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April 17, 2024

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No age limit:
‘Cool auntie’ struts her stuff on the haute couture catwalk

You’re never too old to be a fashion model. Just ask 71-year-old retired doctor Qin Huilan. In February, she created a bit of sensation at Paris Fashion Week’s 2024 fall-winter show.

Qin recalled how her mind went blank as she stood waiting to go out on the catwalk for the first time, without any prior professional modeling experience. She was appearing for Italian haute couture brand Miu Miu.

“Before that moment in my life, I had only been a doctor caring for patients,” she said. “Who would have ever thought I would be standing there one day?”

She took a deep breath as stepped onto the catwalk, telling herself not to worry, she would succeed. And succeed she did!

Photos of her high-flying modeling debut quickly spread online in China. They showed her wearing a grey overcoat, a pair of pointed black high heels, a pair of leather gloves and a black scarf. Her grace and radiance matched those of younger, experienced models in the show.

In China, netizens flooded Qin’s social media accounts with comments of praise and admiration, where she came to be known as “cool auntie.”

“You really amaze me,” said one comment. “You show us that it’s never too late to do anything, and we women can be ourselves at any age.”

Reaction to Qin’s success wasn’t confined to the home audience. Positive stories about her catwalk debut appeared in various international fashion publications, including “Cosmopolitan” and “Vogue.”

Before retiring and moving to Shanghai to live with her younger son Huang Weilai in 2022, Qin was a physician for more than 40 years in the city of Liuzhou in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Her basic attire all those years was white doctor’s coat.

“I had two sons to raise so when I was younger, I didn’t spend much on clothes that would mostly be covered by white overalls,” she said. “But deep down, I still fancied fashion and beauty.”

When she moved to Shanghai which was colder than the more southern area of Guangxi, Qin found she didn’t have warm enough clothing.

“My son said, ‘Just take my coat,’ so I tried it on,” she said. “Surprisingly, it looked better on me than on him!”

Huang is a designer with a keen fashion sense. When his mother browsed through his wardrobe, she found that many outfits that he no longer wore seemed quite stylish to her.

He subsequently took photos of her posing in the clothing and posted them online. The feedback was positive.

“Some people said I still looked good despite my grey hair,” she said. “I love to read people’s comments. Many told me that getting old didn’t seem so terrible anymore after they saw my pictures.”

Given the success of the photos, Qin’s son eventually encouraged her to set up an account on lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu (Red). She now has more than 43,000 followers.

The account is called “Auntie Qin in Son’s Daily Wear”(一天一件儿子衣服的覃阿姨) because she still dons her son’s clothing now and then.

Qin said that she didn’t know how to type, so Huang transcribed her written notes for uploads.

“I am from the Zhuang ethnic minority,” Qin explained. “So I like the bright colors and patterns favored by our people. I’m not afraid to wear such vibrant clothing on the streets of Shanghai, even though it does attract attention.”

Maybe it was Qin’s confidence and daring that caught Miu Miu’s attention. An invitation to Paris was offered and accepted.

“I was very surprised. It was like a dream,” she said. “And when my son’s visa didn’t come through on time, I had to go to France on my own.”

Now Qin, having made a name for herself in the world of high fashion, often attends shows and exhibitions, and works with designers and professional photographers. Yet she never lets her newfound celebrity status go to her head.

“My life here is more or less the same as before,” she said. “Going for walks, buying groceries, cleaning the house and reviewing medical books. It’s a life I am content with.”

She said she hopes her experience will motivate other seniors to think outside of the “age box” and pursue their dreams as long as their health allows.

“Older people can be confident and be themselves,” she said.


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