From 60 to 100-year-olds, these older generations are shaking up fashion’s perception of aging.
Ari Seth Cohen was managing the New Museum’s bookstore in New York City when he saw Debra Rapoport, a striking older lady with spiky pink hair, for the first time. Just as he made a habit of doing when he would meet sartorially savvy older women, he said, “I take pictures of woman over 60; can I take your picture?” Rapoport coyly blurted, “How do you know I’m over 60!”
That was back in 2009. Beside his day job as a supervisor at the bookstore, Cohen was also a not-so-ordinary fashion blogger. He started to take photographs of fabulous fashionistas he’d encounter on the streets of New York, who happen to be older than the average fashion model by over four decades. Cohen was fascinated by the creative sense of style, heartwarming story, as well as the energy and spirit of stylish older men and women.
Now 70, Rapoport has traveled alongside the 33-year-old Cohen throughout the country as one of the well-known “glad to be grey” older ladies. What used to be a side hobby is turning out to be a bright career. Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style, spawned several other projects, including an inspiring book and a kick-starter funded documentary, which have become international phenomenon.
More than just a nascent street-style Blogspot account, Advanced Style is growing to be a movement acknowledging older people for their beauty, dignity and creativity. It paints intimate and colorful portraits of fashionable older men and women; challenging the conventional ideas about aging, beauty, and the obsession of youth.
“People always ask why I did this? I can’t explain it other than I’ve always had this deep connection to older people. I wanted to be an entertainment director for a nursing home when I was younger, that was my dream. I made my first book of drawings of older women when I was seven years old. So this is just an extension of something I’ve done my whole life,” explains Cohen, who grew up in San Diego.
Since he started the project eight years ago, there have been a lot of changes happening in the lifestyle fashion media that mainly focuses on youth. In his film, Cohen was approached by Lanvin to collaborate in an advertising campaign and Rapoport started modeling for K-Mart. Advanced Style also teamed up with Coach, Karen Miller, The Row, Selfridges, Audicus and other famous brands. Marc Jacobs has admitted that the stunning ladies in Cohen’s blog have inspired his A/W 2012 collection.
In the past couple years, countless headlines such as Meet the 62-year-old lingerie model and 79-year old model shines on the catwalk! have stated the rise of the fashionable older men and women. A lot more opportunities have opened up for the forgotten senior community, and Cohen’s blog has broken the stereotypical prejudice of fashion media − the invisibility of older people. The fashion industry is finally waking up to the fact that the older generation is an important demographic.
At the recent screening at the JCCSF last week (12/9), hundreds of over-60s came to hear Cohen’s story. Now based in Los Angeles, he has successfully turned his blog into profitable multi channel business. As cited in Business of Fashion, his blog has attracted a respectable number of followers of about 100,000 unique monthly visitors. The Advanced Style book, first published by Powerhouse in May 2012 has become a best seller in its seventh printing, and his Advanced Style: Men book is set to be released next year.
Diane Keaton, Iris Apfel, Helen Mirren, Charlotte Rampling and Carmen Dell’Orefice are some examples of women in Hollywood who are growing old beautifully. But Cohen’s work allows us to see that everybody can look good in any age through his everyday street-fashion photographs of “ordinary” folks. The people profiled by Cohen have made intense sociological fashion statements. By their art of dressing, they have inspired younger generations to change their views on aging and to face the fear of getting older.
“I feel the same as when I was 18 but I have fewer cares,” says Rapoport in the eponymous documentary, which came out in 2014. Her daily outfit looks like a work of art. She always completes the over-the-top pattern and layers of garment with her signature bracelets made of toilet paper rolls. Advanced Style displays that there is a great liberation when you have reached a certain stage of life. By dressing well, these undeniably captivating older people are freer to express their “senior moments.”
“I am an artist and I teach kids art, so I am used to working with kids, and it’s all about having their inner creativity to be expressed in a very innocent and open minded way,” says Lilly Snow, one of the younger members of the JCCSF audience. “This is the opposite when you learned from people that have faced so many things through life, and yet in a way they still have the same freedom. It is really uplifting to hear them talking about how free they are in expressing themselves still,” admits the 26-year-old Academy of Art University alumna.
Unlike the younger generation who follow trends, these advanced style muses set their own. It is about exploring things and doing what makes you feel good. Aging has become a very positive thing. There is something really powerful about embracing age. Appreciate everyday of your life because you are very lucky to get old. Advanced Style proves that trends may come and go but true style is ageless. As Coco Chanel said, “Fashion passes, style remains.” (MT)
“Young woman, you are going to be an old woman someday, don’t worry about it. Don’t sweat it, don’t worry about getting older.
Every era, it builds character,”
- Jean, The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas.