A Preface from Jarrett Gregory: I met Ari while he was working with us in the New Museum bookstore. It took me a bit of time to learn about his other passion (stylish seniors) and his phenomenal blog, Advanced Style. Ari left the New Museum last spring to do some consulting work in London for the opening of the Forever Shop, “a celebration of the savoir-faire and wisdom that come with age.” Ari is back in New York, and I am thrilled that he will be our first independent guest blogger. Bringing with him his appreciation of style in the most profound sense of the word, Ari offers exquisite insight into a kind of inspiration you can really wear on your sleeve…

I grew up in San Diego where I was best friends with my grandmother, Bluma. I moved to Seattle, Washington, studied Art History at the University of Washington, and moved to New York after my grandmother’s passing two and a half years ago. I came up with the idea for Advanced Style while walking around New York and seeing so many stylish and vital older people. I take photos and videos of the over 50 set in order to bring focus to their creative spirit and to inspire others to embrace age. After two years the site has been visited by over a million viewers, been featured in the New York Times, and has allowed me to meet many wonderful ladies and gentleman that continue to influence and teach me new things everyday.

While scouting the streets looking for New York’s most stylish seniors, I have come across some amazing artists who use style and fashion as an extension of their creative practice. By dressing up they can share their art with the world and bring their aesthetic into the public sphere. They become living works of art by setting up a dialogue between themselves and the spectators who receive enjoyment from their colorful expression.

One such lady is 90-year-old Ilona Royce Smithkin.

If you have ever walked through the West Village on a sunny afternoon you may have seen  this fiery redhead with long lashes and brilliantly colored costumes. She has painted portraits of Ayn Rand, Tennessee Williams and many others.

The vibrant colors seen in her paintings are reflected in the beautiful costumes she wears for her annual cabaret performance, where she dances and sings the songs of Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf. For Ilona, dressing up enhances the performative spirit. It not only cheers her up, but others as well. Here is a short video I made with Ilona:

And here you can hear Ilona talk about her great love: color…

By dressing up on a daily basis she can continue this performance and share her love of color with the world. I hope you get the chance to see Ilona walking down the street some day. Like my good friend 77 year old fashionista Lynn Dell says, “Dress for the theater of your life.”

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Ari Seth Cohen

// From our friends at the New Museum

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