‘I don’t think there’s any denying that youth is beautiful. But I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I would prefer a world which wasn’t so skin deep,” says Linda Fargo. “Thankfully, there are more and more intelligent, powerful, sexy ‘older women’ in front of us now, who stretch our ideas of beauty.”
Fargo is one of them. Since joining New York fashion destination Bergdorf Goodman 20 years ago, she’s gone from designing their windows to directing women’s fashion, and along the way becoming a personality (thanks to the 2013 documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s) and a street-style star. With her switched-on wardrobe and sharp silver bob, Fargo has become a poster girl for the “greynaissance”, one of a handful of women challenging what life after 40 looks like – though she won’t be telling me her age, she laughs.
It’s the hair that first sets Fargo apart: natural grey is still a rarity in an industry so obsessed with the cult of youth. She dyed it once, she admits, “when I was very young, and I never did it again. Maybe the colour they chose was wrong – it just didn’t suit me. So I just let it be. I’m so glad: it’s the lowest maintenance part of my life.” Even having embraced her natural colour, Fargo had to work up the nerve to cut it, but “I think one thing that doesn’t look as good as you get older is a non-hair-cut hair style.” Uber-hairdresser Edward Tricomi created the cut, though Fargo didn’t intend for it to become her calling card: “Signatures should be grown into, not affected.”
Sitting front row at fashion week, Fargo’s bold way of dressing has made her a street-style star, and a figurehead for women feeling “aged out” of fashion. But fashion does cater for women over 40, she argues – there just isn’t enough guidance on how to wear it. “There’s more than enough for people to choose from. It’s not that the fashion itself isn’t there, what’s lacking is enough imagery of women who look great as they age. If more of that existed it would normalise ageing – you wouldn’t look and have your first reaction be, oh my god, she looks older. You’d stop thinking about it.”
And she’s not afraid to put her money where her mouth is or, rather, her face on the cover of the store’s quarterly “magalog” (part magazine, part catalogue). “I’m more than twice the average age of most models, so I thought, this is asking a lot. But I did it, and it shows that you can age with beauty. By having me on the cover, somebody who’s definitely nowhere close to 20, it feels a little more everyday. Slowly, these kind of things start to expand people’s ideas of beauty and, for women, of what’s possible.”
Her turn as cover star celebrates the launch of Linda’s, Fargo’s own concept store within Bergdorf Goodman. It’s roughly divided into two sections: classics-with-a-twist (like striped shirts, denim and trench coats from brands like Sacai) and “entrance-making pieces” from labels Libertine and Naeem Khan. “There’s probably a lot more happening per square inch than in the rest of the store,” Fargo admits, though I’m not surprised: she likens having to whittle down the buying list for the department store each season to “when you have a small apartment, and you buy something, you’re supposed to get rid of something. It’s not a rule I follow, hence I have a room that was supposed to be my TV room-cum-library – well, it has rolling racks in it now”.
Has her style changed as she’s got older, I ask: “Well, I’ve got a much better closet! I’m going to be in a poorhouse: I basically pay Bergdorf’s to work here. I think OK, it’s really time to get sensible now and not buy so much – and then new things come in, and I get excited all over again.”
Rather than “dressing your age”, Fargo suggests dressing relevantly – to location, body type, audience – but also in the moment. “I always pack something in case I get invited to a great cocktail party at the last minute. Or I always travel with at least one set of beautiful lingerie – also just in case,” she deadpans. “I’m a bit of a just-in-case packer in general. I travel with people who think, I’m gone seven days, I’m going to take five outfits, and these are interchangeable, so they’ll become seven outfits … Really? And what happens if you don’t feel like wearing that, or what if it’s much chillier? I don’t like that level of predetermination.”
She prefers shopping alone – no friends or boyfriends in the fitting room, just her “internal dialogue”. Always on her shopping list is costume jewellery: “It doesn’t really go out of fashion, so you can build your collection over time. It’s a lot more lasting and less perishable than a lot of the other things that we accumulate.”
While she doesn’t have a personal uniform per se, she is always on the lookout for black boots in every shape, black trousers, black turtlenecks, “workhorse pieces” to layer underneath her more statement buys. As for the statement buys, well, Fargo believes in taking chances. “If anything, the only thing I’ve regretted is when I underdressed versus overdressed”. For the 2008 superheroes-themed Met Gala, Fargo tracked down a brass sculptured breastplate that she remembered seeing in Robert Lee Morris’s store in her first years living in New York: the jeweller had modelled it on the Japanese supermodel Sayoko. “I was going to wear it over a very simple navy gown. And I changed my mind,” she says, incredulous. “I changed my mind at the last minute, and that, I’ll never forgive myself for.” She laughs. “I kind of chickened out. To this day, I almost don’t even remember what I wore – it was nondescript in my mind. But I remember what I didn’t do.”
According to Fargo, there isn’t a magic formula for great style, but she believes in putting in the effort. “The world responds to effort. I think I’ve made some real borderline fashion faux pas, but I’m a little bit of a thrillseeker in that way. I like to almost make myself a little nervous. Like,” she whispers: “are you really gonna wear that?”