Ari Seth Cohen started his blog, Advanced Style, soon after moving to New York from the West Coast. Inspired by his relationship with his late grandmother —who, throughout his life, was his touchstone— he went in pursuit of glamorous figures, scoping out uptown Manhattan for the vestiges of that old-school allure.
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The over-60 set in Manhattan did not disappoint and the blog has now taken on new dimensions, with Cohen publishing a book —a graceful procession of his favourite 200 photographs— via Brooklyn publisher powerHouse. Fresh off launching the book in the UK, he was fêted by the likes of Zhandra Rhodes and Mary Portas in London and Glasgow. i-D online met Cohen shortly after, in Paris, his stopover city on the way to a series of Amsterdam events. Wandering casually through the Marché des Enfants Rouge in the Marais, we were chatting away when suddenly he disappeared, “I feel like a creep; I was checking out a lady,” he explained, laughing.
Of course, the ladies Cohen checks out are not the ones wearing skinny jeans and ankle boots like the droves of trendy females in the Marais. His target is a different sector altogether, but no less stylish. To date, he’s captured a riveting cast of characters with a glamorous modus operandi. Amongst them: a flame-haired performer who crafts home-made eyelashes; a regal-looking artist/writer in dark plum lipstick and gleaming turbans; a centenarian who never leaves the house without being perfectly dressed because “you never know whom you may meet on the way to the mailbox” and a boutique owner always accessorized to the hilt.
Over an Americano, we discussed his recent fundraising success on Kickstarter for his documentary film. The film delves into the lives of his photographic subjects, and is a further step in Cohen’s growing media visibility. Cohen transitioned from photographing to interviewing easily; most of the women in his documentary he first approached via street photography. “As I met more people, I started to see a narrative,” he states. (He’s since accumulated more than 150 hours of footage). “Over the three years [of filming], their lives have evolved,” he says of his subjects. “Their families have changed; some have a renewed sense of vitality, they’re recognized on the street, they have new careers —some even have modelling contracts”. At this point, he and his friend, videographer Lina Plioplyte, are ready to start editing and hope to hit the film festival circuit in the near future.
We talk next about the style differences and wide-ranging approaches to aging along geographical lines. Unsurprisingly, New Yorkers are all about showmanship. In Europe, it’s more variable. In France especially, it’s much more demure. “People refuse,” Cohen says. “I went up to a lady and she said ‘I’m too old’ and walked away.” What Cohen has uncovered, internationally, is a breed of bold women unswayed by the expectations that they’re supposed to quietly shrivel away. “Ari’s girls” embrace who they are through and through. “Their philosophy parallels their style: live life to the fullest,” Cohen says.
In this way, his blog is more than a style reference, it has had sociological ripples. Cohen once wrote: “The goal was to broaden our ideas about style and design and focus on things that might otherwise be taken for granted.” In highlighting a segment of the populace that is readily dismissed as “over the hill”, he has brought all the right kind of attention to them. “Nobody asks [seniors] for their photo,” he says. “People don’t even look at older people.”
And indeed, older women are delighted by the sidewalk-cum-catwalk. (Plus Cohen’s art history background clearly shines through his work; the careful thinking about composition and the framing of his portraiture is often almost painterly.) It’s frequently spontaneous and off-the-cuff; it’s New York, people are busy. “They say ‘I’m on my way to such-and-such, so be quick!’” he relates. Or they’ll remark tartly, “Bill’s faster.” [Bill Cunningham]. Given the attention his project and his subjects have received, some of the women he’s photographed have had second careers. “Her schedule is packed,” Cohen says of his centenarian friend Rose. “If she has time for dinner, you better go on that day,” he laughs, “because she’s booked up otherwise.”
Later that evening, Ari Seth Cohen attended a soirée celebrating his book. Held at a boutique in a stately, marbled corridor of the Palais Royal, where women of all ages approached him, to congratulate him, to admire his work, and to thank him.
All images from Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen, available now through publisher powerHouse Books.
Text: Sarah Moroz