Isa Austen is a florist, a model and a painter, and the epitome of cool. She’s sexy and intriguing, a woman who does her own thing and has her own style. As Isa wrote on Instagram, some days she’s “feeling raw, vampy, artistic, exquisite, psychic. These feelings are a gift.”
Last week, Isa and I talked about aging and being comfortable in our skin.
BRENDA: I have to confess, you’re my new girl crush.
ISA: Oh, Brenda!
BRENDA: I’m serious. I think you’re fabulous, and I have to stop myself from making a comment on everything you post on Instagram.
ISA: That means a lot to me. It really does. I’ve kind of owned myself in the last 10 years. I’m 75, and there’s no questioning anymore. I feel like all that I’ve been looking for “out there” has circled around and landed at my own private airport, if you know what I mean.
BRENDA: I do.
ISA: And I’m flying the planes now, but it took me a long time, and life short. It’s tiny. Here for seconds.
BRENDA: On Instagram you’ve posted several black and white photos when you were in your 20s and described yourself in the 60s and 70s as “In full bloom. My gypsy, youthful bohemian years.” Tell me about that time in your life.
ISA: I’m from Montclair, New Jersey. It was wonderful because New York was like our front yard. It only took us 30 minutes to go through the Lincoln tunnel, and we were in the city. In high school, I used to race into NY with my boyfriends and have drinks and come back home. I loved the city. After high school I was looking at colleges, and I love fashion and went to Laboratory of Merchandising on 53rd and Fifth Ave. It was a two-year program, kind of like FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). I would always cut classes and go across the street and hang out at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). I thought I’m supposed to go to college and get a degree, but I didn’t really accept that I was an artist and wanted to paint. I shoved it under the rug. Now I wish I’d gone to Parsons or the New School.
I used to see Andy Warhol in the Village, flying around with his friends. I think that was when he was hanging out with Basquiat. I stayed at the Barbizon and had a mad crush on this guy and then moved down to Stuyvesant Square and lived with him for four years.
BRENDA: Makes me think of my friend, Dovanna Pagowski. She was a model at that time and went to the clubs and saw Warhol and the gang all the time. Did you dress Bohemian in the 60s and 70s?
ISA: No, because I had to go home, and my mother always looked me up and down to see if I could go back out of the house again. She was very critical. I used to have my dresses made by a tailor in the Jackie Kennedy style. Do you remember the gaberdine dresses with the six buttons on the breast?
BRENDA: Yes! My mother was a buyer in couture, so I grew up hearing about gaberdine and selvages. Mother dressed like Jackie.
ISA: Well underneath all of that I would wear white, polka dot, bell bottom pants, platform shoes and tons of beads, but I always loved black. I still love black, but I’ve narrowed it down. I just bought a vintage black dress and put a cross on. A rosary. I’m not religious, but I love that look and maybe a pair of black, Doc Martin heavy sandals, and for bracelets I actually wear thick rubber bands I got on Amazon. I love that clean, architectural look. I don’t have to have many clothes now, and half of them I don’t wear. If I can get that refined look, I’m happy.
BRENDA: You appear to be toned and fit with no body fat. Do you work out?
ISA: I just have that body type. I’m very thin. I’ve always had really good arms. I do yoga every morning with little three-pound weights. There’s a big Seattle fashion show coming up in September, and it’s at the flight museum, and the runway is going to be under the airplanes. I went to a casting call, and I was the oldest one. Most of the models were in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Some little kids. I walked in and one of the judges from Project Runway said, “Oh my God. You’re so fit.” I hope I get it.
BRENDA: I can’t see why you wouldn’t. Do they know about your Instagram account?
ISA: Yes, they requested that, but I don’t know what they’re looking for. You know the business. Two years ago I was scouted to do Balenciaga (runway show) in Paris, but I didn’t get it. I was so disappointed. This woman from Paris saw me on Instagram and asked if I’d be interested so I had to give her my sizes and do a walk… Then two weeks ago, I got a request from Grey Models in London. I signed with them years ago. They asked if I’d be interested in going to NY to do an editorial for Vogue magazine, but they don’t pay anything. I can’t afford to do that.
BRENDA: I know. A cosmetic company approached me. They wanted me to send them a video and tell them about myself. Then they invited me to a casting call, and I timed an upcoming NY trip to coincide with it. The casting director said, “You’re my favorite! You photograph beautifully, and I love your energy. I can’t wait to tell ‘so and so’ about you.” Later they called and said I got the job, and I needed to come back in a few weeks, which like an idiot, I did, because I didn’t ask how much they paid. It turned out to be $795. They used the same tube of purple makeup on my eyes, lips and cheeks. No eyeliner, mascara or eyebrow pencil. I looked like an androgynous homeless person who’d been in a fistfight. I told them, “If I’d known this was the kind of look you were going for, I would have said no.” They started photographing me, but at that point I said, “This isn’t me,” and I left.
