Melbourne International Film Festival Review: Advanced Style (USA, 2014)

advanced-style

While any female with internet connection and a love of fashion and style are intimately familiar with street fashion photographer Scott Schuman from The Sartorialist, or fashion blogging powerhouse duo Tash Sefton and Elle Ferguson from They All Hate Us, not many are aware of Ari Seth Cohen’s work on fashion blog Advanced Style. Why? Because Cohen only features totally stylish women … aged 50 years and up.

Advanced Style is from first-time director Lena Plioplyte, and it takes us behind Cohen’s lens and introduces us to some of the women featured on the blog. It’s a celebration of style, and takes the notion that fashion and beauty is only experienced by the young and tips it on its girlish green head. “Ageing can be a wonderful thing”, Cohen tells us, and Advanced Style (both documentary and blog) set out to showcase the women who rage against the dying of the light, and maybe rage with it.

Advanced Style interviews the likes of 81-year-old ex-Apollo theatre dancer Jackie Murdock, 67-year-old textile designer Deborah Rapoport and even 93-year-old Ilona Royce Smithkin, a woman so outrageous she makes falsies (fake eyelashes) out of her own hair. There are so many other women in the documentary but there’s one thing they all have in common: they are the fashion world’s rebels, and while all the pretty young models are dressing just as everyone is expecting them to, these older women are clearly not. They’re not the retiring type, and because fashion and style fuels them, it’s not something they’re going to give up in a hurry.

This is almost like a big middle finger salute to the industry’s idea of beauty, and it’s great to see. Many of the women talk about their lives, both their regrets and their wins, and it informs their choices. They’re the complete antithesis to the subjects often seen on fashion blogs and in street photography, but they’ve become fixtures of it too. One of the women featured, aged 90+, talks about being comfortable in her own skin, and that as you get older you learn to accept yourself. This is clearly a solid sense of style, proving that following the crowd will never win in the style stakes.

But the women of Advanced Style are full of pearls of wisdom, as it often the case with women who’ve already done a lot of living. They talk about the relationships they’ve had and how the relationships they’re in now have survived, and one talks of the hope of finding love soon. They are shown as women who are full of life because they know who they are, and because they are older than most women at the fashion shows they frequent that they know that life is too short to live like a wallflower.

Advanced Style is for anyone, no matter what age, who believes in living life to the fullest. It’s about knowing who you are and nurturing your unique self, and never being afraid to stand out and be noticed. If you’re the shy retiring type, this film is for you. If you’re a late bloomer, congratulations … the best is yet to come.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Advanced Style has been screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Its final screening is tomorrow, August 6th at 4pm.
http://miff.com.au/program/film/advanced-style