When photographer Ari Seth Cohen started his blog in 2009, he didn’t know it would become a catalyst to change the fashion world’s attitude toward mature women. Advancedstyle.com, which has already spawned a successful 2012 coffee table book, hits the silver screen with a documentary of the same name, showing October 4 at Texas Theatre.
Cohen, who grew up inspired by his stylish grandmothers, created the web version of Advanced Style as a side project when he first moved to New York. While managing the bookstore at the New Museum, he would dash away from his desk if he saw an elegant woman of a certain age on the street.
“We started hearing from young women, ‘I can’t wait to be like these ladies.’ At that point we realized we needed to make a feature film,” Cohen says.
Cohen says he was drawn to “so many different things. It can be the most over-the-top eccentric woman with wrists full of Bakelite bracelets, a beautiful hat and feature boa, or the most elegantly dressed woman on Madison Avenue. More than anything it’s an attitude to aging.
“You can tell by the way someone is presenting themselves they’re not fading away; they’re continuing to live their lives and express themselves.”
Soon shoots on nights and weekends turned into a full-time venture after Cohen was offered a street style project by Selfridges London. Advancedstyle.com now draws 100,000 unique visitors a month, but it was clear from the start that Cohen had ripe material for a film in the guise of clips about his subjects shot by his videographer friend (and Advanced Style director) Lina Plioplyte
“When Lina and I first met, we started making videos of the women and exploring their motivations for dressing up,” Cohen says. “As we filmed them, they started to open up. We shared the clips on YouTube, and we started hearing from young women, ‘I can’t wait to be like these ladies.’ At that point we realized we needed to make a feature film.”
The duo put out a trailer on Nowness.com that received more than 1 million views, and a subsequent Kickstarter campaign that raised just over $55,000 allowed them to edit and color correct the finished film. Out of 250 hours of footage, Advanced Style was edited down to a breezy hour and 12 minutes, giving Cliff Notes glimpses into the lives of seven of the blog’s most flamboyant fashionistas.
“These ladies have their own style and delight about fashion. When I grow up, it’s what I hope to be at age 90,” Jan Strimple says.
Although not an in-depth exploration of what makes them tick, it’s still quite clear on screen that Cohen is both admiring and reverent in the presence of these women, and how they blossom under the attention of his camera is a delight to see. During the course of the film, they pose for a Lanvin campaign, sit front row at Fashion Week and take meetings for a potential TV series.
Texas Theatre founder Jason Reimer, who is bringing Cohen and the film to Dallas, has devised an evening that will shine a spotlight on local ladies with their own advanced style. Model and producer Jan Strimple was tasked with inviting a select group of the chic to the screening, including jewelry designer Rebecca Collins and former Arnold Scaasi model Nita-Carol Cervin Miskovitch.
“Jason reached out to me and I said, ‘The way to really do this is to take women of grand style who have lived larger-than-life lives and have their own signature and ask them to come,” says Strimple, whose fashion influences include her flamboyant aunt and elegant mom.
“The South is more conservative dress-wise, but these ladies have their own style and delight about fashion. I love providing a showcase for women with this panache. When I grow up, it’s what I hope to be at age 90.”
Cohen himself is excited to see what Dallas ladies have to offer, and he is staying an extra day in the city to “go photo hunting.” For him, the goal of Advanced Style in all its iterations is to continue to break barriers for the stylish of all ages.
“I think there’s a lot more work to be done,” he says. “We need to change our perception of older people and culture as a whole — that’s why I go to these talks and tours, seeing the person-to-person response. There is a small revolution happening in the way we think about aging.”
Advanced Style screens Saturday, October 4, at 8 pm, at the Texas Theatre. The event includes cocktails at 7 pm and a post-film party with DJ/Stylist Ariella Villa and DJ A.D.D. (aka supermodel Chandra North). You can purchase tickets online.