ISA: It’s pretty ruthless, and you have to be careful. If I’m going to do something, I want to be paid for it. I’m turning it around and saying, at least they’re still knocking on my door, which is wonderful.
BRENDA: You’re very unique. You posted a photo where you said, “Feeling flat out comfortable and totally relaxed in your own style takes many years. I feel quite natural now. I feel quite at ease with expressing what comes naturally. This feeling is beautiful.” Tell me about this woman and how she evolved. Have you gone through different styles?
ISA: Not really. I’ve had my style for a long time, and I’m not afraid of aging. I don’t really think about it. Sure there’s little quirks and aches and pains. I hear from so many women about “getting so old.” Stop paying so much attention to yourself and do something you love, and you’ll feel younger! I don’t like the word “aging.” In the floral department, I use to collect the old flowers that were dying. They were so beautiful, and that’s how I relate to myself. Not that I’m beautiful, but there’s this aging, antique, vintage look to some of the fabulous petals I’m so drawn to.
BRENDA: They have a patina! Patina is one of my favorite words.
ISA: Yes! Well you and I are patina-ing well.
BRENDA: I’m not doing Botox or anything. There was a time in my life when I thought I would find “the” plastic surgeon and have work done early, but now I can’t imagine doing that.
ISA: I’ve gotten outside of myself. I love architecture. I love to travel. I love painting. I think that makes you becomes more beautiful when you’re passionate about something. Do you agree?
BRENDA: I do, and I get emails from women who’d like to do that as well, but they don’t know how.
ISA: But they can!
BRENDA: I think some don’t want to be noticed, or they don’t know how to find their style. How would you suggest they take that first step outside of their comfort zone? Perhaps they might dress up at home and get comfortable with a new look in front of their mirror.
ISA: Maybe we’re not all meant to do that. I like who I am right now. I’ve always wanted to live in Europe. I love European women. They’re so far ahead of us. Their attitudes and the way European men look at women. It’s just a whole different world.
BRENDA: I know. A few years ago I was in Florence and shot photographs of women over 60. It’s one of my most popular blogs and continues to get hits every week. The women are so elegant. Their style looks effortless, and you can tell they’re comfortable with themselves. They own who they are while so many American women are chasing youth.
Let’s talk about your art. It’s stylish as well. Very you. How did you get started painting?
ISA: I’m self-taught. My whole family are artists. My grandmother was amazing… She painted with oils. My sister is an amazing watercolorist. My mother… showed at a gallery in Maine and did a lot of watercolors. My nephew is a screenwriter. I’m related to Jane Austen, the writer. It’s this whole DNA thing that carries through who we are. I really believe that. I’m having a show of my art here in Seattle this fall.
BRENDA: I like that you work in so many different types of media. Regular housepaint and brushes from the hardware store to acrylics and oils. Copy machine paper.
ISA: I’m painting on canvas now, but I love plain paper. It’s hard to keep them from wrinkling.
BRENDA: Tell me about “Delphine.” I love this piece. (FYI, I purchased this piece for my office.)
ISA: That’s on a beautiful indigo blue rice paper, a thick paper. It’s collage and acrylic paint. I love her too. She’s a really cool piece.
BRENDA: What does your social life look like?
ISA: I’m kind of attracted to this man I met online, but he lives in another country. I kayak with my girlfriends. I’m trying not to be too social because I have a lot of work to do for my gallery show.
BRENDA: All the men I’m interested in are either married or dead, plus I’m content living alone.
ISA: I don’t know whether I could live with anyone either, Brenda. It’s been too long. I would love to have someone in my life, but not full-time. You can manifest these things, so I haven’t closed the door on it.
BRENDA: I know you can manifest things, but I haven’t been working on it.
ISA: I’m glad you’re a busy girl.
BRENDA: And you as well. I know so many people who say they can’t wait to retire, but they haven’t thought about what they’re going to do next, and they’re just growing old.
ISA: I think they should take that word out of the English language.
BRENDA: I like that.
ISA: Burn it!
Bravo Brenda! Isa is a find. Great perspective on that word, aging. Let’s try being. And retirement? Don’t get me started! My new list is going to say ‘Burn This.’ Burn, baby, burn! Xx
I knew you’d love her, Deb. We’re the club that will never “stop doing things that feed our soul.” How about that instead of “retire?” xoxox, Brenda
I love this!! She is Beautiful!!! Great story!!!
