It's a weekday afternoon in London's Spitalfields Market and street style photographer Ari Seth Cohen has just spied his latest model: a dapper 96-year-old gent by the name of Albert Stevenson.
As the creator of Advanced Style -- a sort of Sartorialist for the "silver-haired set" -- Cohen isn't interested in supermodels, he wants senior citizens.
The New York City-based Cohen spends his days pounding the pavement in search of elderly folks with elegant dress sense -- people like Albert Stevenson (below), who despite carrying two walking canes, always takes the time to look sharp.
"I like to get dressed up every day," says the veteran of two wars. "I don't like to let myself go."
In London to promote his exhibit of photos at Selfridges' Forever Shop, the 28-year-old Cohen -- who is looking into doing a book and working with fashion brands -- let StyleList tag along as he snapped some truly inspiring golden oldies, including artist Sue Kreitzman (left) and former Danish model Gitte Lee (below).
StyleList: How is photographing older folks different from the street style snaps we see of young people?
Ari Seth Cohen: Young people stand outside waiting for people to photograph them, and there are certain places you can go where you know young people will be hanging out ready to be photographed, like a fashion show. I just wander around randomly to different areas and find people I'm drawn to. It makes it a little more difficult.
SL: What inspired the blog?
ASC: My grandma was my best friend. I spent more time with her than I spent with anyone in the world, and on the weekends we would watch old movies together. So a lot of what I grew up thinking about beauty and aesthetics was based on looking through her old books and scrapbooks, and antiquing, and old movies. All of that inspired me. It's just what I find beautiful. When I moved to New York two years ago, I wanted to show positive images of older women. [My grandmother] died about five years ago, but I feel like what I'm doing now is in her memory.
SL: What is it about older style that appeals to you?
ASC: They just look so elegant -- the hats, the gloves. It's effortless. Older people don't dress to impress others. This is how they've always dressed, how they've dressed for 40 years. And their outfits tell a story. They can say, "I bought this here," or "So-and-so gave this to me years ago." Older women have more to say, and their clothes mean something to them. A lot of younger women are self-conscious about what they're wearing or they're wearing it for other people.
SL: Who are some famous older fashion icons who inspire you?
ASC: Iris Apfel, of course. Beatrix Ost, and the late Mimi Weddell, who wound up modeling for Lorick. And that guy [pointing to Stevenson] is a huge icon.
SL: How do you see yourself dressing when you are older?
ASC: I love the dapper gentleman look. I kind of dress like an old man already. And I'm into the old Yves St. Laurent look -- men in big drapey pants.
SL: What do you think of Betty White and the whole career renaissance she's having?
ASC: I just saw a [Snickers] commercial with her... where Betty White eats a candy bar and turns into a big strong guy. But I thought it would be cool for a person to turn into Betty White [as did we] and still have strength as an old person [laughs].
SL: Are there any celebrity senior citizens you'd love to meet?
ASC: Oh, I'd love to meet Dame Judi Dench because she's awesome.
SL: Yasmin Le Bon recently made a comment about models tacking years onto their ages, and there seems to be a trend of featuring older models. Do you see this as a trend in the fashion industry?
ASC: I think that's an amazing trend. People ask me why it's happening, but I don't know. I want to be very modest about this, but I have seen some of my photos and ideas kind of put out into the world, which I'm happy about. I think it's all about the message about older people. But also, I think the more people do it and the more people respond, it gets better. Having an older lady model says something about a brand, it says something about the quality.
SL: Is there something that you kind of look for in a person?
ASC: It's whatever catches my eye, but there are things that tend to catch my eye. I like color, some accessory, or just a face with character. I'm always scanning crowds for gray hair, obviously. It's about personal style and how that can be incorporated into fashion, and the vitality of these older people. I was with my friend in Amsterdam, and he was checking out younger people who were really attractive. I was like, What? Because I was looking at this old lady who I thought was wearing the coolest clothes.
SL: Which European city has the best style?
ASC: In Rome, the men are all wearing suits, so they look really elegant even though it was, what, 90 degrees. I think that's amazing. But everyone has a different flavor, to tell you the truth. In New York I find they're really either super-elegant or eccentric. Obviously there's really elegant women in Paris, really elegant men in Rome, and here [London] I've met both. Amsterdam had wonderful older people riding bicycles in their suits.
SL: If you had to give a fashion tip to a younger person based on these great-looking older people you see, what would it be?
ASC: First of all, their style has been developed over time. I feel like they've really hit their stride in their 60s and 70s, as far as knowing what they like. So, wear what you feel comfortable in, don't be afraid to take risks, wear what you like, and don't dress for other people -- dress for yourself. These people look good because they're comfortable in their own skin, and I think that happens as you age. You become more confident.
SL: Have you ever approached someone and they've said, "I'm not old!"?
ASC: I'll ask if I can take their photo but I'll say I only take photos of people 50 and over. If they look on the younger side, I'll say, "You might not look old enough." I do it in a very sensitive manner. No one's ever said they weren't old, but a lot of people just don't want their photos taken. Most people are flattered, though, or they'll say, "Why would you want a photo of me, I'm an old lady." I say, "Well, that's what I do, and I think you look beautiful!"
SL: What's your take on plastic surgery?
ASC: I like to photograph people who have a lot of character you can see. I don't want to make a statement on plastic surgery, but I focus on people who age gracefully and who embrace the fact that they're getting older. Sometimes with plastic surgery I feel it takes away from the character of the face and people end up looking like each other. There's not as much individuality. My grandma, her face was full of wrinkles, but I thought they had so much character. It made her who she was. When I was a little boy I asked why she had zebra stripes [laughs] and that kind of offended her, and she always told me that I would say, "Grandma, but I love your stripes."
For more of Cohen's street-style snaps, visit Advanced Style.
Meanwhile, check out our favorite gray-haired celebrities.