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64-year-old New York street style doyenne Tziporah Salamon neatly sums up her outlook on life with one simple statement in the new Advanced Style documentary, which hits select theaters today: "If the painting is not finished, I don't take it out into the world."
She's referring to her perfectly curated outfits, of course, which elevate the simple act of getting dressed to an art form. As she puts it: "My art is dressing. Sometimes I'm building an outfit for years, like seven years one outfit took, because until I found the perfect earrings for that outfit, I didn't wear the outfit!"
Salamon joins six other advanced-age fashionistas who have found recognition in recent years as the subjects of photographer Ari Seth Cohen, who began snapping the older women he adored on the streets of New York City for a project that eventually spawned the blog "Advanced Style." His coterie of eccentric peacocks lend themselves to film as gracefully as any actress ever could, and their personal stories are at once heartbreaking and uplifting.
"Style is healing," says 69-year-old artist and textile designer Debra Rapoport, shown in the film alongside her 76-year-old live-in boyfriend, Stan. She gushes about being "in heaven" when he holds her hand, but it's in moments like these that the sadness of the film suddenly sneaks up on you.
As Rapoport recalls, the pair originally had only a single short date ten years prior, after which she never heard from him. "She actually looked like a clown to me," Stan says. "So I actually stopped seeing her for a few years." He then laughs to himself as Rapoport gets up and quietly walks out of the room, smiling thinly at the camera as she does.
Later, she muses on her relationship: "I know that men are often afraid of too much embellishment, of being too outlandish as a woman, and I didn't really want to scare him away, so I remember very consciously wanting to just be more normal."
The film has plenty of lighthearted moments, and the dialogue is constantly punctuated by either the clanking of giant bracelets or peals of self-satisfied laughter. One of the women (91-year-old performer Ilona Royce Smithkin) hilariously recalls a night on the town when a companion suddenly realized Smithkin's scarf was on fire at a fashion show after-party -- then gallantly put it out for her with a nearby flute of champagne.
It's easy to see how Cohen wormed his way into the hearts and minds of his subjects. At the start of the film, he gently approaches a regal woman he'd like to photograph with a meek, "Excuse me ma'am? You look so gorgeous and elegant, I'm so sorry to bother you..." He then graciously backs away when she politely gives him the cold shoulder in that way only Upper East Side ladies can. Cohen is equal parts big brother and den mother to his Advanced Style mavens, lightly admonishing one of them when her exuberance threatens to upset the balance of power during an appearance on "The Ricki Lake Show." "It is so lovely knowing you and being part of your entourage, darling!" gushes 81-year-old boutique owner Lynn Dell near the end of the film.
"Advanced Style" is worth a watch, if only for the voyeuristic peek into these women's lives, apartments, makeup tables and closets. While some may dismiss the film as being overly sympathetic toward its subjects, it does truly turn the idea that old age makes a woman invisible firmly on it's head. "Life gets better," implores 80-year-old ex-magazine editor Joyce Carpati. "Don't think about aging. Just go ahead, look good, and enjoy the moment!"
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