Title: Advanced Style
Director: Lina Plioplyte
Major players: Ari Seth Cohen and seven amazing ladies!
Out of five? 4
You’ve seen the blog – or at least heard of it – and you may have read the book. And now the film has arrived, because the documentary version of Advanced Style hits cinema screens this week in a blaze of colour.
Photographer Ari Seth Cohen drew the inspiration for the Advanced Style blog from the stylish older women he encountered on the streets of New York. With their individual and distinctive tastes in fashion and their challenging attitudes to beauty, aging and Western society’s obsession with youth, the ladies – and the occasional man! – acquired a cult following. A book followed and now seven of the ladies have arrived on the big screen in the documentary of the same name.
There’s no denying it: they stand out. Their clothes are colourful, sometimes over the top, individual and very distinctive. At first sight it all looks very expensive and the initial impression is that money is a must if you want to be stylish. But that’s soon thrown out of the window by Deborah Rapoport, a mere slip of a girl at 67, who designs and makes all her own clothes. Her quirky DIY style extends to using the cardboard tubes inside toilet rolls as the base for arm cuffs. You don’t need money to be stylish, she asserts. It’s all about the person.
The film focuses on seven ladies who exemplify this. Alongside Deborah is Ilona Royce Smithkin, a 93 year old who stands out with her vibrant outfits and, most noticeable of all, her eyelashes. She originally sported artificial ones made especially for her but, when she lost her supplier, she started to make them herself – from her own bright red hair. They’re long – very long – and you can’t help but stare at them. At the other end of the scale is the supremely elegant Joyce Carpati, a trailblazer from the world of women’s magazines, with her beautifully braided near- white hair and signature pearls.
Dedicated followers of fashion they are not, unless it’s their own personal fashion. They go their own way. But, while they clearly love their clothes, accessories and make up, these are an outward sign of something much deeper, an attitude to life and aging that challenges the stereotypes and attitudes of the Western world. For them, life is for living and enjoying and, as older women, they have the maturity and confidence to enjoy being an individual instead of following the crowd. To paraphrase one of them, an older person prefers to be different and can carry it off. You care less what people think.
That’s not to say that they’re not aware of the aging process or that they’re in denial about it. Ilona has a standard reply to anybody asking her age. “I’m between 50 and death!” But when asked about her health, she’s only too aware of her limitations. “Above the waist, I’m fine. Below the waist, it’s don’t ask, don’t tell!” And Jackie “Tajah” Murdock, an 81 year old ex-dancer with all the grace and poise that goes with it, has failing eyesight. Not that it prevents her from appearing in a commercial for an exclusive designer label. She is still immaculate, although you suspect there is somebody behind the scenes who must have an equally strong sense of style.
The film starts off with seven ladies from the blog but loses one along the way. Fashion icon Zelda Kaplan is seen celebrating her 95th birthday and later in the film attending a catwalk show during New York Fashion Week. At the show, she’s assumed to have fainted but it turns out she’s had a fatal heart attack, something that gives the film a jolt. Until now, the tone has been positive and upbeat, but it changes momentarily to one of reflection. Would, I wondered, anybody say what I was thinking? Oh, yes! One of them does – that Zelda died in the way she would have wanted, doing something she loved.
The spirit of the film is so strong that I had a smile on face for the entire screening. It was just the size that varied. It’s uplifting, funny, inspiring and refreshingly frank – but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all about clothes. It goes deeper than that.
Advanced Style is released in cinemas around the UK on Friday, 9 May. For more on the film, http://advancedstylefilm.com/