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Advanced Style: Can older people's street-style film refashion ageing?

01 May 2014

At HelpAge we spend a lot of time trying to challenge how the world sees older people.

Photographer Ari Seth Cohen does this with the beautiful images on his website Advanced Style.

His street-style blog, started in 2008, is unique. Scroll through its posts and you won't find any shots of willowy blonde PR girls or pigeon toe-posing hipsters.

Advanced Style the movie

He only takes pictures of older people who are stylishly or creatively dressed. Whether subjects are elegant or outlandish, the pictures are brilliant - simultaneously subverting our perceptions about the fashion industry and older age.

The idea has been a huge hit. You only have to scroll through the comments section of Advanced Style to see how joyfully people have responded to seeing older people included in a blog on fashion - an industry besieged by youth.

But Cohen's work has also had an impact offline. He has published a popular book of his older muses and sparked a recent trend for older models with at least three of his subjects being used in major fashion campaigns for Celine and Lanvin.

Advanced Style - The Movie!

And now some of these women are hitting the big screen with Advanced Style - the documentary.

The film, directed by Lina Plioplyte, examines the lives of seven New Yorkers who featured on Cohen's blog.

All the women are different from one another but have important things in common - their eclectic personal style and vital spirits guide their approach to ageing.

The film follows this group - most of whom who are in their 80s and 90s - while they work, socialise, enjoy family time or new love lives.

They are funny, creative, artistic, musical and bursting with joie de vivre - while being fabulously dressed of course.

Some are classically elegant - dark clothing and pearls - while others love layers of vintage or vibrant African-print fabrics.

Whatever their sartorial style or personality they share an almost anarchic attitude to ageing - a punk rock refusal to go unnoticed or be ignored.

Advanced Style the movie'Between 50 and death'

Ilona Royce Smithkin, a 93-year-old recognised by her colourful ensembles and iconic red eyelashes, established a successful early career as an artist, painting Ayn Rand, only to fully embrace her potential in her 90s, understanding the value of what she offers to others. She becomes an art teacher and part-time nightclub singer and refuses to let how old she is be a barrier to her ambitions.

"When people ask me how old I am I tell them 'between 50 and death'," she says.

The youngest of the group, at 62, Tziporah Salamon rides around NYC on her bicycle parading her exquisite collection of vintage items collected over a lifetime. She says being in her sixties shocks her. "I just don't feel it. I feel 14," she says.

But while the film is a celebration of the opportunities older age can bring, it doesn't shy away from its realities.

In a more humorous moment, New York socialite and humanitarian Zelda Kaplan, 95, is asked if she still dances. "Very rarely. My partners are all dead," she replies.

And we are shown how media appearances and potential work have to be scheduled; projects or filming cannot take too long. With the best will in the world, a 95-year-old, however spritely, needs to rest and take care of themselves.

Lynn Dell Cohen, the straight-talking feisty 80-year-old, a self-proclaimed "Countess of Glamour", has a penchant for over-the-top accessories and owns a boutique on the Upper West Side.

But footage of her wise cracks, her shiny jewellery and fabulous headgear contrast sharply with a later segment of her on a walking frame recovering from serious illness in hospital.

Lynn and Ilona share a jokeBeyond Park Avenue

Advanced Style is an enjoyable, touching and refreshing perspective on ageing - for one particular demographic. But does it have any implications for older people the world over - away from Park Avenue?

What does it mean for an older woman with dependants scratching out an existence in Bangladesh or an older man being ignored in a care home in the UK?

At the end of the film we see a customer in Dell Cohen's store tell her that she was on a trip from Alaska. On arriving in New York she had sought out the shop after following the Advanced Style blog.

When I found the blog "my whole attitude towards ageing turned around," the customer tells Dell Cohen.

The sentiment is echoed hundreds of times by Advanced Style readers.

While draping oneself in vintage Chanel is a world away for most people, the Advanced Style initiative has some value in that it puts older people in the spotlight in a humanising way - changing perceptions.

The film goes some way to illustrate that if older people are visible, if they are treated respectfully and given the chance to contribute something then they have huge potential to shine.

But it cannot be a fashion or fad. Older people are not exotic birds - they are you and me at a later stage in life.

We must continue to work to ensure that older women and men the world over are respected, listened to and given access to decent health care, economic freedom and physical security so they too have the opportunity to enjoy their old age.

We need them to be visible beyond fashion and be seen by governments, culture and society.

The world would be a much more attractive place.

Want to help secure a better future for older people? Add your name to our petition and we'll use it to push for a UN convention to protect the rights of older people for ever.

Your comments

Portia Petty

I believe in the rights for elders. Elders are special and beautiful. They are the wisdom of the world!

viviana adela cranca

Me parece genial este blog ,sobre mujeres reales,ahi esta la verdadera belleza,donde una se sienta x siempre joven a pesar del paso del tiempo,todo esta en la actitud.

Prof. Vera J. Katz

Been vintage& thrift store shopping for Years through out most of the USA. Do not wear clothes but create outfits. Marching to my own drummer. Wear one color a month (with complimentary color) so forced to get more inventive. Compliments galore. MUCH FUN. Am 78.

Walterva

What a post this is for eye surgery! I really see this site and hope there is the best information put on perfectly.At the end of the film we see a customer in Dell Cohen's store tell her that she was on a trip from Alaska. On arriving in New York she had sought out the shop after following the Advanced Style blog. Custom Clothing MI

Minh Brian

Amazing post.Older people fashion is so nice.This site is very fashionable site of the world.Its article is so helpful of fashionable person.

najma

This is a great post. I feel you covered all the necessary bases. This is very useful information for online review readers. Keep it up such a nice posting like this.Thanks for sharing..keep doing what you want yo do.

Jehanzeb Khan

Good Initiative.....I really like the idea...Old people are the gems of our society.They should be recognized and valued.

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Caroline Graham
Country: United Kingdom
Job title: Communications officer

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.