older and wiser: documenting advanced style all over the world
We spoke to Ari Seth Cohen about his new book Advanced Style: Older & Wiser as well as sharing the first look at his new series, Advanced Love.
Valerie and Jean (The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas), Debra Rapoport, Diana Gabriel, and Carol Markel NY, NY
Starting as a personal project inspired by his late grandmother, Ari Seth Cohen launched his blog in 2008 with the aim to document the style of older women in New York. Advanced Style has since matured into an influential platform encouraging the fashion industry to take a fresh perspective on ageing and embrace the style of older women. In his new book Advanced Style: Older & Wiser, Cohen has documented both women and men, delving deeper into the lives of the those featured and travelling all over the world to prove that style is not only ageless, but borderless and genderless too.
We caught up with Ari to talk about his experience creating Advanced Style: Older & Wiser as well as his new series Advanced Love, exploring the secrets behind long lasting relationships. Take an exclusive first look at episode one featuring badass couple Mort and Ginny Linder who have been together for since their 20s below.
You've been touring with your new book, Advanced Style: Older & Wiser. How has that been?
It's been great! These women from all over the world that I photographed are showing up to the launches, which turn into these big parties where people are suddenly inspired to dress up. Ilona Royce Smithkin, who is 96, was drinking champagne in the back room at one of the launch parties. We were all ready to go and I figured she left hours ago but she was there with a round table of people and entertaining the whole crowd while I was ready to head to bed.
After the success of the first book and the film, why were you compelled to do another book? What stories did you feel remained untold?
After the first book, I had so much feedback from people wanting to know more about these women. So for Advanced Style: Older & Wiser I compiled 22 personal essays about their lives, ageing and the journey they've been on in the last two years. So many of these women have new careers after the launch of the first book and the film. People were finally recognising the style, wisdom and power of the older woman and so I kind of wanted to go deeper into their lives so they could tell their stories. I was also given the opportunity to travel and meet men and women from all over the world.
Whilst travelling, was there anywhere that surprised you? Do you think different cultures have different views on ageing?
I was surprised. A lot of the pictures in the book are from Japan and I thought that there was a great respect for ageing there, but from talking to older people and journalists I realised it still has a very youth-centric society. Although there is a surface respect, older people are often forgotten. I had a photo exhibition there and a lot of women came and thanked me for being able to see pictures of women who were expressing themselves in a vibrant way, because they felt like they had to be invisible. I hear that all over the world, that older people are made to feel invisible and I wasn't aware that there was a global difficulty with ageism, which hopefully Advanced Style is having a bit of an effect on.
You just mentioned your grandmother, what was her style like?
I had one grandmother who wore a suit and a tie. I grew up in Southern California where people go out in flip-flops and shorts but she wouldn't leave the house without having her hair blown up in a big blonde bouffant with red lipstick and gold jewellery. She was just going to lunch or the mailbox, but wouldn't leave without looking perfect. With my grandmother who was my best friend, it was more about her spirit and intellect rather than her style. I became interested in style because of her showing me old films and looking through her old scrapbooks, seeing these women who dressed up in the 1930s and 40s. They didn't necessarily have a lot of money but everyone looked individual, elegant and interesting because clothing wasn't mass-produced, there was this focus on quality and elegance.
What are some of the style virtues from the past you feel like are missing today?
A lot of the women who I photograph are wearing the same clothes that they've been wearing for the past 40, 50 years, mixing it with items that they buy here and there or make. I think it's hard for them to find things that are really unique and good quality too. They want to look fashionable, they want to look interesting, they want to be creative with how they put themselves together but there's not really a marketplace for interesting things for older women.
I think one of my favourite photographs is of Roberta Haze. Can you tell me a bit more about her?
I first heard about her a few years ago though a YouTube video of her talking about her sex life and I was obviously struck by the way she looked. She had this attitude of not giving a shit about what other people thought. A lot of people think that you sort of lose that desire as you get older and you can't be thought as sexual anymore and so she's out there, telling her true story. She lives in Venice Beach, she's a costume designer, an actress and a model. These are the women that we should be looking at as role models.
What does style mean to you?
For me it's about having fun and an expression of creativity and I think it has a lot of power to create community and communication too, I would have never met these women if they didn't dress a certain way. People think that style's really a superficial thing but to me it's a very personal, it's the choice you're making everyday on how you want to express yourself to the world. For these women, it's also more about themselves than dressing for other people. They've formed their style over a number of years, it's instinct to them, they know exactly what they want to do each day and put it together in this really masterful way.
There are more women than men featured in your books. Is that because you're personally more interested in the style of women, or do you think older men have less interest in how they dress?
When I first started this project, I thought it was important to concentrate on women because of the way they're treated by the media - men are celebrated for getting older whilst women are put down. My grandfathers were also big influences on me and after the first book, people were asking me, "what about the men?" So director Lina Plioplyte and I made a film about men for Nowness and discovered that they were facing the same issues when it comes to ageing and had a very similar philosophy about dressing as the women too, which was interesting to hear. I've also been working on a series of Advanced Love videos with Lina, talking to older couples who are creative about how they've stayed in these relationships for a number of years.
What do the younger generation have to learn from the older generation about style and life?
I think once you get to a certain point in your life things become clear, you no longer have the insecurities. They show us that we're not going to necessarily be sitting in a rocking chair watching TV all day or being hooked up to a machine at 90-years-old. One of the women said be more, appear less. Obviously I'm a product of the digital age where I'm constantly on my phone, and I've learnt that we need to stop, be present and really think about what's happening in the moment.
Do many of the women you photograph use social media?
I photographed Sarah Jane Adams in Australia because her daughter tagged Advanced Style in a picture of her on Instagram. I put her on my page, she was wearing an Adidas jacket and so they reposted it and so now she's started to use Instagram as a platform to really express things about ageing and creativity. I think they really enjoy that conversation that it creates, they love meeting people. I think more than anything, ageing can create a sense of isolation and social media is really giving them this platform to engage with a lot of younger people which they love, they love hearing from them, they love impacting their lives. You know, obviously they like the likes. But more than anything, they're writing a lot to go along with their photos, for them it's really about a message that they're trying to put across rather than just their style or clothing.
Advanced Style: Older & Wiser is available to buy here.
Text Lula Ososki
Photography Ari Seth Cohen, from Advanced Style: Older and Wiser, published by powerHouse Books