Tziporah Salamon’s Guide to Vintage Clothes, Ageing, and Living Life on Your Terms
© Macrae Marran
Part 2: Love and beauty are the principles of Tziporah Salamon’s life. As are dressing for joy, not blending in, and never changing for anyone.
Impeccably dressed as always, Tziporah shows up on day two of our interview, as bright as sunshine, and greets me like an old friend. Her warmth, love, and kindness are so strong I can almost feel a virtual hug through my laptop. Sitting on the sofa of her eclectic and colourful apartment, Tziporah’s smile is infectious and transports you into her extraordinary world of vintage clothes, incredible accessories, and beautiful trinkets. Excitedly, she jumps up and immediately shows me her outfit, amongst it a hat that she got from Alberta Wright, owner of Jezebel, the vintage store and restaurant, an incredible vintage jacket on which she had the buttons altered, and the mens’ pyjama bottoms her father altered for her.
I ask her if she makes any alterations to clothes herself. She says she doesn’t and never did. When her father was still alive, he used to do alterations for her, and now she takes it to a tailor. “I guess I either never expressed an interest, or when I did, they [my parents] would say: ‘You go read, so your life will be easier.’ So yeah, they definitely wanted me smart, and I was smart. And they wanted me to use my head.” Tziporah adds that her father saw the work he and his mother did as “dirty work”, and he wanted his children to have proper jobs.
© Dan Rouse
As she moves through her stylish apartment, showing me bits and pieces of her wardrobe, Tziporah elaborates that clothes have a strange but blessed way of finding their way into her life. Be it because of a higher entity’s meddling or the enthusiasm shared by others who bring the clothes to her, the style icon proves that money can certainly buy clothes but never style. She admits that she used to pray: “God, I don't have a rich husband. And I don't have credit cards. And you gotta help me get these wonderful clothes without a credit card.”
She shows me a beautiful light blue Chanel jacket she got from her friend who lives in LA. ‘I was staying at her house, and I put it on, and it fit me perfectly! I was going to borrow it for NYC Fashion Week and then send it back. That was five years ago. And this is how Chanel came to me.’ She smiles her irresistible smile, which also explains why it’s hard to resist the charm of this lady who has turned dressing into an art. Vendors in vintage stores have known and adored her for years and are delighted to sell their clothes to her, knowing that they’ll be loved and styled with the utmost skill. And it seems Tziporah’s reputation for style extends into every corner of New York City.
There was one time when Tziporah was working at Augusta Auction House, and she fell in love with a Schiaparelli hat that was up for bidding. People put up their hands to bid, but as soon as they saw Tziporah put up her hand, they stopped bidding because, in Tziporah’s words, ‘They’ve known me for years, and they love me so much’. Unfortunately, Tziporah was still up against an online bidder. When she reached her limit of $400, she decided to end the auction herself, which the bemused auctioneer allowed. Tziporah got the hat - proving that all mysterious ways of vintage clothes lead straight to Miss Salamon.
© Gigi Stoll
Since Tziporah’s style, outfits, and looks are celebrated by fashion photographers, stylists, and people across the globe, I wonder and ask her why she thinks that most people are still playing it safe when it comes to getting dressed. She believes that it’s the easy and mindless option, one less task to think about in a busy life. She also thinks that many women, as they get older, don’t want to address the fact that their body is changing and that that’s something they have to accommodate. Hence, it’s just easier to take away the focus from themselves and what they’re wearing and focus on other people and things in their lives, often children and grandchildren.
While she agrees that going into a store, looking at a mannequin, and copying its look is easy, she also acknowledges that, as with everything in life, if it’s worthwhile, it takes effort. ‘What I do with women of my age and younger is I give them permission to dress and play in their closet and play with clothes. And that takes effort, and it takes curiosity, and it takes time.’
But it’s not just standing out from the crowd that has turned the 73-year-old into a vintage fashion icon. Another reason why Tziporah doesn’t recommend shopping on the high street or in any fast fashion store is the quality of clothes, which wouldn’t match any vintage garment in decades. ‘Fair enough, you have quite a choice there. But it falls apart after two washes, and then you throw it away. What you really need is a wardrobe with which you travel through your life.’ She points to her trousers and tells me she’s had them for 33 years, and, she elaborates, that’s 33 years of joy they’ve brought her.
