Whenever photographer Ari Seth Cohen needs inspiration, he needs only to step outside to discover his latest muse — one who joyfully embraces her twilight years and delicate lines, and who complements her silvery mane with splashes of gold, fiery red lips, and a constellation of jewels.
As the Los Angeles-based creator of Advanced Style, a blog devoted "to capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set," Cohen has earned worldwide acclaim for treating his readers to a brand-new set of style icons, many of whom could easily be their grandmothers. After releasing his wildly successful book in 2012 and an accompanying documentary, Cohen is now back with a new book titled "Advanced Style: Older and Wiser" — and it’s one that both fans and fashionistas will want to snag for their fall reading pleasure. His latest tome features photographs taken in London, Rome, Tokyo, and Sydney (among many others), along with 22 short essays written by the subjects themselves, unveiling their lifestyle secrets to looking and feeling their best ever.
And thankfully, Cohen and his many new muses believe that personal style only gets better with age, and that the best personal styles don't require that you stock up on the latest fashion trends (so spoiler alert: don’t).
Fox News Magazine spoke exclusively with Cohen about "Advanced Style: Older and Wiser," and about how anyone can embrace getting older stylishly. Read on for his inspirational wisdom:
Fox News Magazine: What inspired the second book?
Ari Seth Cohen: Well, after the first book and documentary came out, there was this whole global movement involving the fashion industry embracing older women. I was invited to travel a lot, and during those travels, I was meeting a lot of wonderful subjects and I wanted to show a more global view of the work that I do. I had the opportunity to show women in Japan, Amsterdam, Argentina, and all the other places I was traveling. The first book was more New York-focused, but "Advanced Style" doesn’t have a specific place where it lives. It can exist anywhere. I wanted to show a more global picture of aging with vitality, creativity and style.
FNM: The societal expectation of 'the older you get, the more conservatively you should dress' is becoming an outdated notion. What’s your take on this?
ASC: For me, the idea behind "Advanced Style" is being able to express yourself in any way that you feel is good for you. It’s to have that freedom. As you get older, society places a lot of restrictions on how to look, act — so many women from these photographs tell me that as they get older, they start to become invisible. Advertisers no longer pay attention to them. For me, "Advanced Style" explores that permission, that freedom to express yourself. It can be eccentric, it can be elegant, over the top — frankly, you can just wear a t-shirt and jeans if you feel that’s right for you. It’s about being authentic and not losing that joy, that sense of play that dressing can really bring.
FNM: Was there anyone from this book who surprised you?
ASC: Not necessarily surprised me, but there are some really amazing women in their 90s. I met one 97-year-old woman named Tao Porchon-Lynch in Montenegro for a festival. She had flown in from New York and she had no signs of being jet-lagged. Instead, she was dancing at the festival and was the last person to leave the dance floor! She’s also a yoga teacher and teaches students all over the world. Its these women in their 90s who are the backbone of this project. These women are more active than me! You realize after spending time with them that you don’t just wake up at 80-years-old and have it all together and being able to do yoga and Pilates — you have to start that in your 30s and 40s and have it be something that continues throughout your life. These women are continually striving to take care of themselves and have optimistic attitudes. They’re not looking at aging in a negative way. It’s one of the many reasons they continue to live these active lives. It’s because of their attitudes towards getting older.
FNM: How does personal style develop as we get older?
ASC: Well, the older you get, the better you know yourself. You have this archive of clothing, so you have to not be afraid of experimenting with things you’ve had for years. A lot of these women actually don’t spend a lot of money on clothing. They wear the clothes they’ve had for 40, 50, 60 years, but they mix it in with new accessories and things they buy here and there. For me, being stylish is about feeling confident and comfortable in expressing something that is very personal. As you get older, you honestly have nothing to lose. You can’t worry about what other people think. You just have to do what makes you feel good. I know a lot of people are afraid to stand out, but it’s really returning to that place when you were younger and first discovering clothing. It’s bringing back that enjoyment into fashion.
FNM: What are the lessons that readers can learn from these subjects?
ASC: First of all, don’t pay any attention to trends or what anyone else is doing. Do what feels right for you. Obviously, you can learn from the things around you and find inspiration, but really experiment, play, and have fun with what’s already in your closet. Dress to impress yourself.
FNM: "Anti-aging" products are big business, but you and your subjects don't like that term. Why is that?
ASC: I’ve always thought it was absolutely disgusting that the beauty industry preys on those who fear aging. Really, it’s more beneficial to focus on products that enhance where you are in life, and age beautifully, whatever that means to you. But anti-aging? It couldn’t get more negative than that. These women simply want to look like their best selves, at any age. They’ve come to terms with who they are because you have to. What’s the other alternative? I’m not saying one shouldn’t get plastic surgery. It’s more about doing what’s right for you and not feeling the pressure to look a certain way. You can do as much as you want to look younger, but you’re still feel the same inside. With a lot of these subjects, they choose to let go of those insecurities and have a new clarity, a new awareness. With that comes acceptance. You have to realize that your looks, or even how you dress, aren’t the most important things. You can’t look good unless you feel good about yourself.
FNM: What advice would you give to other older women who want to experiment with their personal style, but may feel limited because of their age?
ASC: It’s funny, women tell me all the time, "I can never dress this way in my town," or "People in my town would laugh at me," and even, "My grandchildren tell me I shouldn’t dress a certain way because it embarrasses them." First of all, find out what’s right for you. When these subjects wake up in their morning, they think, "What’s the weather like?" and "What statement do I want to make today?" But it should be an organic process. Start to play with accessories and have fun with that. Go through your wardrobe, look in the mirror, and play — I can’t use that word enough. It’s really about rediscovering the joy in dressing, in putting on a garment and experiencing how it changes your mood. Go to a thrift store and try on different things that you normally wouldn’t wear. See how you feel when you try them on and evaluate that.
FNM: Dressing up every day might feel like a lot of effort for some people. Why do the subjects in your book make that effort?
ASC: Dressing up on a daily basis is a personal choice. It’s more about letting go of that fear to make a statement, and not feel invisible. Advanced Style is about revealing those possibilities of doing and wearing whatever you want. It’s about letting others know that you can be bright and fashionable. We’re so beat down by society and the media telling us the negative aspects of aging and how we shouldn’t do certain things, like wear shorts, a skirt, or even show your arms. It all goes back to doing what’s right for you, whatever that means to you.
FNM: What do you hope readers will ultimately get from your new book?
ASC: I hope readers get some joy and find inspiration to embrace getting older, as opposed to fearing it. I also hope readers will establish connections with older people in their lives. I’m grateful and honored to have all of these incredible relationships with the women and men in this book. There’s so many things we can learn from older people.