Ari Seth Cohen answered the phone at our agreed-upon time. He was stirred up, packing, on his way to give a lecture for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Anna Wintour and Alejandro González Iñárritu as fellow speakers. He’d just gotten off the phone with his guru/best friend/muse Debra Rapoport. She was talking him down as he spilled his angst about his upcoming event with the heavy hitters and the interview he was about to have with me — basic existential questions like: Who am I? What do I know? What is it I really do? He shared this with me in the first few minutes of our interview.
What?! This, from the Ari? The man who started the Advanced Style blog? The man who rediscovered and brought to life the value, beauty, charm and worth of women over 50? The man with one documentary film (so far), two books and an Instagram following of 163,000 followers? That Ari?
Yes. That man. The part of his deep and contagious allure for women — and more and more men — I realized, was that lovely humility and innocence despite the “success.” We proceeded to have a delightful, insightful discussion about values, aging, success and definitely “disrupt aging.”
At 34, Ari’s moved to L.A. Personally, I felt Ari was the ultimate New Yorker and missed his presence on our city streets.
Ari, why the move to L.A.?
My parents are now in their 60s. They may need me in the next 10 to 20 years. I didn’t want to miss that. I wanted to be there for them.
But L.A.?! How do you find those chic women of style that you’re known for discovering? How in the world do you … wander?
I don’t! And that’s why, when you spot someone in a sea of yoga pants — it’s a treasure! But they are out there — it just takes more hunting. It’s like finding a jewel and giving it a platform. I love L.A.! And I’m originally from San Diego.
Then what brought you to New York?
It was 2008 when my grandmother passed away. She instilled in me a lifelong passion for creativity, personal expression and an affinity for older people. When she died, I was filled with profound loss and had to come to the place she loved, New York City, to discover what she had always told me about.
Tell us about the roots of your Advanced Style idea?
I’ve drawn pictures of stylish, confident elder ladies since I was 8 years old. To me, nothing has changed. I knew I wanted to work with older people, to travel, since I was a young artist. And when I first arrived in New York, I started to notice so many vibrant, vital, older people on the streets. I wondered why the media so totally ignored aging or — if they were being featured it was in a negative and patronizing way. This didn't match up with what I was seeing all around me. One day I borrowed my roommate’s camera and started to photograph what I saw.
What’s the secret to your success?
I don’t like that word “success” for Advanced Style and what I am doing. I mean, it’s more about the roots of the message and how it has grown. It’s pure passion about these ladies and how they live. In the end, who cares about the fashion world — that is not the message. These women are examples of aging in a fearless way, a hopeful way, a self-confident way — beyond style, with pure energy.
Can you explain your cross generational appeal to us? Young women adore you and your message as much as women over 50?
A lot of 20-somethings were dressing in vintage fashions, taking inspiration from the generations of women before them — but nobody was celebrating these women. I was most excited by the fact that — all of a sudden — younger women, who may have been afraid of getting older, were telling me that they no longer had that fear after seeing the ladies I was photographing. I’ve been thrilled to see that both older and younger women were empowered by my images and started to view aging differently.
How fast did Advanced Style grow?
It was organic, but a very deliberate idea. I created a press kit — about 10 pictures that I had taken — and sent it out to every media address I had. I got a call from the New York Times. The blog had been up a year and I hardly remembered what they were talking about when they called! That article gave the project more exposure.
So, what’s next for you and Advanced Style?
I’m ready for Advanced to do different things. I’m interested in all ideas that are an “organic” growth. I’m exploring advanced love, older couples in an age of instant internet gratification. Real love, commitment, effort and value.
Do you consider yourself a photographer — or a storyteller?
I’m a documentarian.
Your last book is called: Advanced Style: Older and Wiser. Does “older” mean “wiser” to you?
It does. These women know who they are — you have to learn something. And I’m very proud of this book. It’s got stories. It’s got a real dimension. As do these ladies.
Speaking of ladies with dimension, what have you learned from your muse you were on the phone with earlier, Debra Rapoport.
She was one of the first ladies I spotlighted on my blog. She influences me and everyone around her. She’s found her way, living simply and creatively, and got out of the 9-to-5 world. I’m still getting the hang of living simpler from her — but I am learning! She has helped me see my work’s worth, the meaning behind it, and to articulate it. She has helped me to learn to trust. She has told me this wisdom comes with age, so when people say to me “what are you doing next?” — I trust that something will happen.
And what does “disrupt aging” mean to you, Ari Seth Cohen?
Apologize to no one. Embrace aging. Be the antithesis of invisible. Break down the barriers.
Maryjane Fahey is the Disrupt Aging Editor