Image courtesy of powerhouse Books
FRIDA KAHLO USED TO TELL FRIENDS THAT SHE APPROACHED GETTING DRESSED EVERY DAY JUST AS SHE APPROACHED PAINTING – WITH A THOUGHTFUL, SELF-EXPRESSIVE EYE AND THE ARTISTIC EXPECTATION OF MAKING PEOPLE TURN HEADS AND ASK QUESTIONS. FRIDA UNEARTHED A DEFINING PIECE OF HER IDENTITY IN THE ELABORATE, RICHLY METAPHORICAL, TRADITIONAL MEXICAN GARB AND DRAMATIC JEWELRY THAT WOULD BECOME HER UNFORGETTABLE SIGNATURE STYLE. AND ALTHOUGH FRIDA PASSED AWAY IN HER LATE 40S, ONE CAN ONLY THINK THAT TODAY, SHE WOULD HAVE ABSOLUTELY LOVED TO TURN THE PAGES OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHER ARI SETH COHEN’S WONDERFULLY ENTERTAINING “ADVANCED STYLE,” A TRIBUTE TO THE “SILVER-HAIRED SET” OF LIFELONG FASHIONISTAS.
Inspired by his close relationship with his chic grandmother, 31-year-old Ari opened his eyes and pointed his lens at the most elegant, carefully composed, creative, kooky and exciting group of style icons he saw – active and curious women in their 70s, 80s, 90s and yes, even 100s. What began as a blog has become a serious quest to document this much overlooked demographic of rousing fashion figures.
Filled with revealing and funny quotes and envy-inducing style shots, “Advanced Style” (powerHouse Books, $35) should have a place on every coffee table. It is the book that reminds us all that we have, at some point, looked up to an older fashionista in admiration. Had my own important source of inspiration, my grandmother Lois Ann Zellers, lived in SoHo instead of Ohio, surely her chic Ralph Lauren blazers, Hermès scarves and antique Native American turquoise jewelry would have caught Ari’s attention as part of a breed of women who thought every day was an occasion for which to dress.
The book also offers rare perspective. If you are adventurous, confident and know yourself, you can become your own model of advanced style, avoiding the mundane routine of becoming older and less ambitious in your wardrobe selection. (Just say “no” to sweatpants.)
While the fashion industry keys in on younger buyers and has more or less abandoned the 60-plus crowd of style-conscious women, Ari’s book provides a refreshing, intimate look at those older ladies of rarified refinery, those who still wear gloves, pearls, lipstick and never leave home without hosiery.
That’s not to say that “Advanced Style” doesn’t also feature its fair share of wildly dressed, colorful characters in oversized plastic framed glasses, layers of bangles, deliberately clashing Pucci prints and bright orange hair. Irreverence in dress is also a daily celebration.
Still, as West Village writer Alice Carey says in the book, “You don’t want to look crazy. The object is to look as chic as you can – but your average person on the street would never wear this.”
On the following page, Carey, pictured in a tweed men’s wear-inspired jacket with ankle boots and a printed burgundy scarf to match her red hair, advises, “Fie on women in sneakers and sweats.”
Meanwhile, featured in spunky sunglasses, Jean and Valerie, “The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas,” offer their own wise reminders like, “People need to get less stressed about fashion and get into the enjoyment of it.”
On the next page, clad in a mélange of stripes, circles and pyramid prints, accented by geometric hats, they say, “Young woman, you’re gonna 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.”
We wish we could all have an advanced style fairy godmother on our shoulders to remind us of the sage – and hilarious – words these women live by. Ari documented not only their closets, but also their mindsets, which inspire us always to be ourselves and never give up. As the glamorous Lynn Dell put it, “We must dress every day for the theater of our lives.”
Other good advice to keep in mind, “Whenever you’re in a difficult situation ask yourself, ‘How would Fred Astaire handle this?’” says Mary, a perfectly poised, leopard-print loving lady. She also offers, “Sunglasses are better than a face-lift. They hide the ravages of time and let you spy.”
The posh Rose, more than 100 years old, wears a uniform of tightly pulled back hair, bright lipstick, an elaborate belt, a long strand of beads, chunky earrings and a wide smile. “Inexpensive lipstick,” she advises, “is as good as expensive, only better.”
While “Advanced Style” could have easily just been a fascinating photographic journey, the author goes further in recording these fashionistas’ candid words of encouragement that they hope followers adopt.
“I think most people give up. In some ways you should always be in love and never say I can’t wear that because of my age. It’s all how you feel,” says Beatrix Ost, an elegant, slender woman, who wears a wide-brimmed hat, dark lipstick and a bright floral-printed coat with a bright green jumper and platform wedges.
In the book’s forward, the cleverly dressed author and illustrator Maira Kalman writes of Ari’s effort, “He has looked at our grand population and singled out the people that, in a way, are most invisible and have the most to offer. We are lucky when any older person crosses our path. Our lives are enriched just by proximity. The wisdom. The spirit. The saying exactly what they think.”
One of the book’s subjects, Ruth, does Pilates, weightlifting and stretching every week and reminds us to, “Celebrate every day and don’t look at the calendar.”
She’s photographed in a spectacular Burberry jacket, gold earrings and a Chanel handbag. Ruth says that even at her ripe age of 100, she dresses every day because “You never know whom you may meet on the way to the mailbox.”
For more on “Advanced Style,” visit powerhousebooks.com or your local booksellers.