Beauty At Every Age: An Interview with Advanced Style’s Ari Seth Cohen

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Does beauty fade with age? We sure act like it does. As we grow older, many of us hoard anti-aging creams, dye our greying roots, and avoid our once-celebrated birthdays. All this age denial makes us unable to see the true beauty in ourselves and in each other. One man wants to change all that.

With his celebrated blog Advanced Style, blogger Ari Seth Cohen has taken street fashion reportage to a new level, getting up close and personal with real men and women over 50, and even as old as 101.

Cohen’s photographs challenge our misguided stereotypes about growing older. His subjects are dressed to the nines; they wear oversize hats, loud prints, and glowing personalities. The women are especially inspiring with smiles painted in bold shades of plum and crimson, and grey hair often dyed in rainbow colors. These elderly fashion icons are innovative in their style and beauty, taking time to decorate and highlight their best features, making them shine. These people dress wildly and joyfully, often with over-the-top accessories, but it’s the happiness and self-confidence they exude in each shot that reads louder than any snakeskin handbag or bejeweled brooch.

Though Cohen travels the world looking for stylish older people to capture, it’s his frequent portrayals of New York ladies that really stand out. The popularity of Advanced Style has created local celebrities out of senior fashionistas such as Lynn Dell, Debra Rapoport, and Ilona Royce Smithkin. It’s also inspired a celebration of age in the fashion industry—Advanced Style favorites Tziporah Salamon and Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock appeared recently in Lanvin’s Fall 2012 campaign, while one of Ari’s most memorable subjects Beatrix Ost was featured in a November editorial in Harper’s Bazaar.

Did Ari set out to change the world? His humble attitude towards his age-celebrating blog suggests not. But in a world of cookie-cutter fashion, a site that celebrates the style and beauty of older women and men is just what the beauty world needed. We caught up with Ari during his travels to find out more about the wonderful world of Advanced Style.

B: What was your original goal when you started the Advanced Style blog?

I started Advanced Style in August of 2008. I wanted to share inspiring images of older men and women, and help people to feel good about themselves. It felt great to actually start one of the many creative projects I was always thinking about but constantly putting off.

B: How do you view beauty and age?

I have always had an appreciation for older people. To me the word ‘old’ is associated with growth, wisdom, and advancing. Beauty is something that is hard to define. There is such a wide range of things that I feel are beautiful.

B: Do you think age has a place in the fashion world?

I think it’s ridiculous that older people are ignored by fashion and lifestyle media. The fashion world has a very limited perspective and will always be focused on youth culture, but there is definitely headway being made towards an appreciation for older models.

B: Are you surprised at the success that has come of Advanced Style?

I knew that people would be inspired by the subjects I was seeing, photographing and interviewing on the street but I had no idea that it would grow to be such a movement. It’s been really incredible.

B: How has your blog changed the way your subjects view themselves?

They are all thrilled and having the times of their lives! Some have become more confident and strong, and some have whole new careers! More importantly, it's changing the way people view getting older. Young women email me all the time to tell me that after seeing The Advanced Style Ladies, they are no longer afraid of getting old.

B: Have you noticed any recurring themes in the beauty/fashion philosophies of your subjects?

Yes. They all dress for themselves, and aren't bothered by what other people think.

B: There's a certain boldness and confidence coming from these muses—do you think this comes in part with age and getting to know yourself?

Definitely. They no longer have to dress for anyone else. They feel free to express themselves, and can pretty much get away with anything.

B: Have you noticed any beauty features particularly paid attention to?

They always wear red lipstick and amazingly coiffed hair styles!

B: Do you feel your blog is a medium for your subjects’ style to shine? It’s almost like you’re the fashion manager of hundreds of stylish older people!

It's really great to see them getting so many incredible opportunities. I should open my own agency for fashionable older models!

B: What's next for Advanced Style?

Theres a lot happening with Advanced Style at the moment. Since my first book has come out, I have received incredible feedback from men and women of all ages telling me that they feel better about aging. For now I'm shipping my next book to publishers and finishing up a documentary on the women that will be out in 2013.