JOYCE, LYNN AND JACQUIE are in their 80s; Debra and Tziporah in their 60s and Ilona is 94. Not the ages of women you’d imagine would ever be the focus of a fashion blog, let alone star in a film.
Inspired by his beloved and fashion-conscious grandmothers, the San Diego-raised photographer Ari Seth Cohen moved to New York and started a blog called “Advanced Style.” The subjects are stylish women over the age of 60 he photographed on the streets–or runways as they’re compared to–of Manhattan. He published the images in a 2012 book and now, with filmmaker Lina Plioplyte, has produced a new documentary featuring intimate portraits of seven women ages 62 to 95, who are challenging ideas about beauty, aging and our culture’s youth obsession.
“Ari and I met in 2008 at a coffee shop in New York where I was working. We bonded over our love of bold, clashing patterns,” says Plioplyte. When he started taking photos, she asked him if she could take some film.
“I was 25 at the time and worried about growing older. The future seemed dark, but then I met these women having the time of their life. It was inspirational.”
When the book came out, these women were becoming famous– they were in ad campaigns and on TV. There were videos on YouTube that were very popular; people wanted to know more. It was clear that a three-minute video about their closet contents was not enough. Plioplyte and Cohen decided to make a documentary.
Getting up close and personal with some of the faces is startling, a reminder of the inexorable process of aging. You see Ilona’s dramatic fringe of eyelashes, which she creates from cutting her own orange-dyed hair, and you think caricature. But Ilona has no fear of the fashion police. She loves and has a closet full of flamboyant colors. You see her in an art class telling her students that painting is 90 percent seeing and joking that her age is “between 50 and death.” You begin to admire her. As you do Debra, in her late 60s, who sports a pink-tipped spiked pixie hairdo and multiple layers and textures of clothing for her preferred sculptural look. “Style is healing,” she says. For Tziporah, dressing is a religion. It’s her art, her livelihood. And if she doesn’t have the head-to-toe 1920s look she’s going for all put together, she waits to wear the outfit until she does.
The message is that clothing has the power to change your day, your life. Put something sparkling on and your mood changes. But it’s not only these women’s passion for fashion that makes the movie, it’s their approach to living, their zest for connection to the world they live in that makes them so appealing and worth emulating.
What’s next? The “Advanced Style” movement? If photographer Ari Seth Cohen has anything to do with it, yes. In the meantime, I’m going to follow my mother’s advice about not going out of the house without looking my best. True, you never know whom you may meet, but more important is the way you’ll feel when you do.
The film will screen this Saturday, Oct. 25 (at 3 and 6 p.m.) at the AMC Loews Georgetown. Tickets are $18 and available via the EventBrite link at www.fadgeorgetown.com. The price includes popcorn and a post-screening moderated Q&A with filmmaker Lina Plioplyte and one of the film’s stars, Debra Rapoport.