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Ari Seth Cohen's "Advanced Style: Older & Wiser"

We speak with the photographer and creator of the books, film and blog celebrating older generations' knack for glamor and fashion

by Katie Olsen
on 13 May 2016

Ari Seth Cohen's delightful and inspirational Advanced Style project exists in many forms—from a documentary to a blog, Instagram and now a second hardcover tome: "Advanced Style: Older and Wiser"—again published by Brooklyn's powerHouse Books. The seemingly endless project began thanks to Cohen's grandmother (and best friend) who introduced him to the concept of style. Cohen tells us, "She would let me play in my grandfather’s closet and I would try on his '50s and '60s suits, Hawaiian shirts and Stetson and Fishermen’s hats. We would watch old movies and look at how elegantly dressed her friends and family members were in her old scrapbook photographs. My grandparents were always my style icons and, when I was eight years old, I made my first book of 'fancy lady' drawings based on my grandmother and her friends." When Cohen's beloved grandmother passed away in 2008, he began Advanced Style because he was looking for, he says, "some way to cope with this profound loss." Almost immediately, he began discovering plenty of remarkably dressed older people on the streets of NYC and took to photographing and interviewing them.

While Western society oftentimes perceives older people as frail or less valuable or (perhaps worse) ignores them altogether, Cohen's project celebrates them. He says, "Images of positive aging were so absent from popular culture and I wanted to start a conversation about the freedom, vitality and wisdom that advance with age. Since starting Advanced Style I have seen the blossoming of a global movement to re-imagine the picture of aging—the idea that one could look forward to their later years as one of the most productive, liberating and rich chapters in life." The project is, of course, also deeply personal and Cohen says he's gained a lot from each of his subjects, telling us, "It’s almost impossible to not learn from all these incredible role models."

The new hardcover celebrates a multitude of fancy ladies and gentlemen, all of whom approach dressing in a way that proves age means almost nothing. From head-to-toe tiger print to bright blue hair, all-over clashing patterns and heart-shaped shades, every single look is enviable. Cohen says most of his subjects have been dressing incredibly their entire lives, but "age has given them the permission and experience to perfect their looks, to know what they feel comfortable in, and to not care what other people think." There's no doubting these people's remarkably strong sense of self—you have to know who you are to wear bright orange false eyelashes. That, along with "confidence, joie de vivre and wisdom" are some of the qualities Cohen finds most inspiring about his subjects. Your face might have a few wrinkles, but your outfit doesn't have to.

Advanced Style: Older and Wiser is available online for $23.

Images by Kevin Serai

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