10/22/2010 08:24 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

94-Year-Old Zelda Kaplan Draws Style Inspiration From Africa (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

Zelda was born in 1916 and is "younger" in body, mind and spirit than most people I know. During my interview with her, it was notable to me that at ninety four, there wasn't an ounce of self pity or time wasted with regards to her youth. I couldn't help but be aware of how duped we are as a culture into believing that being young, as opposed to old, is some kind of nirvana. On the contrary, she continuously reminded me of how great being "old" is.
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For the past few decades, present one included, Zelda has been one of the most influential faces in New York City, for her sense of style and soul of a club kid. While we were together at The Rose Bar, she told me about how she fills her drink with water to pretend her glass is filled with alcohol, because people relentlessly try to buy her drinks. One would definitely notice Zelda whether she was at a hip lounge, party or anywhere in one of her prototypical, awe-inspiring, African-derived ensembles, which includes a compulsory dramatic headdress and bag. Ironically, Zelda says that "fashion has never interested me," but rather it is all about the design of the cloth, its color, patterns and the hand-crafted techniques that are used to make it, that sends her reeling.


For the past fifty years, Zelda has collected cloth from remote African villages, turning them into her own designs. However, what is truly astonishing about Zelda is the noble cause that has given her the zeal to dedicate herself to living in mud huts in these isolated areas, without electricity, for months at a time. Her mission was to gently educate indigenous people, by living among them, as to the damaging affects of the 1000-year old tradition of clitorial surgery that is routinely administered to the young women of the indigenous tribes. In my response to my virtual disbelief at what seemed to me a huge, gutsy undertaking, she said, "I wasn't courageous, I was curious." It was clear to me that sacrifice is not a word in Zelda's vocabulary, just as age, for her, is not associated with decline. She says that she was born happy.

If you like Zelda you may also enjoy Ziva Naumann, Luxor Tavella and Michael Calloway.