Discovering Mimi Weddell, the gauntly stylish actress who, at 90, was the subject of a 2009 documentary, was a turning point for Ari Seth Cohen. Mr. Cohen, a 20-something photographer living in Seattle at the time, quickly decamped for Manhattan in pursuit of his new fashion idol.
A doting Harold to her Maude, he tracked her down, picked up his trusty Canon and began shooting Ms. Weddell, who was the first in a stately parade of New Yorkers, aged from 60 to 100, whose images he began posting on Advanced Style, his blog.
Now 30, Mr. Cohen has staked out a turf in the blogosphere that is distinctly his own, politely stalking voguish ladies of a certain age just because he can. They inspire him, he said, with their startling freedom and poise.
Their audacity is a central theme of “Advanced Style,” the book, out last month, and of a documentary, a work in progress paid for through Kickstarter, the Internet finance-your-project site. In print and on film, Mr. Cohen’s arrestingly bedizened models embrace fashion with a sense of play.“They don’t have a job, they don’t have to impress their bosses, their children, their lovers,” he said. In dressing, “they have no one to please but themselves.”
“Tomorrow is another day and another look,” Mr. Cohen is told by Debra Rapoport, who poses for him in goldtone brocade trousers, which she alternates in other shots with bright furs or a crazily sculptured tricorn hat.
Recording their efforts, Mr. Cohen said, has been purely a labor of love. Yet in hindsight his timing seems canny. As the population ages, this once neglected demographic is gaining striking visibility, to say nothing of marketing clout.
“Many of these individuals are living outside of the boxes that society has traditionally put them in,” noted the editors at the Alliance for Aging Research, in a recent newsletter titled “Fashion Savvy Seniors Help Redefine Old Age.” Delaying their retirements or even starting new careers, the editors wrote, “they are making an impact on relationships, sex and even fashion.”
Some are becoming increasingly vocal.
“This is what 60 looks like,” declares Robin Bobbé, looking raffishly youthful in the headshot accompanying her new blog on The Huffington Post. “I would like to get the word out to the advertising world that we are strong, vital and confident.”
No worries, Ms. Bobbé. Marketers seem to be getting the message. These days trendsetters like Iris Apfel, 91, once mere footnotes in the world of style, are landing cosmetics contracts and selling handbags and jewelry on late-night TV. Mr. Cohen’s subjects absorbed that message long ago.
“In some ways you should always be in love,” a chicly turbaned Beatrix Ost tells Mr. Cohen in his book, “and never say I can’t wear that because of my age.”