“When you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you look good,“ is a common maxim of Rapoport, who was made famous last year by Advanced Style, a documentary directed by Lina Plioplyte and created by Photographer Ari Seth Cohen, who has made it his life’s work to document stylish older ladies and gents. Debra, a native New Yorker, is an ex-California school teacher who now works as a milliner, constructing hats from found objects. She loves to go thrifting, always finds the perfect piece for the perfect price, and is always the most colorful person in the room.
When we were interviewing her for this article, we were stopped in the streets in the Manhattan’s West Village by strangers multiple times, by people who were just so happy to see her. “Oh my god, I love you. I just love all the color you’re wearing. Can I take a picture with you?” Debra takes this sort of attention very gracefully, and seems to consider it her life’s work to bring people joy through self-expression.
For our second installment of “Better With Age,” we hung out in the West Village with Rapoport, and confirmed our suspicions that she’s a pretty cool lady.
Debra, your appearance is really conspicuous. How would you describe your aesthetic?
It is eclectic, changeable and creative. I love to keep adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying depending on the situation.
What is your philosophy in life?
Stay healthy of mind and body so you can embrace joy. Joy and creativity is the energy that keeps life in balance.
Would you put your style in any artistic direction? Is there a fashion designer or an artist you are really inspired by?
I think of it as eclectic and creative. I like to mix things up and I’m not concerned with a style or a period. I call it my A/B/Cs I assemble, build and construct with color, textures and layers. I do love Rick Owens, Issey Miyaki and Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcon.
What other role models or personalities do you admire?
When I think about this the most important overall is my mother. My mother was very creative, inventive and a seeker. She taught me so much and also allowed me to discover my own direction in all aspects of my life. She was there for me and encouraged me with all the opportunities she never had. I have the life she was never able to have. My friend Susan Wick who now has a major exhibit at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Her art work is some of the most personal, inventive and diverse of anyone I know. She is devoted to her process and her art community. Art shows up in all that she does from tiling, painting knitting, gardening, cooking, community activities and friendships.
When it comes to fashion, how long does it take you to put an outfit together? How do you start when you arrange a new one?
Most often I start with a hat. I believe that “Frame the Face” is so important because it is our best asset, so I start at the top. Also a hat finishes off an outfit. Since I make hats I can make one for any occasion or any outfit. But there are times that I am inspired to start with a different choice of garment. Color is often a direction I follow . My mood determines what color I feel like wearing. It is just a feeling I listen to each morning.
What does dressing up mean to you and how does it affect your life?
It is a basic element in my life because I participate in it everyday and it sets the tone of my day. Of course, how I approach it each day depends on mood, the weather and the activity of the day. It is my meditation that starts the day. I have to be in touch with my SELF to really know and feel who I am that day and how I want to present myself to the world. It keeps me fulfilled and my creativity alive. I say “It isn’t brain surgery” so I can alter it the next time, the next day.
A lot of people use to say, black is the base and everybody should at least have one black piece, what is your attitude when it comes to color?
I just love color…I remember saying “color is my life” and it is true. There is so much richness in color it is hard to live without it. Each color has a vibration and that energy feeds me. I embrace color in my food, my home and what I put on my body. Black doesn’t interest me, it is too easy to me. Everything looks the same and I can’t see the individuals. At an event it appears as a sea of black. I find it boring and a simple formula that people like to follow. I don’t get it. I will occasionally wear black as an accent element but rarely as a total outfit.
In times around Thanksgiving and Christmas everybody in the Western civilization gets a little addicted to shopping. What do you think about people’s instantaneous consumerism?
To me it is “conspicuous consumption”. It is too much because most people don’t really need one half of the things they purchase. I know it is part of the economy but people go into debt for instant gratification without a sense of priority or importance. This is how I see it. I say “Joy is from Spirit; pleasure isn’t lasting.”
People often use the quote “Not at your age!“, how do you think about it? Do you think there is a limit when it comes to older people and fashion?
I don’t really like that quote because it feels “ageist”. I don’t ever consider my age…it never enters my mind. More importantly I address who am I? How do I want to feel? How do I want to present myself. I know I am a mature woman but I never see myself as my age. I first see myself as a creative object and I think about how I want to put myself together. Creativity is limitless. Age never enters into it!
How did your appearance on “Advanced Style“ changed your life and style?
It has given me such incredible visibility. People do recognize me, but more importantly I have the opportunity to travel and talk about dressing as play, aging, the importance of staying healthy,”The 3 C“s-creativity/communication/community and that “Style is Healing”.
If you could be a different person for one day, who would that be and why?
I am really happy being myself, especially at this age. It took a while to get here (70 years). I loved the journey and now I love being here!
Thank you for taking the time for answering a few questions for us, is there anything else you want to share with us? Maybe another styling advice?
Some of my favorite sayings are “Frugality is Fun”, “Better with Age” George Bernard Shaw said “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Mark Twain said “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”.