Director Lina Plioplyte turns her lens on Cohen — creator of the Advanced Style blog — as he photographs women on the streets of New York in the documentary, premiering at the Hot Docs festival.
Piloplyte said she initially started filming short clips of the women peeking through their closets and "having cute moments," which received an incredible response on YouTube. After putting out a trailer that netted one million views, Cohen said they decided to get serious about making a film, distilling 200 hours of footage for the documentary.
Beyond the fashion, "Advanced Style" delves into the women's joys and passions — as well as their vulnerabilities, such as the desire for love and companionship in their golden years.
"The movie would not be what it is if it was only about fashion," Plioplyte said in an interview seated alongside Cohen. "I did not want to make a film that's only about colour and dress because who they are behind the clothing are women who are like all of us. We want to be happy, we want to have a companion, so it was an absolutely necessary part of the film.
"With the life experience of 60 or 80 years comes not only this glamorous idea of self, knowing of self, but also you have a lot of dark stuff that you went through in your life that makes you who you are — makes you strong," she added. "They're vulnerable and strong. That's the most beautiful thing to me. And they're comfortable in their vulnerability as much as their strength."
Wearing ornate toppers, colourful coats and stacks of bangles and baubles adorning their arms, two of the stars of "Advanced Style" express pride in being able to redefine outdated societal views of seniors.
"I think it's the greatest inspiration for older women and younger women," said Lynn Dell, 81, founder of the Off Broadway Boutique. "We want to just show them what we can do, what we're about and what it's all about — what you can do."
"I live a very creative life and I encourage others to just find their creativity and their vitality and go for it — without judgment," said Debra Rapoport, 69, who operates the Viva Le Hat website and Etsy shop and has presented workshops on personal style and creativity.
"It's not about shopping, it's not about brand names. It's about finding what works for you and how you want to present yourself to the world."
Dell described her approach to style as painting a picture with all of the elements coming together, and said she draws on the city as a source of inspiration. "It comes from everything. It comes from within, number 1."
"I think it totally starts from within with an open heart and open mind to find things," added Rapoport, who said she hardly wears the same ensemble twice, constantly mixing and matching items in her wardrobe. "Everything is derivative, but it always has to feel like you're connected to it."
In the film, Cohen described his grandmothers as his best friends and spoke of his desire to start photographing older women with great style to show that aging can be a wonderful thing, and that individuals can dress up and look good regardless of their age.
In addition to the blog and the film, Cohen has also released an "Advanced Style" book and said some of the women have started to land other new opportunities.
"These women are travelling to Toronto and then to London and then doing campaigns. That's what keeps them going — is doing things and keeping active and moving," said Cohen.
"As far as us not seeing positive portrayals of older people, I do hope that changes. That is a goal of mine to bring visibility to older people: positive, cool, fun visibility, because everything you see is kind of patronizing, clinical or negative. And so I'm trying to do the opposite with my work."
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