Gillean McLeod is a 60-year-old model showing women age is just a number
‘The secret is to love who you are, accept that which you cannot change, and do the best you can’
Having just been the center of H&M’s recent swimwear campaign at 60 years old, Gillean McLeod is the role model for a refreshingly positive movement away from imperceptibly thin models, most of whom are four decades her junior. The stylist and model, however, fails to see the significance of this, instead suggesting that, “If I had saved someone from a shark whilst wearing the swimsuit. That’s a story.”
But far from being just a 60-year-old model who posed in a swimsuit for a high-street chain as many headlines would reductively suggest, Gillean is proving that beauty and age are by no means opposites.
Her first foray into modeling came as a grandmother at 53 despite turning down a number of opportunities when she was younger. “Whilst living in London I was scouted many times, but my shyness shut down any talk of modeling. The idea that I could be in front of camera seemed absurd at the time,” said McLeod. “Looking back I realize that I could have had a different life, but I feel that it wasn’t my time. Now is my time.”
Instead of working in front of the camera, Gillean worked behind the scenes as a stylist for 25 years before being convinced by a friend. “The previous year a photographer friend suggested taking photos for a portfolio. He convinced me modeling was on the cards. However, I was not so sure, but went along with it,” she says about her initial reservations.
“A day after the portfolio was finished we submitted it to a few casting director friends who in turn suggested several agencies. Immediately I was sent out for castings,” Gillean adds.
Despite her initial insecurities, modeling has allowed her to feel more confident in herself. “My self confidence has soared these past few years. The camera sees everything. It’s always a delightful surprise to see the final images captured.”
Most of her confidence has however come from her rejections rather than the big campaigns she has secured with the likes of H&M and Uniqlo.
“I have been to so many castings, with callbacks, and have not booked 98 percent of them. This in itself is what has helped with self esteem,” she explains. “It’s business – clients are looking for someone particular, and you are either that person on the day or not. Simple as that. Once you accept that, not booking a job cannot undermine your self confidence.”
She is very keen to dispel body insecurities in others and poses a strong message to those who don’t feel comfortable with their own appearance.
“I would take a long look in the mirror. We are all different and we cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the ‘look’ of the moment – the ‘look’ or ‘shape’ suggested to us in magazines. The secret is to love who you are, accept that which you cannot change, and do the best you can.”
As for how she stays in shape, swimming is her secret. “Swimming has been my main exercise my whole life. It’s a great feeling to be in the water and the sunshine.” She also hikes several times a week and regularly takes pilates classes. Her job also acts to keep her fit. “My work days are long and arduous, I still work as a stylist,” she adds. “We carry tons of clothes, rolling racks, work out of trucks, up and down stairs, it’s not the glamorous life people think.”
Meanwhile, her Instagram is full of stylish and inspiring outfits. “My lovely mother Ann was my first inspiration. She wore beautiful clothing, YSL was her favorite.
“My style is simple,” she adds however. “Fabric and cut is the first choice when purchasing any garment. My cupboard is not filled with a ton. It’s very carefully thought out and classic rather than ‘victim’ fashion.” Her favorite designers include Comme des Garcons, Junya Watanabe, Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens, Margiela and Vivienne Westwood, a much cooler collection than your average grandmother.
The rest of the summer sees her taking up a few styling jobs and a modeling job in New York. But further in the future her plans are up in the air. “There are some dream photo shoots which if I had the chance to create, would see me traveling around the world with trunks of clothing, styling myself.”
On her Instagram she writes that “60 is the new 20”, and who are we to suggest otherwise.