover of Playboy with an electric guitar in the 70s.
“I was wearing black pants and a black leather jacket and they said ‘can you take the trousers off?’” says Grant. “I said yes, but it will cost you extra per leg, and they paid it.”
Grant says the modelling industry has changed immensely since she got her first big break in the 60s. “There were no hair and makeup artists when I started: we all had to lug around huge bags with our wigs, shoes and makeup and do our own.”
“We were all just regular sizes – a size 10 or size 12 – so there wasn’t that pressure to be slim. When the super skinny look came in it was really tragic for the business and a lot of girls ended up with issues because of it.”
Today the work has shrunk as well as the sizes.
“A lot of the magazines have closed and the media outlets have shrunk,” says Grant. “If you don’t have a big Instagram following now, no one will look at you. It’s a shame that people are so hooked into social media, but the positive is that models can use it to have their own agency and their own voice.”
As to ageing, she readily admits “when I hit 30 I freaked out. But then I just let it go, because you can’t hold back the tide. I have more joy in my life today than ever and I wear my inner child on the outside. I would be too scared to have a facelift, and they can always retouch it if they want to.”
Grant, who has also recently appeared in campaigns for Australian brands Camilla and Aje, says she still loves the work.
“I still get so excited … It’s such a buzz to walk down that runway, it’s really a kind of high.”
As to any advice for younger models, she says: “Just embrace who you are and enjoy it. And go to the bathroom before the show!”