Ilona Royce Smithkin, Improbable Muse in Fashion and Art, Dies at 101


Ilona Royce Smithkin, who as an orange-haired nonagenarian with matching two-inch eyelashes caught hearth in the world of trend, starring in the documentary “Advanced Style” and becoming a member of trend campaigns for manufacturers like Coach, whereas additionally flinging embers into many different fields as a muse for photographers, filmmakers and entertainers — a joyous persona that took a lifetime to construct after a grim childhood — died on Aug. 1 at her residence in Provincetown, Mass. She was 101.

The dying was confirmed by Melinda Levy, a longtime good friend and a trustee of her property.

Ms. Smithkin’s rise to fame started with a rumor.

In 2010, the photographer Ari Seth Cohen, who created Advanced Style — a weblog dedicated to the fashion of girls over 60 that later grew to become a guide sequence and a film on the identical subject — heard from a good friend a few “magical woman with fiery red hair and the longest eyelashes anyone had ever seen.” He staked out a retailer she was stated to go to.

Not lengthy after, he noticed a girl on the road in the West Village who was about four ft 9 inches tall and wore hand-painted sneakers, matching child blue garments and diamond-studded sun shades, with eyelashes poking out. It was her.

Mr. Cohen requested to take Ms. Smithkin’s . She exclaimed, “Of course,” and kicked one in every of her legs in the air.

“I instantly fell in love,” Mr. Cohen stated in a cellphone interview.

He started visiting, and then bringing associates to, Ms. Smithkin’s fourth-floor West Village walk-up, a tiny studio so full of materials, purses, work, magazines and hats that the door couldn’t absolutely open. Ms. Smithkin served espresso or vodka — “the only two things I know how to make,” she would clarify — and described how she fabricated her personal caftans and turned objects like letter organizers and typewriter springs into jewellery.

Without any intent to make a film, Mr. Cohen and a good friend, Lina Plioplyte, started filming their conversations with Ms. Smithkin. That grew to become, in 2014, a documentary focused on some of the blog’s principal recurring characters.

In the movie, Ms. Smithkin, a painter by profession, combined arresting personal disclosures with slapstick comedy. “I came into my own about maybe 10, 12, 13 years ago,” she said, although she was 94 when it was released. She joined a nonagenarian friend, whom she said suffered from memory loss, to sing “You Make Me Feel So Young” as a duet.

At her age, she said at one point, “I can’t buy green bananas anymore.”

“I don’t think ‘Advanced Style’ would have been a fraction of what it is without Ilona,” Mr. Cohen said. “She brought it a depth. She was the star.”

Ms. Smithkin started modeling, appearing in campaigns for eyewear by Karen Walker and clothes by Mara Hoffman She was labeled a “92-year-old style legend” by The New York Post’s Page Six, which described her dancing at the Jane Hotel without noticing that her scarf had caught fire from a nearby candle. Another partygoer doused the flames with champagne.

To some boogieing at the Jane Hotel, Ms. Smithkin might have seemed a figure from vaudeville, her flamboyant get-up a schtick amusing enough for a turn in the spotlight. But she had a “stable of mentees,” consisting largely of artists, who knew better, said one of them, the actor Erik Liberman.

“She noticed who was pulled in by the color and light, and who wanted to understand the source of the color and light,” Mr. Liberman said. “For those who sought deeper conversation, off came the hats, the fabulous scarves and, eventually, even the eyelashes.”

Mr. Liberman often showed up at Ms. Smithkin’s studio at a moment’s notice to take naps between Broadway performances. When, as an aspiring actor in his late 20s, he began spending time with Ms. Smithkin, he brought notebooks to record what she said. She instructed him to take his own creative powers seriously, rather than view acting as a form of subservience to someone else’s vision.

“That altered the entire course particularly of my young career,” Mr. Liberman said.

Another admirer was the burlesque performer Dita Von Teese, one of several people who made a habit of saving Ms. Smithkin’s voice mail messages. Ms. Von Teese took the practice a step further. She would purposely avoid answering Ms. Smithkin’s calls before calling right back, to gain a permanent record of her friend’s voice.



Source link Nytimes.com

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