By Joshua Gardner
Photos: Powerhouse Books
Ari Seth Cohen has a type. Pacing up and down Madison Avenue, the style blogger is eager to explain what sort of clothes he appreciates, the type of attitude that wins him over, and what color hair gets him going. But we’re not talking about the kind of guys he dates; we’re talking about the subjects he photographs -- often women over the age of 70.
Cohen, who grew up in San Diego but now lives in New York City, is fascinated by women of a certain age. He’s been photographing his muses since 2008 for his blog, Advanced Style, the best images of which appear in a book by the same name out this spring.
“I’m always on the lookout for gray hair,” says Cohen, who often stalks his prey on Man-hattan’s Upper East Side. “And color stands out in New York, where people all wear black.”
Since beginning his blog, Cohen has shot hundreds of women, from stars like Elaine Stritch -- a longtime obsession he finally met near the hotel where she lives -- to lesser-known ladies, like the performer Ilona Royce Smithkin, a fiery 91-year-old redhead (pictured above, center) whom Cohen now pals around with on a regular basis.
That’s the thing about Cohen: He’s not working with any sense of irony. He loves his subjects -- he often keeps in touch with women after he’s shot them -- and finds inspiration in their brazen ability to cast aside society’s expectations.
Cohen’s not the only one with a taste for vintage; he’s collected a devoted army of fans, including Marc Jacobs and Dita Von Teese. And at a party he threw earlier this year with teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, the line of revelers -- who were waiting to mingle with women who could be their grandmothers and to hear Smithkin sing -- stretched down the block.
If there’s one thing that makes Advanced Style so popular, it’s the way it portrays aging as a graceful experience that need not be feared—a rare thing in a culture obsessed with youth and up-to-the-minute trends.
And while a well-placed brooch or captivating cape might be what initially catches Cohen’s eye, his subjects have more to offer than fashion cues.
“What they have to share and teach is more important to me than the style,” he says. “They dress for them-selves; they don’t have to prove anything.”
Advanced Style ($35, powerHouse Books) comes out May 22.