Lina Plioplyte’s film on the art of ageing stylishly
Tell me about the influence of other cultures on these Manhattan ladies’ looks.
Every Advanced Style woman has her own personal sartorial journey. One of them, Tziporah Salamon, definitely draws from different cultures, especially Middle and Far Eastern, because she’s a collector of vintage Chinese, Mongolian and Japanese clothing. She does 1920s China head to toe, adapting it and mixing and matching like no one else. But most of the women dress more eclectically: one day they could be in a Spanish peasant outfit, another day something Turkish. They mix up designs from around the world and put them through a personal—and New York—filter. Self-expression is more important than a specific look.
Anaïs Romand describes the Diana Vreeland style as almost a New York thing. Is Diana Vreeland an influence for some of these ladies? Or is the idea that there’s a Manhattan style represented by Diana Vreeland’s aesthetic—a tall, thin androgynous body type accentuated by accessories—more of a French fantasy idea of New York? I think Iris Apfel has that—she wears accessories in a way that few women can.
In comparison with Paris, New York generally frees up women to be more playful with non-gender-based clothing. You don’t have to be only feminine and sexy. Every time I’m in Paris I swoon over the flawlessly sexy, elegant women, but I don’t see much experimentation or kookiness in their style. New Yorkers are a bit more extravagant, even if they do sacrifice some elegance to achieve it. It’s hard to say that New York style is simply the Diana Vreeland/Iris Apfel effect, because even in the movie there are only a few who do that over-the-top layering of accessories. If I have to pinpoint a New York style, it would be lots of bracelets, color, and mixing and matching patterns.
Touring with the documentary must have been fascinating. It was amazing to see the woman from Alaska—she almost seemed as though she had been given permission to have fun with style just by following the blog and being made aware of what was happening in New York. Were the women who came to the screenings aware of the movement because of the blog? How did word get out?
Everywhere we went there was already a very strong awareness of Advanced Style. American women living in the vast swathes of America that are definitely not New York used the sense of camaraderie and courage it gave them to be eccentric, which is not an easy task: being eccentric in NYC is much easier—you can be whoever you want to be and people still look at you the same way. That’s why it was nice to go to the screenings of Advanced Style and see women who say: “I dress for myself. I understand that where I live, T-shirts and flip-flops are the standard uniform, but I love my silk dresses and kimonos! What are you going to do about it?” These fabulous dressers with their incredible personal style arrive knowing they belong to a global community that is celebrated in the movie, and they exchange life stories and tips, and there’s an atmosphere of mutual appreciation.
I don’t know how much it was influenced by Advanced Style, but it’s really great to see Joan Didion and Joni Mitchell in these high-fashion ad campaigns. I wanted to hear your thoughts on how older women are being represented.
It’s so exciting, and it’s building. We started filming in 2008, and you could really feel the momentum. Every year, the media has more and more older women representatives in fashion. I do feel that we have helped push the fashion industry, purely because so many have seen the movie. I hope it’s not just a trend, because change is needed. I mean, no one’s going to get the fifteen-year-olds off the runway, but seeing someone with incredible life stories representing a style speaks to the demographic that is actually buying the clothes.
In your casting, were there ever any men who you wanted to include?
No, women were always my priority because as a woman myself, I wanted to know how women deal with aging and invisibility and how aging is projected in mass media. However, Ari and I are now filming a short video that concentrates on men with style. It’s really interesting to see how differently older men approach aging, fashion and self-expression. When men age they turn into George Clooney. When women age (at forty you’re over the hill in the eyes of the media) they stop being sex objects—but life doesn’t stop when they no longer get whistled at in the street. How do you stay relevant and visible, and how do you fight this ignorance in a society so fearful of death that we ignore it? Yet these women of 75 to 101 have more energy than any of my friends. It changed my idea of what aging is all about. There’s a wonderful quote I picked up from them: “I don’t retire, I just re-tread my tires.” Exactly.