Life doesn't stop at the age of 50

Meet Antony Fitzgerald, the mature model of colour breaking boundaries in the fashion industry.

Photography: Benjamin Kaufmann

With an impressive portfolio under his belt, including walking London and Africa Fashion Week, it makes it all the more remarkable to know that Antony Fitzgerald started his career at the age of 50.

On a whim, he came across an advert for auditions and decided to give modelling a go even though he didn’t have any prior experience. He didn’t know what to expect, but he knew it would be fun.

“I thought I would be a little nervous but I realised that I am one of those strange people who think the camera is their friend,” he says.

Two weeks later, Fitzgerald’s phone rang – it was the agency calling to say that he was in. The 57-year-old is now breaking industry stereotypes and pushing boundaries for mature models of colour in this new phase of his career.

It’s 11.00am on an average Sunday in the crowded Waterloo Station and Fitzgerald knows how to make himself known. He stands apart as a 6’3 African-Caribbean man clad in an expensive looking grey coat, tailored trousers, and carrying a large brown leather bag. A wide white-toothed smile sits above his long ivory goatee and his wide eyes, enriched with experience and wisdom, crinkle from excitement.

The model is feeling prepared for an outdoor clothing line photoshoot with an independent designer brand that he’s collaborating with (Sydney-Davies). It’s a Japanese-inspired line, “my favourite!” he says, because of its unisex design and effortless chicness of the clothes.

Fitzgerald exudes confidence but he is far from intimidating – he’s infectiously warm and inviting that people can’t help but move towards his bubble. His words are clear and articulate, speaking in what he refers to as a “BBC accent”, one that even a level 1 English beginner would understand.

“Some people don’t get me, they think I look strange or weird but I’ve frankly turned that into a plus – it means I stand out. It’s all about turning lemons into lemonade,” he says.

From the get go it’s obvious that Fitzgerald is a true professional. For the entirety of the three-hour outdoor photoshoot in one-degree weather, he never complains or even allows himself to flinch from the cold. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that he’s been doing this job for a lifetime.

His introduction to the modelling industry started in his childhood, his father modelled in the 60s and so did his sister later in the 80s. He never thought it would be a possibility for him to do the same since he thought it was reserved for “a higher level of people who were just unearthly beautiful”.

Sure, he has been scouted before and been told he reminds people of a “young Morgan Freeman” but he never took it seriously enough to pursue modelling. For most of his life, Fitzgerald saw himself as an academic with 11 years of experience in PR and Marketing and eight years as an English teacher.

Fifty was the pivotal age of his life that forced him to step out of his comfort zone. It was soon after he came to terms with the fact that he was going to be replaced by freshly-graduated new hires.

He had nothing to lose or prove to anyone, doing things on his own terms and ignoring anyone who advised him to change his appearance.

“I come with zero baggage. I’m not jaded by the industry and I don’t have any bad experiences. I come with the perspective that it’s all an open book to me so everything is a possibility for me.”

That’s not to say he didn’t feel a little lost when first starting his modelling career. In terms of representation, it was extremely rare to see any mature models of colour being the face of the fashion industry.

When he did see them, they would often be placed in stereotypical roles such as the grandparent of a family-inspired lifestyle shoot. But Fitzgerald craved glamour, he wanted to walk the catwalks and shoot fashion editorials.

The “rise of the silver fox” as Fitzgerald puts it, is still a relatively new idea to the modelling industry and agencies still believe that it will be hard to make a profit off people like him. “They do not see mature models of colour as aspirational or desirable,” he says.

That didn’t stop him from trying though and he relied on his personality as an advantage.

Fitzgerald’s energy and willingness to try anything made him well received by younger people, something that designers started to take note of.

Ironically, it was the older models that were the first to judge him because he dared to act out of the “classic” persona of his generation.

Soon after, he started receiving calls from designers that would ask him to model for brands along the lines of alternative and unisex fashion because they could see that the younger audiences were fond of his look.

Yet, Fitzgerald continued to find himself constantly surrounded by 20-something year-old models and being the only mature model of colour present.

It’s through his own experience that he decided to do something about it and form his own group, New Silver Generation, in July 2021. The purpose of the group is to bring together all the mature models of colour he knew about in one place.

Not one to shy away from being a leader, he used his connections to link these models with agencies both in the UK and in Europe that can bring them more job opportunities in the fashion industry.

“New Silver Generation exists to address an imbalance in the modelling industry which is clearly not diverse or inclusive, that is its purpose.”

New Silver Generation. Photography: Benjamin Kaufmann

“It shouldn’t be uncommon for someone like me to enter the modeling industry at the age of 50. Younger and older people than me should find representation for themselves everywhere,” he says.

According to Fitzgerald the problem is that diversity in the industry is often reserved for the younger and perkier models and not the mature models. Even with Black models, they’re always presented as one type and not allowed to be placed in a different box.

“Tokenism is divisive and it allows people to not be inclusive. It’s like with minorities, you’re only allowed to tick one box. If you’re ticking two, that’s super iffy and if you’re ticking three, you’re out,” he says.

Fitzgerald insists that there is no diversity unless there is inclusivity as well. If you have multiple models of one ethnicity that have the same exact look then they’re not making the effort for any diversity there.

Change starts with getting rid of what he calls “lazy marketing” that allows the industry to think in terms of boxes and stereotypes. They need to expand their thinking to look at all sorts of diversities and seeing the underrepresented groups out there that are yet to have their voices heard.

“The modelling industry is constantly changing and agencies need to wake up and realise that the model that is marginalised today will probably be the knock-out model in two to three years time.

“The brands that are really seeing me and trying to speak to me are the only ones I’m really interested in buying from and collaborating with,” he says. “And if they don’t? Good luck for the future!”

When the conversation comes to an end, the model leans in for a goodbye hug.

As he leaves the rest are left in awe of his presence, feeling lucky to have had the opportunity to listen to even a little bit of the wisdom that he chose to share with them.

This is from the Kindred. Identity issue, out now. Purchase the copy through the link here.