Interview: Ari Cohen, Advanced Style
April 26th, 2011
Our grandparents wouldn’t know a blog if it cornered them in a dark alley, much less know what it’s like to grace the archives of a style site – but with Advanced Style, NYC transplant Ari Seth Cohen is doing for Manhattan’s golden girls what the Sartorialist did for the city’s pretty young things. Cohen forsakes the nubile allure of youth in favour of fashion that’s a little more, well, advanced. And while you might be jumping on the turban bandwagon or dipping a tentative toe into leopard-print waters, Cohen’s ladies are old pros, and have been experimenting with their personal style for decades. He snaps street style shots of women and men in their 60s, 70s, 80s, even 90s, in all their glamorous, eccentric glory.
For Issue 24 of The Block, we collaborated with Cohen on a seriously stylish shoot of vintage fashion maven Lynn Dell rocking retro-inspired shades by Norma Kamali, Christian Dior, Balenciaga, and Tom Ford. In this web-exclusive interivew paired with photos from the story he cast for the magazine, Cohen opens up to us about his inspiration and the unexpected effects of his project, and pays forward some words of wisdom with (advanced) style.
The Block: What encouraged you to start a blog, and how did you decide on this subject matter?
Ari Cohen: I always had a lot of ideas, but let fear get in the way. A blog was an easy way for me to be creative and not worry about the outcome. I started the blog in celebration of my grandmother and all the older ladies I admired whose spirit and style influenced me through the years. After moving to New York three years ago I noticed so many creative and vital older people walking around and wanted to bring attention to them and tell their stories.
TB: How does your blog fit into the street style blog set?
AC: I think that older people are a huge influence on the way younger people dress. The people I feature have developed their personal style over time, they are fashion and style experts because they know what looks good on them. I think that my blog tells more of a story as it is not only about style, but sharing people’s wisdom as well.
TB: You have a readership ranging from teenaged to aged. What attracts younger readers to Advanced Style?
AC: These older ladies and gentleman are great inspiration. They take away the fear of getting older and show that it can be fun.
TB: How much is your blog a comment on the fashion industry’s obsession with youth culture?
AC: That is definitely a part of it, but more so the world’s obsession, not only fashion. Women become invisible when they turn a certain age and I am trying to change that.
TB: What do you find so inspiring about older subjects?
AC: Their stories and their passion for life. They have so much to share.
TB: Did anyone in particular inspire Advanced Style?
AC: My grandmother definitely, but also an a amazing woman named Mimi Weddell. I saw a documentary about her before I moved to New York and looked her up as soon as I got here. She was in her 90s and always wore a huge hat and gloves. She was a model and actress up until her 90s.
TB: What makes you stop and ask to snap a photo?
AC: Whatever my eye is drawn to. It can be a hat, a smile, a hairdo, something just grabs me.
TB: Are your subjects usually willing and eager, and aware of the blogosphere? Do you often get insight and interviews or just a quick snapshot?
AC: Most people I speak to are very savvy. I’m helping some of them start their own blogs. It does take time and explanation to get people to pose for me. They aren’t out to be photographed like younger people. I try to get as much as I can at the moment.
TB: How do you ask an older woman her age?
AC: I always ask if they mind telling their age. Compliments always help of course! One lady told me that before 80 you never tell your age, but after 80 you are proud to say your age.
TB: What is your favourite Advanced Style moment?
AC: There are so many everyday. Just today I met with a grand 85 year old lady at her apartment overlooking Central Park. I listened to her stories about attending parties in New York and she showed me her marvelous gowns.
TB: What inspires these stylish ladies? Do you find a lot of them have had a history as fashionistas?
AC: Dressing up makes them feel good. They dress for themselves. Many of them have always been visual and creative people.
TB: Have you found that Advanced Style has provided inspiration to your subjects, or others?
AC: I get emails everyday about how people feel the freedom and permission to dress up after seeing the ladies I feature on Advanced Style.
TB: Is there anyone you’d especially like to photograph?
AC: [60s-era model] China Machado and [Italian fashion writer and style icon] Anna Piaggi.
TB: We hear you’re working on a book. Could you tell us about that, and any other projects or collaborations you’ve got in the works?
AC: Yes, I am working on a book with PowerHouse books, due out in Spring 2012. I am also working on a documentary about ladies and style and a big fashion week event.
TB: What’s the best fashion advice you’ve ever gotten?
AC: 91-year-old Ilona Royce Smithkin told me, “Dress to impress YOURSELF.”
Writer Darcy Smith Photographer Chris Clinton
Fashion Editor James Worthington DeMolet Hair Enrico Mariotti (See Management)
Makeup Samantha Trinh for Dior Beauty (Atelier Management) Casting Ari Cohen
All clothing and jewelry courtesy of Lynn Dell’s Boutique Off Broadway