Welcome to the world of Advanced Love, courtesy of photographer, author, and fellow bleeding heart, Ari Seth Cohen. Following the success of his Advanced Style universe, celebrating the sartorial flair of the senior set (in book and film format), comes yet another round of mature fashion mavericks living life to the fullest – only, this time, in a vibrant bouquet of unique and well-aged love stories. We asked Cohen to pull some of his favourites from the book (and picked a few of our own), to talk about what it really means to wear your heart on your sleeve.
The Advanced Style blog began around the same time Messy Nessy Chic got going – “over a decade ago”, says Cohen, as a means for him to reconnect with older people and deal with the loss of his grandmother. It also paved the way for Advanced Love. “I was ready to take a deeper look into the lives and loves of some of my favorite subjects,” he says, “I had been collecting images of couples for many years, but it wasn’t until I entered into my first serious relationship that I realized I could turn to my models and muses for profound advice on how to navigate the ups and downs of long lasting partnership.” Enter our power couples.
And just where did he find so many amazing partners? “[By] scouting the streets like I always do,” he says, “but this time around I had submissions from Facebook and Instagram as well. I was also able to finally include many of the partners of women I had already photographed.” When it came time to ask about something as personal as love, he says he was pleasantly surprised to hear so “many of the couples speak about their sex lives and the struggles they face. They were all very open and honest about the fact that long lasting relationships take a lot of work. “
“Many of the couples speak about their sex lives and the struggles they face. They were all very open and honest about the fact that long lasting relationships take a lot of work.”– Ari Seth Cohen
Culturally, the West tends to pigeon-hole elderly love. “Ageism is so pervasive in our culture,” says Cohen, “We are made to believe that we should become invisible and stop expressing ourselves as we get older. One of the most hopeful and inspiring things I have learned is that although there are many changes that accompany the ageing process, most people tend to retain a spirit that is very connected to their youth. If you ask an older person how they feel inside they will often answer with an age many decades less than their biological age.” Advanced Love tells that story both with and without words, as a visual extension and exploration “of how we advance in spirit as we get older.”
His biggest takeaway from the project is deceptively simple: no relationship is perfect. “We are constantly bombarded with images and stories that romanticize a fairytale ideal of love,” he says, “which can lead to unrealistic expectations and endless disappointment. It’s easy to fall in love, but nobody shares the secrets to maintaining a long lasting relationship.”
“Once you realize that you aren’t the only one struggling and facing challenges in your relationship, and get rid of the shame of speaking about these challenges, you can start to breath and understand that a partnership is a constant, ever-shifting entity, that requires lots of nurturing, compassion, understanding and mutual respect. So many of the couples in Advanced Love are open about the challenges that they have faced over the years.”
One his favourite tidbits of wisdom comes from Delores Kerr (the vision above in a red suit), who said, “We have learned to perfect the fight.” It’s that blend of communicating with empathy and humour – a touch of the lovingly acerbic tongue, even – that Cohen admires, and which he now sees as a key part of building something that lasts.
It makes sense that many of Cohen’s subjects have colourful opinions on love. “I am drawn to people who are passionate about life and self-expression,” he says, “The way that they dress, love, and live exuberantly are all connected to their inner creative spirit. It’s fascinating to see how many of the couples have been influenced by one another’s style and aesthetics over the years.” Hence, why Advanced Style includes some older photos of the couples “to show how they have grown together, stylistically through the years.”
Consider Anado and Richard, whose stylish relationship is evidenced in shades of pink, green, and everything in-between in their wardrobe (and home) in Mexico, picture above.
In the book, Anado explains how they met on AOL in a chat room, with Richard adding that they spoke for several months before finally meeting up in analogue fashion. “When we first met we were lumberjacks,” he says, “We liked to wear hiking clothes […] When we got to San Miguel and started working on our home, being in Mexico, it was hard to find clothes. I dressed like this in the sixties and figured why not do it again.”
One of the simplest, yet moving stories belongs to Marisela and Paolo from Rome, Italy. When Cohen photographed the couple, Marisela didn’t know the picture would become so important in her life. “Today Paolo is not here with us anymore,” she writes, “and that marvellous picture is for me the best witness of a great love. Paolo is forever in that photograph and there I find his heart, his tenderness, his smile that, together with his love, are my peace. “
“We are still what we were before for each other.”– Marisela on her late husband, Paolo, in Advanced Style
“Bittersweet. This time of life is bittersweet,” writes Carol, another half of a stylish couple, about her relationship with her husband, Richard, “It’s the time when you remember. The summer when we rented a beach house on Long Island Sound and swam every day, the neighbours said we looked like we were in a movie […] Now it’s different. One of us is eighty-five, uses a walker, needs lots of help, and can’t remember things. What are you going to do? Make the best of it, confront the daily challenges, renew your spirit. Keep-a-going.'”
We also discover Charlotte and Hylan, who met on Valentine’s Day, 1985. “I sat next to a man on an airplane headed for Los Angeles,” she writes, when the man – Hylan – commented on the book she was reading. The author turned out to be one of his friends. “Truth is, I came to know this stranger better in six hours than my first husband in seventeen years, or his successor in a decade…”
“We started talking thirty-three years ago on that flight, and at eighty-six and eighty-eight years old, that sentence hasn’t come to an end…”– Charlotte in Advanced Love
Finally, we give you the story of Tess and Erika. Theirs couldn’t be a timelier tale, as our culture starts to move towards a more progressive, open dialogue about gender identity. “I met Erika some thirty-three years ago,” writes Tess, “although back then I was still called Richard.” They fell in love, married, but separated a few years later when Tess “confessed to Erika that I had wanted to be a woman and needed to pursue that desire. This was very difficult for me, because I had to decide and choose between my heart and my soul.” They separated, but went on to work together artistically, and “remained apart for the next fifteen years,” seeing one another occasionally. But they never really got over each other. “I called her up and proposed we get together for a visit at Christmas,” writes Tess, “Once we got together, we both recognised we were still very much in love and decided to reunite.”
But they weren’t the same people, in a way. They were multitudes, tasked with getting to know one another all over again, and actually parted ways one more time before making their way back to each other – and in front of Cohen’s camera, driving home a powerful point: there’s no blueprint for love.
Order your copy of Advanced Love, and be sure to check out Ari Cohen’s blog and Instagram for his upcoming projects. We can’t give away too much about his next book, but we can give you the title: Advanced Pets.