- Words by Mr Alex Bilmes, editor-in-chief, British Esquire
The conventional wisdom holds that men who once were callow and unformed go grey and get distinguished. They get rich. They get powerful. They get potent. Women - who once were tight and taut and hard and ripe - soften, or bloat, or crease. Their sexual power, once incalculable, slips through their calloused fingers, and no pot of miracle cream can smooth it back. Ageing men swagger, ageing women sag.
I beg to differ. As my peers (and by the way Ms Kate Moss is my peer) hit 40, an age when the balance of sexual power allegedly shifts towards men, I don't see it. (I'd rather have sex with Ms Moss than myself, so that's a bit of proof). You require further evidence, Your Honour? Some of my closest guy friends - once clear-eyed, flop-haired and thick-chested, full of vigour and brio - are on the expressway to becoming foul, embittered old toads. While women I missed the first time around - girls who perhaps seemed plain or uninteresting - have lately burst into spectacular life, dazzling and half-divine, if not full-blown sex goddesses.
Let's call these deep, complex, opulent, peppery women Bordeaux. And while there are men who will consume young, nubile Burgundy well beyond the point where it is embarrassing, my glass is lifted for a refill of claret.
I recently had cause to watch, for the first time in a long time, the film Alfie. Not the Mr-Jude-Law-on-a-Vespa-in-the-West-Village remake from 2004. The original, made on location in London in 1965 and released the following year, about the sexual misadventures of a cockney chauffeur, played by Sir Michael Caine.
Ms Jessica Lange in her mid-sixties, in a studio portrait by Mr Steven
Pan, 2013. Photo Steven Pan/ Management + Artists
Alfie is a rogue, a cad, a bounder. He specialises in seducing vulnerable women - lost naives, unhappy housewives - and bragging about it, direct to camera: good Brechtian, bad boyfriend. But Alfie tires of his easy conquests. Clueless dolly birds are easy prey - where's the sport in that?
At length Alfie meets his match in the not inconsiderable shape of Ms Shelley Winters, who plays Ruby, the sexually liberated older woman. (The magnificent Ms Winters was 45 at the time of filming, 13 years Sir Michael's senior.) Ruby, Alfie tells us repeatedly, is in "beautiful condition". And she does indeed appear to be: voluptuous, vivacious, full of mischief. A woman in the full bloom of her womanhood. A woman just entering her prime.
You meet women like this in real life, if you're lucky. Women who carry their years with style, with grace, with wit, with elegance and, yes, with sex appeal. Fifteen years ago I worked with a mousy copy editor who made no impression at all, on me or anyone else we knew. Last summer, at a house party in an English shire, a woman emerged from the pool on a hot afternoon like a creature from a dream, if dreams were art directed by Mr Mario Testino: long and lean but curvy as a country road, honeyed, cool-eyed and full-lipped. Yes, reader, it was the same girl. Woman, I should say. I was once grilled a steak by the bodacious upper-crust English cook Ms Nigella Lawson - as sinfully creamy a woman as you could ever hope to meet, and becoming more so with every passing lunch. Ms Lawson was once a bookish, unpolished London Sloane. Now she's a sleek, rich glamourpuss who could cook you breakfast, then eat it and you. Her recent tabloid travails only deepen the allure: Ms Lawson has weathered storms. She is a survivor. And she's single.
Ms Julianne Moore gave me the tour of her Manhattan loft; Ms Elizabeth Hurley and I took tea and she showed me her negligee
On another occasion I spent a heady afternoon in the company of Ms Diane von Fürstenberg, the vampish New York socialite and creator of the wrap dress, an item asking to be unfurled. There have been other encounters, with women whose presence and charisma was close to overwhelming: Ms Julianne Moore gave me the tour of her Manhattan loft; Ms Elizabeth Hurley and I took tea and she showed me her negligee.
Not that these women weren't always gorgeous. They were. Just that as time passes they have become still more intoxicating. I don't mean to suggest anything untoward happened. Nor that any of these women are old (though they are all older than me). But they are attractive in ways that younger, less worldly women often can't be, for that very reason: because they are not yet worldly. And worldly, frankly, is sexy.
Women I have never met but, like most men with a pulse, would like to: Ms Meryl Streep, so pinched and earnest as a young woman, so bountiful, so deft, so alive in middle age. Ms Lauren Hutton, American Gigolo vintage. Ms Jessica Lange. Has anyone taken a long hard look at J Lo lately? And imagine being under house arrest with Ms Aung San Suu Kyi. (Apologies, you are readers. Not my therapy group.)
Then there's Ms Susan Sarandon. There's the Susan Sarandon of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), singing "Touch-a touch-a touch-a touch me/ I wanna be dirty" in her bra and a slip: cute, fun, flirty - but not yet the world-class sex symbol she would become. It was she who took the Ms Shelley Winters role in the Alfie remake. Sexy as hell, at age 57 she's showing Mr Jude Law the tattoos on her tits. Ms Sarandon is living proof that women - some women, many women - get sexier as they get older.
By the way, there's a coda to this story. Ultimately, Ms Winters' Ruby cheats on Sir Michael's Alfie. The cad gets had. He turns up at her flat with flowers, to surprise her. There's a guitar-playing hippie in her bed.
Alfie: "What's he got that I haven't? Apart from long hair."
Ruby: "He's younger than you are."