Ari Seth Cohen’s street style blog transitioned into a book and its latest evolution is as a documentary film. Advanced Style has prompted a wider movement that challenges the stereotypes of age and promotes further discussions into the relationship between fashion and ageing. Inspired by his own Grandmothers and his strong bond with them, he went out and photographed women over the age of 50 in New York who used the “street as a runway”. The stunning images inspired many, including the industry, and some of the women were featured in a Lanvin campaign. Advanced Style is about embracing age and captivating a refreshing new approach to evolving personal style: as 80-year-old Joyce Carpati says, “I never wanted to look young, I wanted to look great.”
The documentary focuses on a group of women that Ari Seth Cohen photographed for his blog, delving into the process of capturing them as well as their personal lives. The blog is an exciting space for the publication of these photographs. The book is a coffee table staple. However, there is something truly special about seeing these women on film. The texture, vibrancy and complexity of the garments that they wear come to life in a way that a static image can’t portray.
That said, their strong and defining personalities are what really make their style unique. The essence of personal style is just that; it is based on individual and personal choices. Ilona Royce Smithkin who is 94, makes her own eyelashes by cutting her hair and Debra Rapoport uses toilet paper rolls to create textured bracelets. Throughout the film, these women show how they use clothing as a vehicle of expression whether it is purely aesthetic, as a statement of anti-fashion, or as a creative outlet.
As the director Lina Pliolplyte said in a Q&A session after the film, the aim was to capture more than just style. This for me was the defining point of the film, in that it delved deeper than fashion and gave an insight into who these women were. My expectations going into the film were that I would find out where the women purchased their clothes and how they put their looks together. I didn’t expect that the stories that these women told would be so moving; their personalities were truly captivating.
The documentary tapped into so many areas of their lives and in turn how older women are dealing with these issues today. Lynn Dell is the 81-year-old owner of the New York boutique Off Broadway. She showed the balance between working at an older age and dealing with both her and her husband’s health problems. The importance of keeping fit was emphasised by Debra Rapopart who is an avid practitioner of Yoga. We were also given an insight into their relationships; Carpati spoke about the loss of her husband, Rapopart described how she found her partner, Dell fondly spoke about her relationship with her husband of over 60 years and Tziporah Salamon (who hasn’t had children) is still hoping to get married and have a family.
Advanced Style isn’t a fashion film; it is a human portrait of older women that we can all be motivated by. These women want to make a statement and they believe that Advanced Style gives permission to older women to dress with confidence, freedom and individuality. Throughout the film the women speak articulately about their lives, style and what it is to be an older woman in today’s society. They’re not afraid to be themselves and their goal is to live life to the fullest and to use clothing as one of the vehicles to achieve this. Fashion shouldn’t be focused on the under 50s and this wonderful film proves that. These women accept challenges, take up opportunities and as a result fill their lives with joy.
Find your nearest screening at advancedstylefilm.com
Reviewed by Giselle La Pompe-Moore.