Ari Seth Cohen is a stalker, of the finest kind. For some years, he has been following people on the streets of New York, and asking them if he can take their photos. His motives are simple: to find ordinary people of extraordinary style. Given that we are talking about New York, here, and given that Ari Seth Cohen is a superb photographer with a keen eye, the results are pretty mesmerizing. Add to that Cohen’s affinity for people over age 50, especially women, as his subject matter, and you have not only a fashion statement but a statement about the beauty and the power of older women.
I discovered Cohen several years ago, through his ridiculously popular blog, Advanced Style. It is impossible for me to treat his photography in a casual way. It is a feast for the eyes and the mind. His subjects are mini works of art. Not surprisingly, many have gone on to become minor celebs, due to Cohen photographing them over and over.
Cohen has now produced a video, Advanced Style, highlighting a handful of his most popular muses. They range in age from 50-something to 90+. I ordered the video immediately, and gathered a handful of friends one evening last week for a pot luck and viewing. It was a memorable evening.
The film was filled with eye candy, as well as private interviews with all of the women and a bit of their back stories. Their backgrounds and their current lives are as varied as one might assume any handful of people plucked off the streets of New York would be. What they all share is a fierce belief that what they look like is a statement of who they are. These are women don’t own jeans or sneakers. They have never seen the inside of a Chico’s. And most rarely follow the conventional rules of fashion. Each creates her own path and takes joy in every step.
One might argue that they are a bit too self-absorbed, a bit too focused on the external, at the expense of the internal. It takes an enormous amount of time (and often, money) to assemble the types of wardrobes these women have assembled. Often, when they aren’t parading themselves on public streets, they are on the hunt: in thrift shops and specialty stores, at estate sales, in exotic locations, all to gather the hats, the clothing, the accessories of their lives.
I found the message of the film to be the opposite. These women fall prey to the same downside of aging we all do. Some of the scenes are difficult to watch, to see the pain and disability behind the facade. One women dies during filming. And, as another points out, “But what a way to go. At Fashion Week!”
Unlike most women, they don’t mourn the loss of their youthful appearance. They are too busy living in the now. A now filled with color and creativity and joy. One of them said, “When I dress the way I do, it brings more joy to the world.” After I smiled at the egotism and naivety of the statement, I applauded her. There are few people on the planet, let alone older women, who feel such power.
These women do not wear black. They shine.