ari seth cohen and his advanced beauties
The New York creative and founder of Advanced Style knows a thing or two about beautiful older women.
With the legendary Joan Didion just announced as the new face of Celine, and Selfridges' decision to launch a Bright Old Things initiative in lieu of their usual celebration of the freshest faces, more and more attention is being shifted to those rich in life experience. And quite right too! Fascinated by the older generation since his days playing dress-up and hunting for treasure in his grandmother Bluma's closets, Ari Seth Cohen started up Advanced Style when he moved to New York seven-years-ago. Overwhelmed by how cool the capital's over sixties were, he began to walk the streets looking for those with individual style and a certain sparkle, snapping portraits of inspirational individuals as he went. The blog took off and led to a veritable career, several books and a film, Advanced Style Movie, which we highly recommend you watch. Fresh from a TED talk in Amsterdam, we caught up with the creative to discuss the freedom of New York, his friend and muse Linda Rodin, and why society's attitude to ageing must change now.
What started your fascination with older women?
My grandmother Bluma. She was my best friend. When other kids were playing outside, I played dress up in her closets, watched old movies and hunted for antique treasures in her dresser drawers. I was fascinated with her past, old photographs, letters and stories of her youth. She was the most wonderful, encouraging, and wise woman I have ever met and she is the reason that I have always looked at aging the way I do. As a child I couldn't wait to get old, to have as much fun as my grandmother, and to design my life exactly as I wanted to.
What do you look for when you scout out your advanced style beauties?
A great turban, arm fulls of bakelite, a vintage coat that someone has worn for the last 50 years and which still looks as stunning as the day it was purchased. A sense of personal style and vitality. More than even style, it's a certain sparkle, a specific passion for life and personal expression. I think the quality that unites them is their vitality. They constantly look forward instead of looking back; they are open to new opportunities, excited about future adventures, and passionate about squeezing as much joy and creativity out of each moment as possible.
Why do you think NY is home to so many fabulous people?
New York allows people the freedom to be exactly who they want to be. You can walk down the street wearing the most crazy over-sized leopard jacket and no one will even take a second look. In some ways you are totally visible, but at the same time totally anonymous.
Who do you think is the most beautiful person ever?
That's impossible to answer because I have met so many incredibly beautiful people through this project. I always thought my grandmother had such a beautiful face. She was wonderfully wrinkled and as a kid I would trace the lines of her face with my finger, almost like a palm reader tracing her stories and life experience.
In today's society there is a huge pressure to look young. How do you think this attitude can be changed?
Getting old is inevitable so we might as well do it with as much joy as possible. I think so much of this pressure comes out of fear. Fear of change, fear of death, fear of so many things associated with growing older. If we begin to change the image of aging and show positive and inspiring examples of men and women leading active and creative lives, hopefully our understanding and attitudes towards growing older will change. 94-year-old Ilona Royce Smithkin says in the Advanced Style Movie that she only started to feel self confident and truly joyful in her 80s, when she began to let go of her insecurities and need for perfection. We should all strive to be like Ilona!
We featured your friend and subject, Linda Rodin, in our latest issue. Do you remember the moment you met?
Yes! I had seen Linda out and about several times with her gorgeous silver poodle Winky. I just love her aesthetic - a mix of dreamy vintage romanticism and cool, minimal contemporary elements. We met at her apartment to take a few photographs for Advanced Style. She is one of the most gorgeous and intelligent women I have ever met.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing Advanced Style?
It was my dream as a kid to be the entertainment director for a nursing home.
How do you envisage yourself being when you're older?
A wiser, less anxious, more eccentric version of myself with a mix of the styles of Liberace, Cary Grant, Wanny Di Filippo, Derrill Osborn and Quentin Crisp.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
"Don't strive for perfection. There is so much beauty in imperfection. If you try to imitate too much, then you look like nothing. Never compare yourself, YOU are YOU." - Ilona Royce Smithkin
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Ari Seth Cohen