Sixty-one is an unusual age to become a style icon. But that's exactly what has happened to Sarah Jane Adams, an Australian whose ability to mix Adidas sportswear with tropical prints and pieces she has collected on her travels has made her the star of Older and Wiser, a new book celebrating stylish older women from around the world.
The man behind the book is Ari Seth Cohen, who has been on a mission to bring women like Sarah Jane to our attention. In 2008 he started a blog, Advanced Style, photographing and interviewing stylish older women he saw in his New York hometown. His posts about their approach to ageing and dedication to personal style gained him (and the women) a global following. Designer Marc Jacobs was so inspired, he dedicated his AW12 catwalk show to Advanced Style.
Age of prejudice
The blog became a book, and Cohen made a documentary of his most popular and eccentric subjects going about their daily lives in New York. Then he widened his search overseas. "There's a global problem with ageism and a lot of prejudice," Cohen says, after meeting hundreds of stylish elderly men and women around the world. "It comes through in little comments like [he puts on a patronising voice] 'Are you OK?' or 'I can't believe you remember that'."
If there's anyone who can banish stereotypes about senior citizens, it's Cohen. He has amassed an astounding network of people whose approach to life would put most of us to shame.
There's Ruth Kobin, 104, a regular on Advanced Style, impeccably turned out in elegant cashmere jumpers, chic above-the-knee dresses and perfectly tailored blazers, always with a scattering of statement jewellery. And she still does pilates twice a week.
Meanwhile, Illona Royce-Smithkin, 96, has a striking auburn crop and a wardrobe full of vibrant prints in vivid turquoise, purple and scarlet. She insists on living on the third floor of her apartment building, forcing her to tackle the stairs every day, but also allows herself to luxuriate in a long bath each morning.
In Montenegro, he met Tao Porchon-Lynch, who, at 97, is possibly the world's oldest yoga instructor. "She has the most energy of anyone I've ever met," says Cohen.
Cohen met Sarah Jane Adams while in Australia after one of her friends sent him a picture. "I had hardly any time left in Sydney but I wrote immediately and met her on my way to the airport," he recalls. "She was wearing this amazing Adidas jacket with a red scarf."
Aside from her style, Cohen was impressed with her attitude. "My wrinkles do not scare me; they show me and therefore my experience," she wrote on Cohen's blog. "Hopefully, there is a little wisdom that comes with these stripes." Since then, Adams has gained 54,000 followers on Instagram, and this week modelled on the cover of the US fashion publication WWD.
Lust for life
Cohen, 34, traces his interest in the older generation back to a close relationship with his grandmother, Bluma. After her death, he moved from San Diego to New York, and rang the only person he knew - a 90-something actress he'd met at a film festival. Cohen began working at a bookshop and soon met more older women with unique style and inspiring attitudes to life. "Gratitude and taking care of your health really allows you to have a very meaningful older age. Being active keeps your mind creative and sharp," Cohen says. "I realised these women can change the way you look at life."
His travels have only reiterated that view - showing him that there is still a huge job to be done to champion older women. "You might think it would be different in Japan, but older people there said they felt left out."
Perhaps things are changing, though. Designer brands are casting older women in their advertising - think 80-year-old Joan Didion for Celine and 72-year-old Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent - and the centenary issue of Vogue, out this week, includes the modelling debut of Bo Gilbert, aged 100.
So you might think that Cohen's work is done. But he's not giving up on his anti-age discrimination mission quite yet. Next on the agenda? Tackling the taboo of love in later life. We can't help but wonder what Sarah Jane would have to say about that.
The Daily Telegraph, London
Scroll through the gallery at the top of the page to see 35 of the world's most stylish stars.