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What Advanced Style star Lynn Dell Cohen taught me about leaving a legacy

By Cristina VelocciJune 25, 2015

Lynn Dell Cohen
Lynn Dell Cohen (far right) with other stars from the "Advanced Style" documentary film. Advanced Style/Dogwoof Documentary Films

Over the course of my nine years as an editor and writer, I’ve interviewed some pretty noteworthy people, from Michelin-starred restaurateurs to CEOs. While my time spent shopping with Olivia Palermo, touring industrial designer Karim Rashid’s trippy office and nosing around Today show contributor Jill Martin’s personal closet has made for entertaining cocktail party fodder, the subject who inspired me the most is someone whose name you may not even recognize. 

I was introduced to Lynn Dell Cohen by way of the eccentric window displays she created for her women’s clothing store, Off Broadway Boutique, in my residential Manhattan neighborhood. Although the theme and merchandise would change, other elements remained consistent: the mannequins draped in color-coordinated caftans and headgear that could’ve been borrowed from the costume department of Auntie Mame; the life-size ceramic animal statues draped with costume jewelry so large, it proportionally made sense on a porcelain cheetah; and the ability of it all to make me smile every time I passed by. 

The eye-catching visual merchandising reflected Cohen’s bold, cheerful personality, as I’d come to learn firsthand when I requested she visit the offices of Time Out New York for a photo shoot five years ago. At the time, I was an editor for the magazine’s Shopping & Style section, where I profiled the city’s most stylish denizens on a weekly basis. Cohen was recently featured on the senior citizen–focused style blog Advanced Style which, back in 2010, was beginning to gain popularity. I was delighted to learn that the septuagenarian woman, who unabashedly proclaimed herself the “Countess of Glamour,” was the same one behind the quirky shop that charmed me on my commute. I had to meet her.

What was readily apparent, however, was Cohen's warmth, positivity and genuine kindness towards everyone she encountered

I would love to say we formed an immediate, long-lasting bond the day she arrived to our photo studio, with an infectious joie de vivre and enough outfit changes to fill a suitcase, but her impact on me wasn’t so obvious. Cohen's impact on me wouldn’t reveal itself until half a decade later. What was readily apparent, however, was Cohen's warmth, positivity and genuine kindness towards everyone she encountered on set. She may have dressed over the top — but a diva she was not. 

What struck me most about Cohen was her gratitude. She thanked us all for the experience as if it were the achievement of a lifetime. After her story came out, I received a handwritten note expressing her appreciation. Even her signature motto, “we must dress for the theater of our lives,” demonstrated that she didn’t take a single day for granted; she treated each one as a special occasion worth dressing up for.

I never saw Cohen in person again, but I also never forgot her. Watching last year’s Advanced Style documentary was all the more enjoyable because of her starring role, and I developed a new fondness for those wacky store windows. They recently made me stop in my tracks once again, but this time it was for a different reason. In lieu of those perpetually voguing mannequins was a poster board collage memorializing the boutique’s owner. At 82 years old, the Countess of Glamour had died. 

I was rushing to the subway, but then I stood there frozen on the sidewalk for quite some time. The news affected me more than I would have anticipated for someone I encountered so briefly, but it made me realize how Cohen managed to touch my life, in a small but meaningful way. You see, I always imagined that leaving a legacy was something reserved for those who landed themselves on “30 Under 30” lists or who invented things that change the world. Cohen taught me that a legacy is far easier to achieve: hers is that she was a kind person who made others feel great.

The other day, I strolled past Off Broadway Boutique and something in the window made me smile: a framed copy of the story I wrote about Cohen proudly displayed in the corner. Perhaps I made a small impact on her life, too.