Advanced Style

Written by:
Renata Polt
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It’s Fashion Week in New York–when isn’t it?–and the pages of the New York Times feature the new styles daily. And, of course, they’re all modeled by women barely out of their teens.

I’m hardly alone in my annoyance at the fact that the Times and the fashion magazines show no face or body south of 30. Or 40. Or–well, whatever. As if we–ahem–mature women didn’t care about fashion.

“Advanced Style,” a 72-minute documentary directed by Lina Plioplyte, bucks the trend. Its “stars” are New York women from their sixties into their nineties, and they’re mad for fashion. It’s not my kind of fashion, which runs to jeans and sweaters, but it’s certainly eye-catching.

There is, for example, Joyce Carpati, 82, a former opera singer and employee at “Cosmopolitan” magazine, distinguished by her trademark white braid; Lynn Dell, 81, owner of the Off Broadway boutique, where she dispenses fashion advice to both men and women; Jacquie Tajah Murdock, 84, a former dancer at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre; Ilona Royce Smithkin, who had inch-long “eyelashes” made from her own red-dyed hair. And others. They go in for bright colors and striking color combinations; big scarves and eye-catching jewelry; bright red lipstick; and hats, always hats. Tziporah Salamon, among the youngest at 64, rides her bike all around New York, but she won’t wear a helmet, because “every outfit for me has a hat.” The word “flamboyant” comes to mind.

Along with its seven main subjects, “Advanced Style” also features a number of other people, such as Iris Apfel, a New York style icon recognizable by her outsize horn-rimmed glasses; actress Marilyn Sokol; and burlesque star Dita von Teese. And Ari Seth Cohen, whose inspiration the film was. Cohen, a San Diego transplant decades younger than his subjects, set out to photograph and interview the many stylish older women he encountered in Manhattan and started a blog, also named “Advanced Style.”

When Cohen met videographer and aspiring filmmaker, Lithuanian-born Lina Plioplyte, the idea of a film was born; it was made for under $50,000.

One theme, which emerges late in the film, is the seven women’s trip to Hollywood to appear on The Ricki Lake Show. Aside from that, however, the interviews are arranged seemingly at random. Another weakness is the filmmakers’ failure to get statements from prominent media people such as Oprah, whose show at least one of the film’s subjects has appeared on, or New York Times‘s legendary street photographer Bill Cunningham, who has reportedly featured at least one of the others.

Still, “Advanced Style” has an important lesson for everyone over 30: “Don’t think about aging–just look good and enjoy the moment,” says Joyce Carpati, just before bursting into song.

Who can argue?


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