Rachel Peru - Yorkshire’s silver and sassy model
- Credit: Archant
Rachel Peru is getting into her stride as an in-demand curve model. She hit 50 this year and is on a mission to make midlife matter.
Rachel Peru turns heads. When we meet, her striking silver hair tops an outfit of funky tee, leopard-print skirt and white trainers which come together with cool-girl ease.
She’s someone happy in her skin and happy to show it off, hitting her 50s with a punch that says ‘bring it on’ as she leaps into the modelling world and is embraced by the body-positive movement. Rachel, who has always lived in Ilkley, began a career as a model at 46. At 40 she’d been divorced, completed an education degree and was working as a nursery teacher.
But the call of the catwalk changed the direction of her life, and took her to a beach in the Bahamas modelling curve size swimwear for supermodel Ashley Graham.
The experience was life-changing says Rachel, and now she’s on a mission to; ’fly the flag for misunderstood and misrepresented women everywhere, particularly those in midlife, showing that they are not invisible in the fashion industry.’
If it sounds like the stuff of dreams then Rachel will admit that it is. As well as modelling, the mum of three is branching out with her own Out of the Bubble podcast, as well as writing a book which brings with it a raft of new personal challenges – from fire-walking to paddle boarding.
At 50 she’s only just begun, but she looks back on a decade of change.
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‘At 40 after my divorce it was a case of getting to know myself again and my confidence grew. I did a sky dive for my fortieth birthday and had a new career as an early years and nursery teacher. I thought that would be my last career.’
What changed everything was Rachel’s participation in a local fashion show for cancer charity Macmillan.
‘I really loved it, I knew I was good at it and some professional models suggested that I send my pictures to agencies. I started to embrace my curves and naturally grey hair. When a London-based agency got back in touch I realised I could take it seriously.
‘I went into it without any expectations and have just gone with the flow, but it has coincided with the rise of the silver model and the realisation that there has to be more diversity now.’
She specialises in modelling swimwear and lingerie, more than happy to share her ‘real’ body shape in shoots for among others, Figleaves, JD Williams and Chantelle Paris.
It was modelling in the Bahamas with supermodel Ashley Graham for her ‘Swimsuits for All’ campaign that changed everything. Rachel had, she says, ‘cheekily’ contacted an agency to make the point that older, curvy women weren’t represented in the fashion industry.
Her timing couldn’t have been better.
‘I was told that I was exactly what they were looking for’. She found herself on a beach in paradise.
‘I would never have thought that at 47 I would be modelling swimwear on a beach in the Bahamas. I was incredibly nervous.
‘But I came back a different person because I could see that I looked great, and I could do it. It made me want to do more and I came back with a different confidence.’
In the past three years Rachel has done TV commercials with JD Williams as well as a campaign with Davina McCall for the Tesco clothing brand, Florence & Fred. She has her own ‘hit list’ of brands such as M&S who she feels are missing the mark in terms of the models they use to sell clothes to the sassy 50-plus market.
‘I shop in a real mixture of places – I like vintage and charity shops – I don’t own a lot of designer clothes but if I had the money I might’, she laughs.
Her leopard print skirt is from JD Wiliams, jacket from SImply Be, trainers from TK Maxx and slogan tee from Disco Kids.
‘I am a size 14/16, I’ve been through the menopause and my body shape has changed – I am a size 34G bra and it is so hard to find clothes on the high street that are a uniform size.’
She’s not averse to borrowing clothes from her twentysomething and teen daughters though. Her youngest has just gone to university, so she’s fighting a bit of empty nest too.
One of the ways she is boosting her visibility is on Instagram, ‘I think of myself as an inspirer rather than influencer’, she laughs. But it is also about more than modelling
She started a podcast called Out of the Bubble which was particularly popular during lockdown. Rachel talks to women from all walks of life, and all ages, about a range of topics, from menopause to entrepreneurship to Trish from the Calendar Girls and recently invited Meg Matthews to the show to discuss midlife and the menopause.
‘So many people are doing amazing things and have the opportunity to be creative again. I lost that in my 20s because life got in the way but now, I’ve got space to do it – and I think a younger generation of women appreciate what we are trying to do - because they will get the benefit. They won’t have to be quite so scared of ageing and becoming invisible, says Rachel.
To shout loud and proud about ageing, she and another silver model from Yorkshire, Annie Stirk, founded Silver & Sassy, for grey, silver and white-haired women and they had planned an event for York Fashion Week which was sadly postponed due to the pandemic. The response was so good that they have plans for a bigger catwalk event next year.
Exciting times says Rachel, ‘I am pro-active in knocking down ageist stereotypes in the industry and really feel that as I turn 50 in 2020 I’m only just getting started.
‘The podcast is aimed at inspiring women to become more confident in body and mind after 40, celebrating midlife and ageing. Every woman has a story to tell.’