A generation-bridging mutual admiration society set up shop on Tuesday night at the Sky Room at the New Museum for a party celebrating the release of the book Advanced Style—a compendium of photographs and profiles of the adventurously dressing elderly women of New York City adapted from author Ari Seth Cohen’s street fashion blog of the same name—hosted by Nowness.com.
Mr. Cohen, the primary documentarian of this phenomenon, worked the room in a hot pink suit and dark blue oxfords, introducing his proud mother (who had “Ari’s Mom” painted on her thumbnails to mark the occasion) to the room full of his muses.
Mr. Cohen began this project in 2008, inspired by his two grandmothers—one an elegant, fashionable woman, and the other his best friend who told him the only place he could truly be creative was New York City, advice he heeded two years after she passed away.
“Because of them, I never thought about older people in a negative way. I wanted to be old, I wanted to be like them. They were free, intelligent, and wise,” Mr. Cohen told The Observer.
Mr. Cohen’s book agent Sarah Jane Freymann noted, “It’s wonderful to be in a place where all the younger women are trying to look like the older women. A total counterintuitive turnaround.”
And it was true—there were plenty of partygoers over 70 and under 30, all them in states of dress ranging from elegant (pearls) to wacky (a pair of rollerblades slung over one shoulder), but not very many in the middle.
Joyce Carpati, in burgundy leather gloves with lipstick to match, introduced us to one belonging to that young legion, her granddaughter Arianna, also sharply dressed in a black dress with a tangle of colorful rubber bangles on her wrists.
“Do I dress up everyday? But of course! I can’t go out not dressed, not even to supermarket,” the elder Ms. Carpati said. “To age is a privilege!”
The diminutive impressionistic painter and cabaret performer Ilona Royce Smithkin held court with nearly every person at the party, sloshing her champagne flute and prancing around.
Another model featured in the book, Lynn Dell Cohen described her black leather ensemble as “a combination of a million things.” Yael Cohen, who works with Ms. Cohen in her Upper West Side boutique Off Broadway (“Dress for the theatre of your life!” demands the store’s calling card), called her mother-in-law inspiring. “And Ari liberated her! Before, she refused to say her age. My son would ask, ‘How old is Grandma?’ And we’d have to say, ‘Well, we cannot tell you,’” she said.
The elder Ms. Cohen piped up: “A year or two ago I’d never tell. But Italian Vogue wouldn’t put my picture in unless they had my age. Well, I might as well give it! I’m going to be 80 in January and I’m thrilled. In fact, you even get a little jealous because some of the women who are 100 are singing and performing.”
Debra Rapoport, who wore a striking hat of her own creation (made from recycled banana fiber paper) with pink-streaked hair peeking out from underneath, spoke to The Observer as she repaired another partygoer’s broken purse strap.
“Ari is such a positive person, so sincere and modest, and when he approaches people on the street, no one is intimidated or threatened. His manner is such that everybody feel great,” Ms. Rapoport kvelled.
The striking model Nancy Ozelli in a perfectly tailored gray suit sat at a table with her pocket-squared husband Daniel Schiffman, both of them sporting beautiful wisps of gray hair. They made a perfect contrast to their tablemate, Jane Folds, a marionette artist who wore feathers in her hair and pink heart-shaped sunglasses.
After all of the champagne, much shushing was required to get the excited room to quiet down to watch two clips of the Advanced Style documentary, currently in post-production.
“The film is about being joyful and playful in your sunset years,” Lina Plioplyte, the film’s director, told The Observer.
Mr. Cohen and Ms. Pliopyte launched a Kickstarter campaign today to secure funds to complete editing and sound mixing for the full-length feature, which contains profiles of many of the fashion plates features on the blog and in the book, plus interviews with the likes of Iris Apfel, the recently deceased New York fashion icon Zelda Kaplan, and a posterchild of young and weird fashion moment we’re having, writer and style rookie Tavi Gevinson. You can watch a clip here.