Advanced Style: More Than Just Another Fashion Documentary

This article was first published on Onya Magazine on October 7 2014.

In an age with an emphasis on the fast, the youthful and the new, Advanced Style comes as a breath of fresh air. Based on Ari Seth Cohen’s highly successful blog of the same name, Cohen’s photographs of the eye-catching style of the 60+ have inspired a book, and now a documentary.

Directed by Lina Plioplyte, Advanced Style on screen profiles seven of Cohen’s most illustrious characters he has discovered on the streets of New York – and what characters they are.

Clashing colours, oversized glasses, in-your-face hats and homemade eyelashes made out of hair – forget dressing age appropriate. These women believe and demonstrate that when you wear it with confidence, there’s no such thing as age appropriate. As one puts it, “There is no time limit to anything. When you look good, you look good”.

Each has their own distinctive style and incredible story, which unravels piece by piece throughout the documentary to tell the fascinating, quirky and stirring background the photographs are unable to show.

Take Tziporah Salaman. At 62, the bicycle is her preferred mode of transport. Why? It gives her the perfect stage to show off her carefully planned outfits, some of which take seven years to complete. But no helmet of course – every outfit needs a hat.

81-year old Lynn Dell Cohen sees every day as an opportunity to get dressed “for the theatre of her life”. Dell is all about polish, glamour and with the firm belief that money has nothing to do with style. She’s bold, she’s brash and her pearls of wisdom are gold (wearing an across the shoulder bag across your chest is a big no-no!)

Joyce Carpati , 82, is the most traditionally elegant. The former Cosmopolitan Marketing Director is never seen without her traditional black and pearls, hair in a silver braid and a closet full of classic vintage designer pieces ready to pass on to her granddaughter. The look is timeless – perfectly embodied in her motto, “I never wanted to look young, I just wanted to look great”.

For 62 year-old Debra Rapoport it’s not about fashion, but rather attitude. With a sculptural and slightly kooky look, thrift shop queen Rapoport believes “It’s not a challenge to go in store and just buy something pre-styled”. Case in point: Her statement making and eye-catching bracelets made out of none other than toilet rolls.

Jacquie ‘Tajah’ Murdock, 80, is an original Apollo dancer theatre legend. Elegant and glamorous, dressing down is an absolutely unheard of concept to her, and we love her for it. The best part? When she tells the story of how Kim Kardashian bought the same Lanvin dress she wore in their ad campaign. Murdock blows Kardashian out the window.

Zelda Caplan, 95, is rarely seen without her trademark matching African print dress and hat, having been a fixture in New York’s art, nightclub and fashion scene in all her life. She’s always dressed up, because in her mind “good style improves the environment for everyone”. The one with the cheekiest witticisms, she’s also the one who brings the biggest drama come Fashion Week.

94 year-old Illona Royce Smithkin is an easy favourite. Despite her hunched and tiny stance, she owns the screen. Always dressed in colour, including her eyelashes made out of her own dyed red hair, Smithkin is still an Edith Piaf crooner. Her voice is enchanting and entrancing, just like her and she admits she only felt like she came into her own in her 80’s.

Cohen’s original motivation behind the blog – to show you can be stylish and creative at any age and demonstrate what an important demographic they are – are clear. I almost feel envious of their experience and confidence in their character, style and creative energy – with many “feeling the same as I did when I was 18, only with fewer cares”.

It’s not all glamour, though. While true style may be ageless, the documentary poignantly shows that the physical effects of growing old that can’t be fought. While they look great, their ill health and depleting energy shine show a side of their life no amount of magnificent hats or vintage chanel bags can hide. Tziporah quite sadly admits that when she didn’t meet the right man and time passed, fashion became her child. The emotional rollercoaster reaches it’s low when Zelda makes her final fashionable entrance into a show during Fashion Week. What is uplifting however, is the stylish and positive way they all embrace this inevitable reality, refusing to accept life ends after 50.

Advanced Style is more than a documentary about fashion – it’s a film about character, confidence and proof that sometimes it’s ok to not to age gracefully. Forget orange, clearly grey is the new black.