Proof That “Old Ladies” Have The BEST Style

Fanny Karst moved to New York in November 2013 because of a mouse. She had been living in London for 10 years after graduating from Central Saint Martins, where she studied fashion and print and then trained as a tailor at Chittleborough & Morgan on Savile Row. She wasn't ready to leave England, per se, but after a "battle," as she describes it, with the small rodent that eventually ran her out of her flat (that, and she "was attracted by New York's city lights and the fact that everyone runs in the subway"), she found it was time to go. It turned out to be a good move. Karst is a a French tailor who creates funky attire for the 70-is-the-new-40 set — older icons like Iris Apfel (94), Beatrix Ost (75), and other members of the so-called "Silver Rage." She saw that New York was filled with these eccentric women of a certain generation, and that they were underserved by the design community. Her timing was just right. Such women have come back en vogue, thanks in part to designers like Karst, and her contemporaries, like style blogger Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style. "Ari completely started the Golden Revolution," she tells Refinery29. "There are a lot of these cool ladies on Instagram who are joining the movement. They are the ones who carry the flag with glitz." In recent years, septuagenarians and octogenarians have hit the runway (hello, iconic supermodel Veruschka at the Giles spring/summer 2011 show) and appeared in countless ad campaigns (in 2015 alone we saw Joan Didion for Céline and Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent), proving that the fashion industry as a whole is officially embracing the older set — or, as Cohen puts it, women whose style gets better with age.
Photo: Courtesy of Fanny Karst.
So, Karst set out to create some agitation in the fashion world. In 2009, she launched her line, Old Ladies Rebellion, which has allowed her to "[pursue] her generational revolution to prove one can be cool and elegant at any age." "I'm a tailor who makes made-to-measure dresses and jackets for ladies of a certain age,” she says of her work, which is crafted in a studio in the East Village. “They come to see me and select from the collections I have here in my atelier. The dresses are generally printed digitally, and I measure them and discuss details and wishes; we usually meet for a few fittings before I finish them. I do all the cutting and finishings myself, so the craft is kind of practical couture, with modern and classic methods." Her pieces include stunning silk frocks, smoking jackets, kimonos, and more, all of which are fun and flattering simultaneously. They're simple, yet make a big statement: one that is full of power and hope. The women of the Silver Rage, she says, "are the only ones I dream of [designing for]. They have the freedom pass." And when you're creating tailored items for fabulous women, like artist Mia Solow, queen of Harlem Lana Turner (whose Fanny Karst dress made an appearance on Bill Cunningham's New York Times page "On The Street"), and Beatrix Ost (whom Karst describes as "a pretty incredible New York eccentric"), well, who else could you ever want to dress? With a solid selection of "practical couture" now under her belt, Karst has since embarked on a number of successful collaborations, including her popular "Old is the New Gold" T-shirt collection, created with Advanced Style.
Photo: Courtesy of Fanny Karst.
"The T-shirts are an initiative with Advanced Style to combine forces and create a statement piece," she says. "Ari actually heard [the phrase] 'Old is the New Black' from Linda Rodin, who he was shooting, and we turned it into a cry of war. I've always made statements and messages in my collection with humor and irony, and the T-shirts were a way to reach out to all the ladies so they could feel they were part of a club. They've become quite a movement, and it makes us very happy. The ladies always write to say they wear them with defiance. They are cool T-shirts for cool ladies, and we are plotting much more for them so they can rule the streets." But how is it that a simple set of graphic tees can set off such a revolution, one that focuses on the taboo of blending age with style? "Women don't age the same way that they used to," Karst says. "They rebelled in the '60s, and nothing much has changed. We age how we have lived. So, if you were wearing jeans, sipping Coca-Cola, and listening to Elvis Presley at 20, there's a chance you won't forget that. The classic old lady stereotype is disappearing with the dinosaurs. I've recently dressed a lot of artists in their late 60s, which means a lot, because they grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s and are very rock 'n' roll. And they still have a wild New York life. It's nice: Nothing changes."

More from Designers

R29 Original Series