There are many great books. Today, I’m nominating one that will never make any established list. But it’s the work of a nice Jewish photographer who honors his grandmothers in its dedication. With that, and since this volume presents a positive view of women “of a certain age,” how can I resist?
Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style is out in a beautiful format from PowerHouse Books of Brooklyn. Very fitting in two ways, since the photos that comprise it are all of very stylish (read: “powerful”) female “elders” in New York. That’s where Cohen lives and does his shooting, thanks to Grandma Bluma Levine, who told him long ago that “everything creative is happening there.” (Of course we might want to dispute that now, but the advice has sure worked for him.)
Cohen started by blogging his pictures, so there isn’t a lot of text here. Truth told, the book doesn’t need much; it certainly reinforces the old adage that all writers hate: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But I’ve got to give this man his well-deserved due. He offers only brief commentary about his subjects while mostly letting them speak for themselves. And do they ever — about real style in really advanced years. Here are some very telling quotes from a few of these older women who share only the sense of great style — which is very different for each individual, because they are very different, alike only in age:
“My philosophy is: fashion says ‘me too,’ while style says ‘only me.’”
“I was never fearful of being extraordinarily different. I would rather be considered different and somewhat mysterious than ignored.”
“Style is all about how you carry yourself. Someone told me that I would even look good in a potato sack. We must dress every day for the theatre of our lives.”
There are also some words of advice and warning from the photographer’s subjects themselves: “Study what women who dress well do and learn from them.”
“I don’t believe in age-appropriate dress; just make your statement and feel confident about it.”
“Young woman, you’re gonna be an old woman someday. Don’t sweat it. Don’t worry about getting older. Every era builds character.”
“Feel beautiful inside, and you will be beautiful outside.”
“Never compare. You are you!”
And finally, simplicity itself: “Look good, feel good. Feel good, look good.”
The photos are a portfolio of women who together form a beautiful composite of various personal styles: hats and turbans and uncovered hair in many bright colors as well as white and silver… everything from staid Burberry to wildly sense-assaulting choices like an ankle-length coat in a geometric print that might have been created by Picasso. Definitely eye-candy — on purpose: As one woman says, “I celebrate every day and don’t look at the calendar.”
The reader hardly even notices that several of Cohen’s subjects use canes until one of them says, “I thought I’d be an old lady with a cane who keeps on dancing, and it looks like this has come true.” It’s the dancing, not the cane, that really counts.
Cohen himself notes in his brief introduction, “I have never considered ‘old’ a bad word … The ladies I photograph challenge stereotypical views on age and aging: they are youthful in mind and spirit, and express themselves through personal style and individual creativity.” And in her just-as-brief forward to the book, artist/illustrator Maira Kalman says, “…We should tip our hats to Ari. Not only is he looking at what people LOOK like, he is also looking at their soul…”
A praise-filled bit from The New York Times graces Advanced Style’s back cover, crediting Cohen for “…focusing on a large — and astoundingly overlooked — demographic: the silver-haired set.” And Ari has now gone even further: Publication of his second volume has just been announced; this time, along with women, he has also turned his lens on men!