- By Amy Knapp
The fashion world is youth-obsessed. You don’t see smile lines on the faces of the models on runways in Paris, New York, London or Milan; you see beauty equated with youth. But Ari Seth Cohen believes something is wrong with that picture. The street photographer turned author/blogger is on a mission to show that glamour has no age limit. In his new book Advanced Style: Older and Wiser, splashy images of fabulous people are paired with first-person essays that challenge ageist beauty ideals.
A Little Older, a Little Wiser
The book is a follow-up to Advanced Style, which Cohen published after the death of his fashion-forward grandmother. It created a stir. Cohen told CNN that casting agents approached him wanting to hire women he photographed for his book.
“What happened after the first book was there was sort of an explosion in the media where a lot of the women I was photographing, and then a lot of other older women, were finally being recognized in the worlds of lifestyle and fashion media.” Cohen says.
When people ask me about age, I tell them to look at all the trees. They may look as if they’re dying at the moment, but they’re not; they’re recycling themselves.
— Tao Porchon-Lynch, Master yoga teacher
At New York Fashion Week last fall, the idea that style is ageless was personified when model Maye Musk, 67, walked for designer Malan Breton’s show after the designer discovered her on Facebook.
One thing led to another as Cohen found more people with stories to tell. “I was able to continue to meet these really, really wonderful extraordinary older people who had incredible stories to tell and so along this journey I was gathering photos and having people write essays and not really knowing what the next project would be,” Cohen says. It turned out to be “a deeper look into the world of advanced style and kind of the things that have happened to the women along the way.”
Cohen’s subjects come from all over the world (from Montenegro to Sydney), but he found many of them while roaming the streets of New York City looking for interesting characters who “will inspire people to look at aging differently.”
Here are a few excerpts from the book:
Tao Porchon-Lynch, 97
In my head, I’m still in my 20’s, and I have no intention of ever growing up. When people ask me about age, I tell them to look at all the trees around them. They’re hundreds of years old. They may look as if they’re dying at the moment, but they’re not; they’re recycling themselves. In a couple of months, they’re going to be reborn again. I believe we can recycle ourselves with each breath we take.
I live every day with style. I like color and I always wear high heels. Although I am considered a yoga master and have certified over 1,600 yoga teachers, I love wine and chocolate. What I was 87, I started competitive ballroom dancing and I have since won over 721 first-place awards. It’s never too late to follow your heart. When I get up in the morning, I say to myself, ‘This is going to be the best day of my life,’ and then it is. Just know that there is nothing you cannot do, for you’re not the doer, you’re the instrument. You have the power inside to do everything you set your mind to!
Lyn Slater, 62
I have always believed that life is performed. We can write original stories or we can accept the scripts that others have written for us. I came up in a generation that refused to accept the status quo, the roles and the life that our mothers and grandmothers had before us. We decided to rewrite the narrative and we burned bras, experienced ‘free love,’ participated in demonstrations and had important careers and families. So why people would think we would accept and enact somebody else’s scripts of invisibility, ‘retirement,’ ‘age appropriate dress’ and dismissal simply because we got older is rather astounding.
Valerie Von Sobel, 74
In some cultures, life is partitioned into distinct stages: the first part is for the acquisition of knowledge; the second, they call the ‘householder’ years. Those are the noisy ones — creating and tending to family. And the third, most magical, belongs to you. It makes perfect sense — you have earned it, you just need to claim it. This is when you get to act out: you can sit in a lotus position for days reaching for Nirvana, you get to play all the games you never had time for, you can mentor or study a new subject. This fits perfectly with the western notion that we are always in a state of learning, earning or returning. Personally, I am blessed to be in a state of returning; expressing and sharing my given talent through gifts of art and beauty, and the having the privilege of being involved in what, to me, is the most meaningful philanthropy.