irene bilo 54
costumer, new york city
There’s New York in the late 70s, and then there’s Ageist favorite Irene Bilo’s New York in the late 70s. Nights at Studio 54, days spent hanging out with Andy Warhol, Halston and Grace Jones.
The Montreal native actually moved to the metropolis to study theater, but when she was hand-picked to assist the artist, Richard Bernstein, her path took an infinitely more colorful turn. Bernstein was the cover artist for Warhol’s Interview magazine, which meant a front row seat at one of contemporary art’s defining eras.
“I don’t have many regrets,” she says. “And I did some crazy things.”
Her path led her to Italy, where she lived for 17 years and picked up her fourth language (after Ukrainian, Russian and English). When she returned to the States, splitting time between LA and New York to work as a costume designer and stylist on commercials and TV series, she noticed a big difference.
“People don’t really mix in America as much as they do in Europe,” she says. “In Europe, you go to a club and it’s all ages. I think Europeans are just comfortable with aging gracefully, whereas here it’s looked down upon.”
The emphasis in America is on the physical, with often disastrous results in the styling department. “At my age, I don’t want to run around in a crop top, showing my belly, even if I’m in perfect shape,” she says. “I feel like I’d like a bit more decorum.”
She winces when she remembers a conversation she overheard where a bunch of 20-somethings she worked with savaged Madonna’s style after a show. “You’re 57 years old, and I think competing with 20-somethings on that level isn’t the greatest thing,” she says.
So … dress and act your age? That doesn’t ring true either. When she looks in the mirror, she doesn’t always recognize the person staring back.
“I don’t feel so different. I make better choices. I’m not as impetuous. I have a spiritual life, which is a big deal and which I didn’t have when I was younger,” she says. “I meditate. I take care of myself more. When I was young, I thought I could live forever and abuse my body every which way and I don’t do that anymore.”
She does still slum it with the younger crowd, though. And revels in it.
“Every age is important and it’s important to keep an open mind,” she says. “Everyone has an impact. Because there’s wisdom in age, and there’s wisdom in youth.”