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How a Top Stylist Became a Successful Super Bowl Model at Age 57

Gillean McLeod steps away from wardrobe to star in the NFL's commercial, directed by Errol Morris.
Gillean McLeod
Ari Michelson

As the stylist-turned-designer becomes a sort of VIP of the fashion industry -- think Rachel Zoe, L'Wren Scott and Jeanne Yang -- one veteran wardrobe ace is adding yet another hyphen to her resume. Gillean McLeod, a stylist who has also become a designer, recently stepped in front of the camera as a model -- at age 57.

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McLeod's moonlighting as a model began casually, with the editorial and commercial photographer Zachary Scott, with whom McLeod regularly works, casting her as a shrink in an image for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. After another photog friend took portraits of her to send to a modeling agency, McLeod's new vocation took off, with jobs for everything from financial services to mattresses to herbal supplements. This Sunday, she goes wide, appearing in a Super Bowl commercial for the NFL -- directed by the Oscar- and Emmy-winning Errol Morris.

The game-day NFL commercial's narrative is under wraps until after kickoff, but the part McLeod landed was that of a blue-chip company boss praising a "good fourth quarter." McLeod's patrician looks helped land the gig, but clothes can help clinch a job, she says. So -- as she usually does -- she wore something for the audition she had designed herself.

The navy pinstripe dress with a draped panel over the stomach is made of high-end British wool, lined in Chinese silk, and tailored to McLeod's 5'10" frame. "In my experience as a stylist, when I have to buy clothing to dress people as corporate women, what I find is ghastly," says McLeod, who has styled campaigns for Honda, Virgin America, Sprint and Adidas. Her self-designed dress, businesslike yet distinct, is part of a collection she recently launched, Gillean M. (It sells to private clients in a price range of $750 to $1,400.) McLeod was asked to wear the dress for the filming of the Super Bowl commercial.

And when she is in front of the camera, she’s accustomed to other stylists preferring her personal clothing to what they have pulled for a job. For a Charles Schwab print campaign she posed for this past fall, McLeod is adorned with her own chunky necklace, modernist bracelet and mixed-metal rings.

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McLeod's Super Bowl break highlights two trends at once. One is the increasing need for companies to depict baby boomers in commercials that target that demographic (consider American Apparel's latest use of a scantily clad 62-year-old). "Gillean probably works as much as our 18-year-olds," says Maria Minelli, co-owner of M Model Management, which represents McLeod. "The uptick in requests for women 40 and over started right when Gillean entered the business." Adds Carole Naff, M's other co-owner, "If Gillean dyed her hair dark or got Botox, she wouldn't get all the work she does. Clients want the naturally beautiful silver-haired lady."

The other trend in McLeod's triple-threat career is for fashion stylists to design clothing and serve as their own spokesmodel. It's not just a case of riding on the dress-trains of red-carpet clients; Jennifer Rade, Cristina Ehrlich and Simone Harouche have made custom clothing for their customers, so they functioned as designers before ever putting their name on a tag. Putting themselves in the public eye to market their lines is a natural extension of this "lifestyle guru" era.

Styling remains the main focus of McLeod's career. But she's happy to deposit the Super Bowl commercial check at Bank of America, whose L.A. branches recently displayed banners featuring images of McLeod being kissed by her real-life boyfriend -- who is a bit younger than her. 

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