Lynn Dell has been serving up fabulous at her Off Broadway boutique for 50 years. In Manhattan, that is quite a coup. An Upper West Side staple, the store is a haven for grown up dressing, filled with dramatic clothing and bold accessories that have garnered Dell a loyal following. She has also hosted a cable television show, produced fashion shows, appeared in Italian Vogue and in Ari Seth Cohen’s popular book “Advanced Style.”
She says that she dresses for the “theater of life.”
Today, Dell greets us in one of her signature monochromatic looks. She is a vision in white – from her striking hat to her over-the-knee boots – accented with dramatic gold earrings and bangles. Lynn Dell is Auntie Mame glorious, and we have decided that we want to be her when we grow up.
As we chat, Dell welcomes her customers. First comes legendary actress Cicely Tyson, a long-time client; next, a gentleman who dresses opera stars; and then a woman playing hooky from work. Off Broadway fans like to inhabit Dell’s glamorous yet cozy one-of-kind world.
It’s a world that also includes two sons (a third passed away), two grandchildren and Sandford Sheldon Cohen, Dell’s husband of over six decades, whom she says she “loves more now than I did 62 years ago.”
We talked to Dell about life, style and the benefits of good old soap and water.
How did your boutique get started?
I was married with three sons, and I said to myself: What else is there? There’s got to be more than this. I did not like staying home. I had been a model, I had been a buyer; I was always in the fashion business, my whole family was. I would walk down the street and people would say, “I love the way you look!” but I had to find something to do.
I went to a shrink. He said, “You love fashion, you love people, and you’re creative; a store would be a wonderful thing for you have.” I wanted to open one where Bendels was on 57th street. But my parents had a store in the Bronx, facing Taft High School, where I used to be a cheerleader a thousand years ago. My stepfather was retiring and my husband suggested I take over. I said, “Oh my God, I don’t want to go the Bronx!” I couldn’t wait to get out of there! But he figured after six months I’d be over it. I turned that little Bronx boutique into the most exciting store. That’s where I started.
How old are you – and how old do you feel?
I’m 80 years old; I’ll be 81 in January [Dell just turned 81]. How old do I feel? I’ve never felt any particular age. There is no age, I just feel life! Age is unimportant; it’s more about who you are.
What do you do for your health?
Absolutely nothing! I eat everything I want, I don’t do any special exercises or special diet, but I think I’m fit. I would like to be slimmer, but you know what? It doesn’t make any difference. I am very happy the way I am. I have never had my face done, and so I think it’s pretty good for 80. My routine is boring: soap and water to clean my face and Vaseline to moisturize; that’s it. Oh, and a little heavy makeup. Makeup makes you look like what you ain’t!
What have you learned about women over the years?
I’ve learned that many women are insecure, especially when they are buying clothes. They are doctors, they are lawyers, writers, and what do they say? “I’m too fat, I’m too this!” And then there’s the preoccupation of trying to be sexy. You are sexy in your mind, and if you are alive, and you have a personality, you are sexy.
What do you know now that you wish you had known at 30?
Everything. I wish I had had the confidence. Back then, I thought I was Ginger Rodgers and Lana Turner rolled into one, but people would not tell me how wonderful I looked. I was dying for the accolades, but there was an air of competition. Now that I’m 80, people compliment me all the time. For some reason, it is not intimidating to compliment an 80-year-old woman!
What does aging with attitude mean to you?
You must age with attitude; it’s all in the mind. You attitude is your altitude – there is no question. You have a life that you must lead. You must be alive; you must be involved, whether it’s a business, joining a club, or reading. Stay active, no matter what it is, and do something you love.