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Meet the silver haired models who embrace their grey and refuse to fade away

Silver Sassy is landmark York Fashion Week event inspiring women to step away from the dye and celebrate their gorgeous grey hair. Founders Rachel Peru and Annie Stirk talk to Stephanie Smith.

To grey or not to grey? For many women, that is quite the question, increasingly so as silver-toned hair has become a fashion statement in recent years, and not just for 50-somethings impressed with Meryl Streep’s natty crop in The Devil Wears Prada.

Rachel Peru stars in the current Valentines 2020 campaign for Figleaves

Now that young women are lightening and toning their hair to cool, silvery shades, it’s understandable that many older women are considering stepping away from the foils, dyes and highlights and letting their hair take a more natural turn.

Annie Stirk, who turns 70 next year, has been going grey since she was 18. She stopped dyeing her hair after experiencing post-natal depression and was surprised at how quickly it became steel grey. “I hated it. It felt hard, and clothes I’d worn before didn’t suit me any more,” she says. “It was only when people started to comment on my hair as it became white that I began to feel more confident.”

Annie has two grown-up children and three teenage grandchildren and lives at Brandsby, 12 miles north of York, with her husband, Ken. She retired in 2017 from her career as a TV food stylist, working on ITV’s This Morning and BBC shows with Sophie Grigson, Brian Turner and the late Gary Rhodes. She soon realised, however, that her ideas and energy still needed an outlet so began a blog, the Time of Your Life, chronicling her post-retirement experience to inspire others.

Grey hair, it proved, is an issue for many women. “Some say their husbands don’t like their grey hair, and that’s quite tricky, if women want to be authentic and who they are and they’ve got their nearest and dearest saying ‘I don’t really like that look’.”

Rachel Peru, left, and Annie Stirk. Picture: Olivia Brabbs Photography

Feeling it was time to celebrate white, silver and grey hair, Annie decided to create an event to do just that. She approached York Fashion Week, who put her in touch with silver-haired professional model and body confidence activist Rachel Peru. Together they are preparing for their first Silver Sassy event, which will take place at Middlethorpe Hall next month.

“While for some women going grey is transformational, for the majority it is the visible representation of an ageing process they are not happy with,” Rachel says. “The menopause may have come and gone or is still in progress, the nest is empty, retirement looms and there may be physical and bodily changes – and suddenly the clothes, colours, the look they have previously always enjoyed doesn’t work so well any more. Silver Sassy will show them a new way of thinking, without the dyes and the cover-ups.”

Former nursery teacher and mother-of-three Rachel, who lives in Ilkley with her husband, Mark, a banker, has been breaking barriers as a successful silver model, featuring in several high-profile TV and multi-media advertising campaigns including with JD Williams, Davina McCall’s active-wear range for F+F at Tesco and lingerie and swimwear brands Panache and Figleaves, currently starring in its Valentines campaign.

She became a model at 46, four years ago, after deciding to stop dyeing her hair. Now it’s her selling point, she says. “I’m getting recognised by brands and I am confident particularly with lingerie and swimwear. It’s something I’m really passionate about, women being seen in the industry in a different way. I do think times are changing and brands are realising that women of all ages want to be seen in advertising, they want to relate to models.

#####IMG000000000#####Rachel Peru, left, wears check blazer and leopard dress from Mint Velvet, Annie Stirk wears red dressfrom Mint Velvet, all at John Lewis Partners, at Vanguard York. Picture: Olivia Brabbs Photography ‘Stylist Sara Anson ‘HMUA Sonia Schofield

“I’m 50 this year. With lingerie, obviously you don’t often see older women. I’m all about body confidence, which is why this event is fantastic because it’s all about empowering women to embrace themselves, and hair is a massive part of that.”

Sponsored by Figleaves and York Gin, the Silver Sassy event will see 14 silver sirens, all local women, including a vicar, take to the catwalk wearing clothes by Cooper White and Browns of York in aid of York women’s charity Kyra, which provides courses, therapies and events for vulnerable women. It will be compered by Christine Talbot and followed by a three-course meal.

“It’s not just a fashion and beauty event but an opportunity to make older woman who feel invisible, visible and vibrant again,” says Annie. “We want our campaign to encourage better representation of grey-haired women of all ages, and help them stand up and be counted.”

The Silver Sassy event takes place on March 26, from 10.30am to 4pm, at Middlethorpe Hall Hotel, York. Coffee and biscuits and a three-course lunch with wine is included in the cost of £59. It is part of York Fashion Week. Book on Eventbrite and see www.yorkfashionweek.co.uk

#####IMG000000001#####Annie Stirk, left, wears blue jacket and blouse by John Lewis; Rachel Peru wears blouse by Boden, all at John Lewis Partners at Vanguard York. Photographer- Olivia Brabbs’ Stylist Sara Anson ‘HMUA Sonia Schofield

#####IMG000000001#####Rachel Peru, from Ilkley, who is a model with London-based Bridge Models.

#####IMG000000001#####Annie Stirk modelling for York-based fashion brand Copper and White. Andrea Denniss, Pink Lily Photography

#####IMG000000001#####The Revd Canon Sue Sheriff

#####IMG000000001#####Sharon Young, from Pocklington