Anna Murphy: Destination Fabulous

“Getting older is not a problem; it’s an opportunity.” If that’s not how you’re feeling, perhaps it’s time to read Anna Murphy’s book Destination Fabulous. Anna, Fashion Director of The Times, is coming to The Bath Festival on 19 May – Emma Clegg catches up with her on the subject of why at 52 she is feeling like the best version of herself…

The prevailing culture around growing older is that it’s a downward slope. Young people are constantly championed within the media – along with their smooth, firm unlined skin; their thick, natural hair with no shades of grey; and their unapologetic energy – and this youthful idolatry dominates the conversation for all members of society, whatever their age.

Anna Murphy, Fashion Director of The Times, has a different perspective. In the opening lines of her book Destination Fabulous: Finding your way to the best you can get, she declares, “I am 52 and I am happier than I have ever been. Society tells us that the only way is down; that I am supposed to be feeling far less jolly than I used to. Yet instead I feel as if my life has been on the up for years… in terms of who I am, and how I live in and respond to the world.”

Destination Fabulous:, first published last year and just released in paperback, is a wise, inspiring and invigorating guide to making the most of life as a grown-up woman – from the practical issues around how to dress your best to the existential issues around how to feel your best.

So why do we have such an obsession with youth? Anna explains that we are conditioned from an early age. “We are read fairy tales as children and these tell of beautiful young maidens and princes and dodgy old ladies with a problematic taste in fresh fruit. What’s happened is that these ancient stories that deify youth have been weaponised and commercialised by a huge industry that makes money around making us all­­ worried about getting older.”

The figures bear this out – in the UK the non-surgical cosmetics ‘tweakments’ market is currently worth £3 billion and most users start in their thirties. “Whether trying to erase lines on our faces or dyeing our hair so it isn’t grey, there is so much more money to be made out of that rather than encouraging people to step into who they really are”, says Anna.

Even though these ideas around youth are so entrenched, there is a burgeoning counterculture: “There is this real moment of empowerment around highly visible women with grey hair, women speaking out against this whole view. I’m an optimist and I hope that the voice of reason that embraces getting older is the voice that wins out.”

Anna admits that the rise of cosmetic treatments, both surgical and non-surgical, has always been driven by the fashion industry. She also makes it clear that she is not judging those that choose these treatments. “It is every individual women’s choice to do whatever she wants around her appearance – I’m not judging anyone for that, but I am judging a society that tells you that a line-free face and hair that isn’t grey is better than the alternative.

The most attractive older women I know have a face that is untouched, a heart that is open, a life that is full, a light that is on”

“I would argue that you look better if your face still moves and expresses who you are, than if it doesn’t. One of the many miraculous things about humans as creatures is that our faces are endlessly various and the second that you try and mess around with that it’s an unknown road.”

Anna’s book focuses on the different aspects of the journey to feeling fabulous. The sentiments she uses throughout are positive and enabling, and are charged with the discovery of self. Don’t be the object, make yourself the subject, is the refrain.

Chapter themes include Finding Your Purpose (“the most important changes you can make stem from those you make within), How and Why to Live in Joy (“Life is a gift. I feel it these days more than I ever did when I was younger”). Then there is Embracing Your Face (“Our face communicates our truth”), Your Body Beautiful (“Every body, whatever its shape or size, is a miraculous thing”), Making Fashion Your Friend (“How I dress has a huge impact on what kind of 52-year old the world takes me to be.”)

Anna explains that she started going grey in her thirties and dyed her hair initially. What made her stop was partly a concern about reducing the chemical load in her life (and discovering that dark hair dyes are particularly toxic), but there was also a discomfort around the need to hide the person she was: “I was thinking ‘Why am I doing this?’, ‘What is wrong with me having grey hair?’ ‘Why can’t I just be me?’, so it was a real moment of self realisation.”

The book is full of practical advice around skin care and body care, with tips collected from Anna’s own experience as well as the many experts in natural beauty and those with iconic personal style who she has encountered. In the chapter on Caring for Your Face, for example, she recommends her favourite tool to use for massaging the face, the gua sha, a plectrum of jade which you use to gently yet firmly stroke the skin. This improves the blood supply to your face, which supplies oxygen and nutrients to the face, and helps take away the toxins.

Yoga has been a major factor in making Anna feel more flexible at 52 than she was at 22, but she is at pains to point out that it doesn’t have to be yoga. ”What matters is that you develop a relationship with your physical self that is geared towards making you the best shape you can be. But this is not about getting thinner thighs – it’s about working towards being able to bend in this way or hold this pose in that way, it’s about function rather than form.”

Naturally there is plenty of advice around how to dress. “One of the things that drives me mad about this narrative about getting older is the assumption that you become boring and dull and have nothing of any interest to offer. And I want what I wear to show that I have something going on. And fashion that feels true to and expressive of your inner self, not fly-by-night or inauthentic, is a way not only to be seen but to also to be heard.”

It’s also about using the many devices that women have at their fingertips: “You can wake up feeling rubbish and put on a bright red lipstick, fantastic mascara, a colourful scarf or some great earrings and immediately transform the way you look and feel.”
“Obviously all of this in the book I’m regularly failing at all of the time. That’s the other thing – it’s fine to fail; trying is what matters,” Anna explains reassuringly.

So the philosophy is that a woman who is past her ‘prime’, doesn’t have to hide from how her body changes; she should rather embrace this. “The most attractive older women I know have a face that is untouched, a heart that is open, a life that is full, a light that is on. Their faces are the books that tell the story of who they are and how they live, just as Coco Chanel observed. And there’s something compelling about that when it’s a life well lived.”

Anna Murphy talks to Somerset-based stylist Natasha Musson on 19 May, 4pm, at The Guildhall. £13/£8.­