Notes on Ari Seth Cohen's Advanced Style documentary

I've been aware of Ari Seth Cohen's Advanced Style blog for a couple of years, following it mostly via his Instagram. The blog is dedicated to women over 50 who have their own innate style. They are not followers of fashion; they dress for themselves. Yesterday I finally got around to watching his documentary, released last year and created alongside filmmaker Lina Plioplyte, and wanted to share my thoughts. (If you have a short attention span, go straight ahead and watch the doc here.)
 Ilona Royce Smithkin for Advanced Style, the documentary.

Ilona Royce Smithkin for Advanced Style, the documentary.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about age; hearing conversations about how women over 50 become invisible, reading blogs such as londonbeautyqueen.com, who recently set up a brilliant 30+ Collective (check out the hashtag #30plusblogs to find out more or visit her site) to find more 30-and-beyond bloggers, and considering my next 'monumental' birthday...

For me, I've always considered ageing to be a negative thing; perhaps it's because I fell in love with Elle and Vogue (back when it was actually really damn good) at the age of 15, and thus began that never-ending and naive search for eternal beauty, or perhaps the blame lies in the fact that I chose to become a beauty editor. For so many years I read the words of women I would come to hold in high regard, telling me what to buy, what to try and what to avoid, and I guess I wanted to become one of them too.

Today I'm lucky enough to let people believe that I'm eight to 10 years younger than I really am (some have said 15 but hey I don't want to come off too boastful, do I?). I say lucky because when you appear younger, people seem to expect less of you, so it's always, always rewarding when you get to surprise them with your work/knowledge. However, at other times, it's just plain exhausting and annoying, and I find myself wanting to shout, 'don't you know how OLD I am?!', usually when it comes to quoting a higher price than a client or employer is expecting. 

But I'm digressing greatly; what I'm really trying to say, is that the women in Advanced Style, do not pay attention to what I still pay attention to. And although some of them feel like teens, they certainly don't suffer from the insecurities that today's teens face. No selfie-obsession here, no let-me-get-the-right-lighting-first. Don't get me wrong, these women are beautiful and they know they are beautiful, but they are not looking for any confirmation from you or I.

'I am dressed up for the theatre of my life, every day,' says Lynn Dell Cohen, 79, early on in the film. Instantly that line took me back to how I envisioned myself as an older woman. Because of course, when I was younger, I wanted to look and be older. Ari Seth Cohen himself says in the film's intro that he has always been drawn to older people, and credits his relationships with his grandmothers for that affinity. I had always been that way too, but somewhere along the line, (perhaps backstage at numerous Fashion Weeks?), I switched from admiring my elders, to becoming curious about looking younger and staying young, which is kind of mad/sad but also the truth. 

Watching Advanced Style kind of woke me up in a way. Yes, these women look and feel younger than they actually are (some are in their 90s and are more vital than some teenagers I know) but that's not due to hours spent gazing longingly into a dressing table mirror, caking on creams and potions like Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. Instead they see their bodies as works of art, to be adorned and adored but not mummified or preserved. They live their lives; some are artists, others former dancers, some have money, some really don't, some have partners, while others live alone. What they all have is a love of style, not trends. 

Jacquie 'Tajah' Murdock is probably my favourite woman featured in the film. She was a dancer at the Apollo in New York, and grew up during the Harlem Renaissance. In the film she talks about how every Sunday, no matter what job someone had or how little money that job made them, everyone would promenade down the street in their finest clothes. But what really inspired me was that, a few years ago, I had fallen in love with the below Lanvin ad campaign, and on watching the documentary, I got to know the history of the woman behind the image. It was great to see that such an iconic fashion brand would approach Ari to find real older ladies for a campaign, rather than well known actresses or professional models. 

 Jacquie Murdock for Lanvin

Jacquie Murdock for Lanvin

Although Jacquie is probably my fave, another woman, Tziporah Salamon, 65 (I think) often photographed by the first great street style photographer, Bill Cunningham, turned out to be the person I most understood. Compared to the other ladies, I felt that she was still, in some ways, looking for some kind of validation. She says she still feels like a 12 or 14 year old, so often becomes baffled that she doesn't get certain modelling gigs, due to her age. Whether I'm right or wrong about that conclusion, Tziporah does receive validation, in the form of also featuring in the aforementioned Lanvin campaign. There's a funny moment in the film where someone ask Jacquie about the shoot, and she informs them that she is the face of Lanvin. Tziporah politely reminds her that she was actually one of the faces in the campaign, but Jacquie pretty much sticks to her version of events. 

For me this film has made me feel like I just need to get on with things, be me. Life is too short,  and in the words of the then 95 year old Zelda Kaplan (who passes away near the end of the film, ironically after attending a NYFW show), 'this is what I am - there's nothing I can do about that.'

Feel free to comment and let me know what you think of the film; there are plenty of other ladies that I could have mentioned, but then I could go on and on. It's worth watching - let me know!