Advanced Style Icon Debra Rapoport on Fashion, Creativity and Self-Expression

True style is classic, timeless and has nothing to do with age. And if there's an ambassador for timeless style, it's Debra Rapoport, the well-dressed star of  Ari Seth Cohen's blog, book and documentary, Advanced Style. The film paints intimate and colorful portraits of independent and stylish people who happen to be over sixty — people, Rapoport included, who are challenging conventional ideas about beauty and aging and the increasing obsession with youth. Now seventy, Rapoport has taught at the University of California, Davis, and New York University, and continues to teach today; she also makes hats and accessories. "As a visual and performance artist, working with found and non-traditional materials, my work is about embellishments for the body," she says. "This transcends fashion into personal style which reveals your individual strengths. My hat creations are the place I start. I believe it is important to frame the face, our most important asset." In advance of her appearance at an October 3 screening of Advanced Style at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret, we chatted with Rapoport about fashion, where she shops, the creative process and much more. 

Westword: What is your favorite body object?

Debra Rapoport: Of course a hat! It frames the face, which is one of my favorite mottoes. But boas, bibs and breast plates do the job, also.

What is your favorite hatscape?

I can't really answer that. 

How can you be more creative in your everyday life?

Wake up, see how you feel, and ask "Who am I today and how do I want to present myself to the world?" This is a morning meditation; it is not about fashion but your inner creative self being expressed. Play, be outrageous within what works for you.

Where do you shop?

I am known at Gifted and Thrifted. I shop only at thrift shops or charity shops, because that is the most fun and challenging. I will only spend five dollars. There is nothing I really need, so it is about the search. I also like supporting a cause — so this is a double whammy. So many people send me things they no longer want and it is exciting whenever a box arrives in the mail. I get the most amazing gifts! Most of everything is wearable, and I am able to incorporate it with whatever I have. It's much more fun than shopping!

Who are some designers you like?

Issey Miyaki, Comme des Garcons, Rick Owens and Stella Jean.

Do you miss designing costumes?

I am always designing and creating each and every day as I put things together. Also, I am still a maker so I make my hats, cuffs, neck pieces, bibs, boas and breast plates.

What inspires your fashion sense and style?

I love color, texture and layering. I am a lover of textiles, which can be manipulated on the body.

What is your style mantra, or something you say to yourself while getting dressed?

I am always doing my A/B/Cs. I Assemble, I Build and I Construct using my body as an armature, and use color, texture and layering.

What is your favorite color?

Chartreuse, but I have many. I love dirty colors that are grayed down, such as dirty aqua and salmony-peachy pink. 

Who is your favorite film director and what is your favorite film?

Well, of course, Lina Plioplyte, the director of the Advanced Style film.
How do you listen to music and what do you like to listen to?

I love classical, especially string quartets. It's soothing and inspirational while I work. I love Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, the Band and many others from my period of the '60s and '70s.

What is one of your favorite pieces of art?

Any work of Cy Twombly, his paintings and sculpture. Another one of my favorite artists is Susan Wick from Denver, who is having an exhibit of fifty years of the creative process at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art opening October 1.

What is your favorite neighborhood in Manhattan?

Oh! The West Village, which has changed so much recently with the chic Meatpacking District, the High Line and the new Whitney Museum — but it's still a wonderful neighborhood. We have the gorgeous river, too, right in our back yard with miles of park, with walking and cycling paths.

How would you describe your style in three words?

Eclectic, bold and personal. 

What advice do you have for young, creative individuals?

Keep on testing your boundaries. Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Really look in the mirror and see who you are today and every day. It is not about weirdness or being over the top: It is about expressing who you really are. If we play from our youth, then aging isn't a problem but continues to be a creative solution. Play with staying healthy into your sixties and then you don't have that issue to deal with. You can enjoy your time and freedom. I think this is so important. Aging with illness is not fun, but I realize it can't always be avoided. Keep making new friends. I have more 25-year-old friends than I do who are 70-years-old. It keeps it fun and fresh. The young ones are appreciative of our maturity and wisdom. Wow! Better with age. 

Debra Rapoport's “Cuffs” workshop on Friday, October 2, is sold out, but you can still grab tickets to the Advanced Style screening at Lannie's Clocktower on Saturday, October 3, hosted by style blogger Judith Boyd of Style Crone fame. Doors open at noon for schmoozing and socializing; Debra Rapoport will be on hand. The film starts at 1 p.m.; click here for tickets. Rapoport will also be at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, October 1, for the opening of a show by Susan Wick, her friend since graduate school.

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