★★★★★ | Advanced Style

Five years ago Ari Seth Cohen took to the streets of Manhattan armed with his camera looking for old ladies. Not just any elderly dears but photographing fashionable women in their ’70s, ’80s and beyond having being inspired by his own grandmother who made him appreciate senior style icons who life live to the fullest.

His blog which became de-rigour reading for myself and many of my friends developed into a book and is now a delightful documentary. A project that started out with Cohen being inspired by this tight band of eccentric women with a zest for living and a passion for their fashion has almost turned full circle as they are now enjoying the fame and celebrity that his attention has brought them from a curious world.

The ladies’ stories are inspirational and a sheer joy to listen too, and the highly individual and colourful personal styles their adopt in their traffic-stopping outfits are just part of their well-conceived mantras of living every moment of the lives to the hilt, especially as they recognise that they are now in their twilight years. Tiny red-headed 92-year-old artist Illona Royce Smithkin with the biggest eyelashes I have ever seen sums it up aptly when she say that she no longer buys green bananas as she simply cannot afford to wait for them to ripen.

Each of the group has a swathe of stories to tell and none with more than a hint of regret of lives well led (‘I wish I had children’ says one coyly, but adds quickly that ‘taking care of all her handmade clothes is much more hard work than playing house.’ There’s 81-year-old Jacquie ‘Tajah’ Murdock who was one of the original ‘Apollo Girls’ in Harlem and during the course of the film, is chosen by Steven Meisel no less to be the new face of his campaign for Lanvin. And Lynn Dell Cohen, also in her 80s, who has run a Vintage Frock Store Off Broadway for 40 years and still politely hectors each of the customers to find their own style.

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It’s refreshing and a real treat not simply because these elderly women look so ravishing but because they dare to be different and are such a delightful anti-dote to mainstream UK who slavishly try to keep up with ever-evolving fashion trends that few can afford and most look hideous in. But they are also up there on a pedestal as wrinkled and challenged as they are (‘at my age for everything in my body that I have two off, one hurts like hell’) simply refusing to either act the way society expects them too, or just die quietly in the corner. In fact one of their number, Zelda Kaplan a mere 95-year-old had a heart attack whilst she is the front row of a fashion show. Zelda must be so happy in heaven now.

Style, as these elderly icons will show you, is much more than just about fashion. It’s an innate quality that not just enriches your own life, but also those of the people that are part of yours too. And each of these irrepressible ladies reminds us yet once again that life is not a dress rehearsal.

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About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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