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Monday, December 7, 2015

Ari Seth Cohen brings Advanced Style to the Bay

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Through his photos, Ari Seth Cohen proves that fashions may come and go, but style is ageless. - ARI SETH COHEN
  • Ari Seth Cohen
  • Through his photos, Ari Seth Cohen proves that fashions may come and go, but style is ageless.


What started as Ari Seth Cohen's tribute to his beloved grandmother, the Advanced Style blog has since spiraled into a book (with a follow-up on the way, featuring an essay from San Francisco's very own style icon Joy Bianchi), a movie, photo shoots for various brands, partnerships and the development of a "stylish" hearing aid.

On Dec. 9, Cohen will appear at the JCCSF for a screening of his Advanced Style film, followed by a conversation with one of his seasoned subjects Debra Rapoport, a book signing and a fashion show from Pascaline Paris boutique. SF Weekly spoke to Ari Seth Cohen about his powerful intergenerational relationships, turning his hobby into the career of his dreams and what he's learned along the way.

I've read that your closeness to your grandmothers inspired Advanced Style?

My mother's mother, especially. Her name was Bluma. From a very early age, I felt so drawn to her. She was the most open, inviting, warm, wise...she was literally of another time and so willing to impart her wisdom to me as a young boy who was interested in her history. She introduced me to old films and books. She taught me how to be a collage artist and always inspired me to be creative and allowed me to play dress up in her closet and my grandfather's. Because of her, I had an incredibly deep connection to older people from a very young age. I was drawing pictures of women all dressed up. I did my first book, when I was six, of pictures of women who were all dressed up, cartoon women that reminded me of my grandmother or women I saw in her photographs.

That connection to her allowed me to see aging in a very positive way and look past the things people look at when they think of getting older, like a lot of fear or thinking about the decline that comes with aging, because she was so spirited and the most fun person I ever knew. 

Then you started the Advanced Style blog.

Yeah, this started out as a personal project for me where I could connect to older people. My grandmother told me, as a young boy, to move to New York City to be creative. I started meeting all these women, and it sort of remained in that spirit, as a tribute to her, but at the same time sharing it with the world and seeing how people are inspired by it.  I would get emails from older women who feel great about themselves and younger women who are not afraid of growing old. It has since turned into a movement that I see a lot of people embracing in the fashion world. 

What do you look for in the women that you choose to photograph?

They definitely had years of seeing the world around them, looking at magazines or how other women dressed, being inspired by art and this and that. But that's what I look for—personal creative dressers—and that can be elegant or eccentric. But it's someone who has something unique, and you can tell that they're the only one who can do that look. It's about confidence or a certain comfort within yourself you're displaying to the world.

click to enlarge Cohen [pictured] looks for elegance, eccentricity or both in his subjects. - BEN RITTER
  • Ben Ritter
  • Cohen [pictured] looks for elegance, eccentricity or both in his subjects.

One of your most fabulous subjects is 94-year-old Iris Apfel.

Iris is someone who I’ve been paying attention to, even before I moved to New York City. I finally met her when I moved there and started the blog. She, like so many other women, is incredibly vital, and I think the world notices, because she has this look that's so fully hers. It's a very creative and curated way of dressing, and even though she's putting on a lot of things — her philosophy is more is never enough — she does it in a very specific way and gives the world permission to have fun with clothing. What I love is her sense of play. Fashion doesn't have to be so serious. It can be joyful, and I see that joy in Iris. So many of the women I photograph have that sense of play that we have when we put together our first outfit. They're not thinking about what the world thinks of them but only how they feel about themselves.

Are you also interested in stylish men of a certain age?

I’ve got a new book, and it comes out in May, so there are men in that book. Right when we finished the first film, the most popular question was, 'What about the men?' My grandfathers also inspired me, but I felt that women had an unfair expectation put on them in terms of growing older and what they're supposed to look like, where men didn’t really have that same pressure put on them by society, so I wanted to concentrate on women first. Now it's growing into a broader concept around aging in general, and not just about fashion but also about lifestyle and how to live a creative life, a vital life. So it's not just including men, but including the secret of how these people continue to live these really exuberant lives.

What can young people learn from their fashion-forward elders?

I think style is so attached to lifestyle and how you live your life. These women in particular take incredibly good care of themselves, and that's reflected in how they live their lives. if you go into their houses, you'll see that connection between their style and their interiors and the food they eat and the books that they read and the choices that they make.

I think tips in general are to be unafraid of being yourself, to dress for yourself and not for other people, look at style as an evolving process, wear what makes you feel good and what you're comfortable in. Your body changes, so learn what you want to highlight. There are so many things, like proportion, that these women have perfected over the years. But here's the key: they're doing what makes them feel good. They're just doing what they would do every day so they can look in the mirror and feel happy about themselves.

How have your subjects changed you?

I now see how precious our time is, so I think I'm more aware and more thoughtful about the time that I spend with people and the choices that I make. I’m not as anxious about what the future holds anymore, because I know we live so many lifetimes within our one life. 

What's life like outside of your Advanced Style work?

It's so interconnected and so perfect for me, so it's hard to talk about life outside of it, because these women have become my friends. They're people that I socialize with. I always have my camera with me, I’m always taking pictures, there's always a project and it doesn't feel like work because it's my life. I can't really see myself as having a life outside of working with older people. As a young boy, my dream was to be an entertainment director for an old age home. In some ways, I’m living this dream now.

Advanced Style with Ari Seth Cohen, Dec. 9, at JCCSF, ($27), 3200 California Street, 292-1200 or jccsf.org.


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