SUSAN ZELOUF reflects on having THE FACE SHE DESERVES …
During my first summer in New York, on a break from studying theatre at a conservatory, I spent my lunch hours seated on a bench in Central Park next to an 80-year-old gentleman who’d bring me delicious pastries from an Upper East Side bakery. We discussed architecture, literature, fashion and design; I confessed to ambitions of a life in art and riffed on my style obsessions, personified by Broadway legend Elaine (I’m Still Here) Stritch and the whispery-voiced Jackie O, two of the celebrity clients being tended to by my handsome cousin the dermatologist, who gave me a temp job in accounts as well as a privileged insider look at medicine, inviting me to watch him skin a florid peacock tattoo from a mature shoulder using a scalpel, old school, pre-laser, during which I hit the floor. What my older friend and I didn’t discuss over a Kramer’s Pastries buttery shoe-sole was the real reason I’d fainted, not at the sight of copious blood but because I was pregnant.
Fast forward 40 summers. Elaine Stritch is not still here, and neither is that bench, Kramer’s Pastries nor several members of the Kennedy clan, from Jackie to John John. My dream of belting out Sondheim show tunes has tempered, along with my handsome cousin the dermatologist’s short-term memory. My own memory could use a pair of reading glasses; it’s as vague as my reflection in the make-up mirror, not necessarily a bad thing. Over the years, my style has veered from vintage to Vogue. I may not remember what I wore when, or who or what I so badly wanted when I wore it, but my 50-ish face recalls every challenge, triumph, disappointment and loss. As Coco Chanel observed, “Nature gives you the face you have at 20. Life shapes the face you have at 30. But at 50 you get the face you deserve.”
Stephanie Peltier of The Happiness Society suggests that in growing older, we’re presented with a choice: “Either we embrace life and live it in 360 or our world becomes smaller and smaller and we become fearful and diminished.” Our modern lives, longer and usually healthier, demand forward planning; increased options require difficult decisions. The older broad I’ve become may have advised the younger me to spend less, save more, but turning that question on its head, what advice would the know-it-all 17-year-old offer?
1. Have way more sex but only when you want it, gurrl.
2. Eat way less but eat only what you want.
3. Rest more, play more.
4. Listen to the whispers before they become shouts.
Ruth La Ferla’s New York Times piece “The Glamorous Grandmas of Instagram” is a series of portraits of “a subversive cadre of women over 60” who choose not to go gentle into that good night or nursing home; instead, they dress to slay, flaunting their cool, like Accidental Icon Lyn Slater, vivid and visible in a world in which, until recently, older women faded with age – invisible, undesirable, cast off. Not these bolder bloggers and brazen “Insta-grans”. Some, like Slater, attract thousands of followers: astute brands chasing the silver dollar, young women looking to hip (replacement) older ladies as mentors, and ardent men, fans of their verve and switched-on style. Savvy older gals like those featured in Ari Seth Cohen’s influential street style blog www.advanced.style exude confidence, sexy at any age.
So, what might my handsome cousin the dermatologist say to my 50-ish face, if he was still practising? Probably the same wise spiel he dispensed to Jackie and Stritch during their collagen injections: “Give it what it deserves, Zelouf – little and often.” And he swore by Vaseline: “Rub it all over your mirror – it’ll take years off you!”
This month’s moodboard
(1). I’m oohing and ahhing over Brooklyn blogger and fashion illustrator Jenny Walton’s frameable drawings of Iris Apfel. www.markersandmicrons.com. (2). I’m poring over the literary later life of editor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who, as a New York working girl, freed herself from being defined by powerful men. (3). I’m unpacking the meaning behind Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s “Women of Allah” portraits, overlaid by Persian calligraphy at www.gladstonegallery.com. (4). I’m assembling a snazzy outfit inspired by Iris Apfel’s wardrobe in Rara Avis, a 2005 Costume Institute exhibition at the Met. Pick up a gently-used copy of Eric Boman’s splashy Rare Bird of Fashion at www.abebooks.co.uk. (5). I’m heading to Dublin Castle for “On a Pedestal”, celebrating the contemporary portrait bust, curated by Mary Heffernan, Hélène Bremer and Nuala Goodman. Sept 14–Nov 4. (6). I’m legging it to the National Gallery of Canada to ogle Louise Bourgeois’ Maman. (7 & 8). I’m intending to work until my death, like 98-year-old artist Bourgeois. Visit www.chateau-la-coste.com to see her Crouching Spider. (9). I’m throwing shade in tortoiseshell sunglasses from Iris Apfel. Browse Iris-inspired sunnies at Optica Dublin, Dawson Street.(10). I’m growing bolder, galvanised by accidental icon Lyn Slater.
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