“Good taste is overrated. I hate good taste; I would never wear a string of pearls. Put me in a string of pearls and a beige suit, and the next thing I’ll be in my coffin.”
Kreitzman—a native New Yorker who lives most of the year in London—talked to Senior Planet by phone from her colorful apartment in NYC’s Washington Heights neighborhood about personal style as art, and art as life.
Style is a very powerful form of self-expression that you’ve mastered. How would you describe your personal style?
It’s not about fashion, as you very wisely put it, it’s about style. Everybody needs to find their own style. I don’t dress for fashion. I dress for color and I dress for art, and that pretty much sums it up every single day of my life unless I’m working in the studio, and then I wear paint-stained rags.
You favor a palette of really bright colors and patterns.
My motto is, don’t wear beige, it might kill you. I mean that literally, because the way some people are afraid of spiders or heights, I’m afraid of beige. It actually makes me feel ill and frightened and genuinely old. Most of the time I don’t feel old, but surrounded by beige, if God forbid I had to wear beige or if I’m in a beige room.… I’ve been that way all my life, as far back as I can remember. Color has been my philosophy all my life.
You talk about your art. Are you most interested in pattern or texture, or ethnic traditions?
It’s all of those things. It’s color, it’s pattern, it’s the art of my friends and it’s my art. I make very strange neckpieces. It takes dedication to wear them; they’re very personal. I call them neck shrines, because it is like wearing a shrine around your neck. So I always wear one of those, and I wrap myself in kimonos—a very classic kimono style. I mix up the colors and the patterns, and on the back of many of the kimonos will be reproduced one of my paintings, or a painting of somebody I know and love. It’s always about the personal, it’s always about the people I mentor, I support, I care about. So I am literally wrapped in art every single day of my life.
A few years ago at the New Museum in New York City—one of my favorite museums—they had an exhibition of Chris Offili, who’s a black Anglo-African artist and is very famous for his paintings of the Black Madonna and black women. He’s the one who famously uses elephant dung in his paintings. His work is absolutely stunning, and in the New Museum shop they had tea towels with Chris Offili images on them. I got a tea towel and I put it on the back of one of my kimonos. Nobody knows it’s a tea towel—it’s a beautiful piece of work. So, whatever I can grab and use, I do. It’s a very exhilarating way to live.
I like clashing patterns of really bright colors. I did a pop music video called “Color Me Crazy” with a young friend of mine in the U.K. She wrote the music, if you could go so far as to call it music, I wrote the lyrics, and it was filmed in my London flat.
Especially as older women, it’s tricky for some of us to dress expressively, because we don’t know what it means to dress to please ourselves, or we feel we must conform to some idea of how we should dress—for instance, many older women are afraid to dress “young for their age.”
If you’re over 50 this is what you can wear, if you’re over 60, if you’re over 70. How many ways can I spell bullshit? “Dress too young?” I don’t get it. If you’ve got nice legs, wear short skirts. I trust my body shape; I don’t wear short skirts. But you can be 95 and have nice legs, and I give you permission to wear short skirts. Why is that “young”? I’m so not interested in hearing about what you should wear and what you should do and what you can say. Nonsense. Absolute nonsense.
You dress the way you want. And my advice is always dress for the weather, dress for your body shape no matter what your age, and then do whatever the hell you please. For God’s sake, look within yourself. I don’t care what other people think. I care about my friends who love me for the way I am. I dress for what I want.
I was a schoolteacher for years and I couldn’t dress the way I dress now, but I did dress in colors and ethnic patterns. You might have a job that requires a certain dress code, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear color or you can’t wear pieces of interesting jewelry, or you can’t festoon yourself with colored scarves. There’s always a way to subvert what you’re supposed to do. And that’s always been my feeling—subvert it; do what you want to do.
What would you say to people who maybe would like to experiment with a more personal style but don’t really know what it is. What do I wear that gives me a feeling of confidence or what do I wear that’s a color that makes me feel different or happy?
It’s an interesting question, because some people like dressing in conventional clothes. I’m certainly not going to try to change their mind. Everybody has the right to do what they want to do. But if you want to wear beige, don’t come close to me because you might you might kill me.
I’ll remember that!
But even if you like to be really tailored in a conventional way, it’s very easy to add some color. If you’re wearing a neutral skirt or jacket, go ahead and add a shirt or a blouse with some pow: turquoise, orange, scarlet, fuchsia! Oh my God, it gets my heart racing when I think about these colors. Or add a gorgeous piece of jewelry. I’m not talking Tiffany’s here; I’m talking costume jewelry and ethnic jewelry—and a scarf. You might find that once you start adding color, it becomes addictive.
I have a group of friends—we are the color tribe. We inspire each other. We have color walks once a month.
We’re all dressed up, the way we always dress, and we usually parade around flea markets because we believe in supporting local and individual traders or thrift shops—we don’t shop in department stores. We meet as a group, we have lunch, we buy things for our work, for our outfits and we stop traffic. It’s paparazzi moments all the way.
It seems that you’re somebody who’s extremely comfortable putting yourself out there with your unusual sense of style. What would you say to people who maybe aren’t as accustomed to putting themselves out there?
Don’t be afraid. Just be happy to be your own person. And those people who think you’re crazy—don’t pay attention to them. It’s their loss.
I always say, I’m not really an old lady, I’m just cleverly disguised as one. So when people decide to ignore women of a certain age—and our government now is full of that kind of person and the world is full of that kind of person—I don’t pay attention to them. Don’t pay attention to the people who don’t pay attention to you. They’re not worth your attention. They’re not worth your angst and your aggravation. Just go out and do your thing, honey; you’d be surprised how many people think you’re marvelous, are inspired by you, who want to be you when grow up. This is what it’s all about.
You had a career as a food writer before you became an artist. When did you start over?
I was a musician when I was young. I went to school on an oboe scholarship, and then I was a schoolteacher for many years in the inner city, and then I fell into the food business. I was in the food business for many, many years. I wrote 27 cookbooks, cooked all over the world teaching my peculiar way of cooking, I cooked on television a lot—it was great, but in my late 60s I very unexpectedly became an artist. I fell into art, and that has been my life ever since.
It’s been a fascinating life, but truly the one thing that has run through it all is color and doing what I want—even my cooking was very colorful and unconventional. I feel proud of all the things I’ve done in my life. In many cases I have made a difference, even at 77—and thank God I’m still going strong.
And you know, it’s good for your mental health to be festooned with color, to have colorful friends. It’s so depressing here. It’s not very happy in England, either. The world is going to hell, and if we don’t do for others and have a bubble of happiness, of color and pattern, of supporting people, what good is life if you don’t do these things?