Ari Seth Cohen is a 29-year-old photographer who often dons chunky cardigans, thick brown glasses and green velvet bow ties for his morning walk-about. He arrived in New York three years ago bent on seeking his fortune and spurred on by Bluma, his grandmother and best friend.
Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style, chronicles the extraordinary elegance, eccentricity, charm, creativity, wit and wisdom of the city’s over-50 set. It has quickly become more than just a repository of style. The blog has been featured in The New Yorker, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times; Cohen is currently working on a documentary film, a book proposal, and a photo essay for Vogue Japan.
Last week Cohen and I sat down at The National to talk about how Lower East Side street style influences his aesthetic, why he thinks older women are more chic than older men, and whether young people have any hope of attaining true measures of style and elegance.
I’ve broken our conversation into three posts. In this first part, we discuss how Advanced Style is about more than just dressing—it’s about creating a movement.
Hannah Elliott: So Ari, why did you create the blog?
Ari Seth Cohen: I just wanted to meet people to talk about things that we share in common–to create a movement of likeminded individuals because these women and men (I usually photograph women just because they are a little bit more comfortable with their style), they’re hungry to tell people, ‘I’m here, and I’m still doing things.’
A lot of people forget about older people, and I think the Internet is amazing because it allows them to have that platform of expressing themselves. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to give other people a voice and help them develop their own voices.
HE: Sounds like it’s about more than just what these people are wearing.
ASC: Really it is more about an attitude even than style, which is a way for me to frame this whole thing. It was kind of a platform for me to express a message, to express ideas about being vital at an older age. It’s really that attitude of, ‘Live your life to the fullest.’ I mean, I can’t believe [90-year-old] Ilona (right) sometimes because she’s always looking forward. She mentions things like, ‘I don’t know how much longer’ but she’s working on projects, she’s dancing, she performs cabaret. I hope that’s how I’m going to be.
I‘m trying to inspire people to look ahead because we can’t just stop. We can’t get to 60 and say, ‘What’s left?’ It’s up to us to create that world for ourselves.
HE: And the people who you feature on the blog are living very much in the present.
ASC: Yes. The idea of Advanced Style as a movement is as an older person ages still being vital and being vibrant and still creating.
HE: The blog creates a community between those types of people, too, doesn’t it?
ASC: There are a lot of older bloggers who are starting to blog now, and it connects them. There’s a woman I talk to–she’s in her 60s–and she emailed me saying that someone emailed her that I had influenced her to start a blog. That’s the thing that means most to me.
Some of what we talk about when I talk to older woman is they feel like they want to give permission to women to feel like it’s okay to dress up as an older woman. Even as a younger woman. But sometimes people might feel like, ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘I might be laughed at.’ When you see someone who is doing it, when you see an 80-year-old woman all dressed up, it gives you the permission to do that as well. You feel like, ‘Why can’t I do that?’
I want to put those images out there. People can do what they want with them, but I hope that I can inspire them to look at older people in a new light and think about how they want to be as a person.
HE: The idea of our generation being influenced by the style of older people is pretty important, too.
ASC: That was a big I influence for me–looking at how young people dress. And I think young people dress kind of like the ladies on my blog.
One of the reasons why I started Advanced Style is I saw so many of my friends wearing vintage clothing, so I think young girls still kind of have that desire to be that glamorous woman. Even guys–they are dressing as dandies. So I think in a way it’s coming back.
I think it’s interesting when people aren’t aware of their influences. I see girls in their leopard furs and I’m thinking, ‘Do they realize that there’s an 80-year-old woman dressed like that?’ I think that’s great. I love it. I wanted to show that these women have been doing it for years. And I hope that you’re aware when you’re channeling them–which I think is great–but if they’re important enough to channel their style, why not walk up and have a conversation with them and learn from them about their style?
HE: Will our generation have the same range of style to draw from when we’re 80? We didn’t live through the movie glamour days of the ‘30s and ‘40s or the cool ‘70s.
ASC: I think that with the whole idea of grace and elegance–a lot of the people I meet dress pretty eccentrically but they still have idea of a tailoring. We still pull from the ‘90s and grunge and all of that–but we can watch old movies….
HE: And for now you’re chronicling the generation that has gone before us.
ASC: They dressed up to go to work, to ride the train, whatever it was. I think a lot of that was carried on to these older women, and a lot of it might get lost, so it’s something that is very important for now. It’s important especially for women in their 70s, 80s and 90s because they have a very specific viewpoint that is going to be gone soon. I’m trying to capture that so we can learn from them.
I think that once you’ve lived for a certain amount of time, you have so much to pull from and so style becomes something that is a reflection of who you are. Even for myself and some of my friends, we dress a little more self-consciously and wonder what people think about what we wear. We might go to our job and think, ‘Oh I have to impress this person,’ where once you get to a certain age it goes even beyond style. I’ve talked to women in their 90s, and they feel like, ‘I’m 90 years old, I can do what I want!’
I wish we could feel that way all the time…but maybe we can.