© Gigi Stoll
On the topic of joy, Tziporah admits that the only things she really cares about, true to her astrological chart, are love and beauty. ‘That's so true for me and always has been, and here I am at 73. And I like admitting that I'm 73, unlike other women. Oh, you never ask a woman her age - that's such bullshit! I think what today’s norm is, is that women of my age definitely have altered their faces, whether it’s injections, a full facelift, or half a facelift, or whatever. I cannot do that, it’s so against everything that I hold sacred. And so I'm kind of very much my own, one-of-a-kind unicorn, always have been and will continue like that.’
I ask her how she feels about the fact that the media and society, in general, celebrate youth and equate it to beauty, especially when it comes to fashion, models, and celebrities. ‘I'm hoping it changes and more older women and men get to share the spotlight’, Tziporah says and tells me she thought it was great that Martha Stewart had recently been on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a bathing suit. ‘But you know, that face is not the face of an 82-year-old, she points out. ‘I'm sorry. That's totally botox and a facelift, whether she tells us that or she doesn't tell us that. At 82, you have wrinkles. At 62, you have wrinkles, and you have wrinkles at 52! So, to be perfect, to not have one line on your face - what does that do to our expectations? And then there are women in their 20s and 30s, and they’re scared to get older! That's craziness. And that’s part of the problem.’
Tziporah is also very clear that she won’t be part of that problem. True to her extraordinary life, she started her modelling career at the fabulous age of 62. Since then, she has been booked to model for some of the biggest designers and has been photographed by the industry’s most celebrated photographers. ‘I didn't think I was going to be a model, and here I am!’ Tziporah smiles and then tells me: ‘Modelling is so much fun, it’s not work at all! They fuss over you and do your hair, your makeup, and your nails! I love doing it. I love being with the younger kids; everyone there is younger. I'm such a believer in fate and in God. And I believe if it's meant to be, you know, it will be.
© Guillaume Roemaet
Tziporah’s exceptional story is testimony to her urge to live life on her terms.’ I couldn't even change for my father,’ she says, admitting that he didn’t just have a hard time with her giving up her PhD but also wasn’t a fan of how she dressed. ‘My father worked at his own tailoring shop until he was 77. And then, when he was 77, the rent quadrupled, so he chose to retire. He stayed home for one month, called me up, and said, “Tzippy, I need a job.” So I took him to Bergdorf Goodman, and they hired him on the spot for the women’s alterations department. Because it was still owned by the Goodman family and was not corporate, I was allowed to sit there with him while he was sewing, and he would say: “Please don't come wearing a hat. You know it embarrasses me. Why can't you dress like everyone else? Why can't you be normal? Why can't you wear Calvin Klein suits?” You know, like, what's wrong with you? And he really did think that, like, don't make waves. Don’t stand out. As a Holocaust survivor, he learned that not to get noticed was a chance to survive. So I understood where he was coming from. But I couldn't change. Not even for him.’ Eventually, she says, he came around. It helped that she was being featured by Bill Cunningham in the Sunday Style section of the New York Times a lot.
There’s certainly no stopping Tziporah on her journey as an artist and style muse. She’s an avid cyclist, and it’s one of her life’s greatest pleasures to bike around the city, showing off her outfits. ‘I have people thanking me, honking their horns, telling me that I made their day. The garbage collectors give me a thumbs up, and all of it brings me joy.’ It’s also a way to meet lots of people, many of them younger, who thank her for the way she looks and the effort she puts into getting dressed. She also cites the importance of neighbourhood and supporting the people around you. ‘I've been in this neighbourhood, since I was 32. When I arrived, I went to the local grocer and introduced myself. I went to the shoemaker and told him I’d be bringing my shoes here. Human connections are important and give meaning to our lives. I always said I have two criteria for a job that I do. Number one is that I'm allowed to wear my own clothes. And number two is that I can feel my heart, that people are in front of me as opposed to computers. Like I said before, my life comes down to two principles: love and beauty.’
© Janis Wilkins
As our interview comes to a close, I ask if she has any advice for those who are scared to start afresh when they’re older. Her reply is immediate. ‘Oh, no, no, no, there's no such thing as too late. You just do it, just start. It’s a bit like when you're afraid to go into the ocean because it's so cold. But once you're in the ocean, you wonder why you wasted all this time being afraid that it was too cold. Just go for it.’
Tziporah’s energy and conviction are enough to motivate and animate anyone who lays their eyes on her or has the honour of meeting her. She’s a powerhouse who defies the norms of the fashion industry and shows us that in the most sustainable and beautiful way, there is a different way to live, to connect, and to dress. Without a doubt, the biggest things are yet to come, as she alludes:’I'm having fun living my life. I’m only just getting started!’