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Debra Rapoport: Older and Bolder

by Kami Kanetsuka

On the street you can’t miss her. First you notice the hat. Then, you take in the whole picture. There might be an oversize paperclip earring, a wonderful, hand-made collar or necklace and various layers of colorful clothing. The likes of these you may never have seen before. Most probably they are repurposed thrift-store buys. It is the indomitable Debra Rapoport, a walking piece of art. She is known from the film Advanced Style and now from the book of the same name.

It used to be that women over 50, unless they were famous or drop-dead gorgeous, became unseen. The film Advanced Style, about seven New York women all over 65 years, documents that those with pizzazz can really be seen.

I first met Debra in San Miguel two years ago at the Camino Silvestre (store, tea shop and now restaurant) where she was offering a cuff-making from found objects workshop. I was so excited to find that she was in San Miguel that I was the first one to sign up for the workshop. It was great fun. Debra taught in all her glory, dressed in her own creations: a high fashion hat made from paper towels and an assortment of mixed adornments over vibrant clothes.

We made bracelets from the inner cardboard of toilet rolls, gluing, painting and sparkling whatever moved us onto them. The table was full of materials, stones, wire, tinsel, nail polish, glitter and glue. Getting ones hands dirty with paints, sparkle and glue did have a feeling of kids play, but kids play with a vision. It was a chance to go back to our native creativity before school robbed many of us of it. Debra vowed to come back again to do a hat-making workshop.

This year she did just that, holding her "hat-making from paper towels" workshop. Seventeen of us attended. We were the happy recipients of her instructions, instructions peppered with many of her quirky mottos, such as, "Have hattitude" and "Frame the face." Her ABC for making is "assembling, building and constructing" with colors, textures and layers. In two and a half hours we all constructed our paper towel hats. The experience of the women working together created another of Debra’s mottos, an "Attitude of gratitude."

More than making lovely cuffs and hat, it is Debra’s creativity that inspires me. As I got to know her I experienced her New York Jewish warmth and humor and her strong belief that style is healing and that we get better with age. She is a a joy to be with. Together we wandered the streets and talked. Often we stopped for curious passers-by, many of them young women, who wanted a few words or to take photographs. As we walked she would find leaves and bits of tin, wire and fragments of ribbon on the street, which, voila, the next moment were hanging around her neck. In fact, she is planning on calling herself "Debra Debris". She says, frugality is fun, and that we need to remember the three Cs, Creativity, Community and Communicate.

Being in a place such as San Miguel, an art centre and heritage city, enabled us to artistically amble around. We took photos and visited other artists such as Ruth Shine, who gives courses in making polymer beads, and Anado McLauchlin, who has created a home that is an artwork. Although it tends to be the expats who go way out, many Mexican women also have great style and daring. I recently bumped into Hortensia Delgado Stenner at the Art Walk at Fabrica. She runs Cenquizqui on Zacateros 47 where she gets away with some pretty far out fashions that she designs and has made in Cuenavaca. Her store is well worth a visit as it contains all sorts of works of art as well as fashions.

At the end of this month Debra's collaborator, Ari Seth Cohen, who started photographing older fashionistas in New York is going to be paying a visit to San Miguel. He will be signing his two books Advanced Style and Advanced Style: Older and Wiser at Camino Silvestre on Saturday, February 24. He will be looking for older bolder Mexican couples to photograph for his new book Advanced Love.

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Kami Kanetsuka during the sixties lived and worked in Tel Aviv, Rome and Bangkok before settling down in Kathmandu for five years after traveling overland from London.. During that time she cut her writing teeth withThe Rising Nepal and the Bangkok Post newspapers. Her travel articles have appeared in international and inflight magazines and two stories are in travel anthologies. She has been a part time resident of San Miguel and also resides on a little island in British Columbia, Canada where she is working on a memoir on her 50 year relationship with Nepal.

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