Debra Rapoport, 74

    Sustainability-focused artist and fashion icon, an intergenerational role model who puts fearless style into everything she does, including her recent nude NSFW photo shoot.

    As we are speaking, this native New Yorker is currently wearing a hat made of paper towels, and she looks magnificent. An artist, a weaver by nature, she is someone who has the ability to touch material and have it speak to her. To Deborah, anything linear and malleable is potentially wearable. There are really no limits, none.

    An Intergenerational Role Model

    As a globally exhibited artist, she has always had some visibility. When Ari Seth Cohen photographed her a decade ago for Advanced Style, it turbo-charged her visibility as a public person in places like Instagram and the mainstream press. In a world of few aspirational north stars in our age group, she has become an intergenerational role model. “I have so many younger friends who are interested in understanding aging and growing old. I have more 25 and 35-year-old friends than 75-year-old friends, which makes all this so much fun.” 

    This newfound later-life exposure has led to all manner of collaborations, including modeling jobs for major global brands such as H+M. She has at 74, opened up whole new creative possibilities for herself. Just before our conversation today, she had finished a 3-hour photoshoot. “As long as it’s fun, I’m willing to do it. If it’s not fun or interesting, I am now at the age when I can say “No thank you.” 

    Is the World Not Ready for Her?  

    Last week, she posted a nude and a few semi-nude photographs on Instagram, which of course quickly ran afoul of the Instagram censors. But before they could be scrubbed, the images threw off a huge volume of comments and she lost 300 followers. Seems not all the world is ready for what we see as being extraordinary images. 

    The comments ranged from “why are you doing this” (and her ‘why not?’ replies), to “How brave, How gorgeous!”

    Debra shares, “It was not about trying to look sexy – it’s just landscape, its texture. What I am curious about is our prudish culture and how people are afraid of skin. We have no problem looking at elephants with all their beautiful textured skin. What does the elephant have that we don’t have?”

    Being Fully Exposed, Naturally

    But what was it like making these photos? Was it scary? “I had known him for a couple of years, nice guy, very good photographer. He asked me to do some nudes, and I said sure. I mean, what do I care at 74? At 16, I wouldn’t even wear a bathing suit I was so shy. At 74, it’s all about a sense of freedom. It just seemed really natural; it was not the least bit intimidating.”

    This idea of what is beautiful and the mine-field that women are made to feel they must negotiate is something that is very much on her mind.