I just added you to our “Never stop doing things that feed our soul” club! No retired women here! xoxox, Brenda
I love your writing style! I was referred to your blog by another blogger, (can’t remember who), and I’m so glad I’m here! This article was interesting, but I read your article on, “photographs of women over 60” and it is wonderful. I look forward to your blog post every week!
Thank you, Carolyn! I’m thrilled you found me, and I, you! I look forward to getting to know more about you! Did you read about the trip I’m leading next year? https://1010parkplace.com/join-me-a-trip-for-women-over-50/ It might be something that interests you! Brenda
I love this interview. ISA (and yourself of course) are such an inspiration. You have made me want to rediscover my own fashion sense that has got lost during the years of child care
That’s wonderful, Janine! Thanks for telling me. I think we lose several parts of ourselves as the years go by, and we reach the point where we need to rediscover more than our fashion sense. It’s time to write the next chapter, and we’re free to makeup new rules. Go for it!! xoxox, Brenda
It’s so inspiring to hear about real women living their lives. I love this interview with Isa and her style is amazing. Thank you Brenda! Arlo
Thanks for reading and leaving me a comment, Arlo! I’m glad this piece with Isa is striking a chord. Have a great weekend! Brenda
Great post/interview! I admire how comfortable she is in her skin at this stage of life. Such an interesting person.
I admire so much about Isa. That’s why I wanted to share her with you. The term “comfortable in her skin” always makes me think of my mother, a woman who was more uncomfortable with herself than anyone I’ve ever known. Sad. We should all strive to be the woman we want to be and wear her well. Thank you, Jeannette! xoxox, Brenda
Isa’s the real deal. Your interviews are so fun to read because it’s like you’ve known them for a long time and I don’t think you have. Please show us the piece of art you bought when it’s hanging in your office. We’ve never seen your office!! Xo Barb
Hi Barb! So glad you enjoyed reading about Isa, and yes, I’d use that term to describe her. The real deal. I haven’t shared my office because it’s not where I want it to be. It’s probably the only room in my house that still needs work, but that will trigger the domino effect: I’ll then want to redo the stairs, the carpeting on the stairs that leads to the guest room and a third of the house will need to be repainted. Yikes! I’m taking it one step at a time, and I’ve dipped my toe in the water with Isa’s beautiful artwork. xoxox, Brenda
Love your girl crush. Now I have a girl crush on Isa too! Another great post. Can’t wait to see the art in your office too.
Hi Kim, Isn’t she wonderful? Isa’s art is going to force my hand to repaint my office. That’s not the problem! It’s what comes next. I have my eye on a new desk and there’s a staircase in my office that will lead to more work and more $$$. Just thinking about it for now. Adding up the numbers. xoxox, Brenda
Isa is fascinating and looks stunning. She is a perfect role model to emulate. What’s problematic for me is at 75 years people always remind me I’m old. Hurray for Isa!
Colleen, May I suggest you pay no attention to those people? They’re not in your head and your body. They’re not you, and you’re free to do as you please. Seize the moment and make life what you want it to be. By now, I know you’re familiar with my mantras: Make Life Count and What Are You Waiting For? Love you, sweet lady! Brenda
Hi Brenda, fantastic interview! I’m not sure how many males follow you, but this one does. Isa is a real find, spectacular! I found you through NextDoor; someone asking about the House on the Hill, and I taste, masticate and digest each of your columns like dessert midday. This interview gives me hope of finding a fascinating partner, some day. It’s not ‘aging’, it’s ‘living’.
Thank you for sharing.
Hi Mark, I have a lot of male followers. Now I know how you found me. Thanks for the comments!
Both of you are so inspiring! Might give me the push to go back to my insta account. I’ve taken a couple of years off to dive into improv theater and voiceover, and just paying attention to what I’m wearing from the waist up for zoom. No retirement, just ongoing personal and spiritual development. And it’s inspiring to read a man drawn to women like this. I’m with you both – living in my own space, but some good company on my terms.
Hi Sheila! Love seeing you here and catching up on what you’ve been doing. Sounds fun and creative so brava!!! I like Instagram but it’s requires so much time! Thanks again for stopping by and filling me in. xoxox, Brenda
i love isa and you…so seeing you together in this post was a highlight of the day (although it’s now 10pm:) i’ve been following isa since i joined instagram…i think it’s absolutely possible that we passed each other in the night in the 70’s in new york. what a time! i thought i was retiring just before covid – but found a new path and am happy and busy. just love your blog!
Bonnie, You’ve found a new path and you’re happy and busy! How enviable!!! Too bad everyone can’t say that! I’m thrilled and grateful you like my blog sweet lady! Until next time, Brenda
Thank you for introducing Isa to us. I will follow her straight away. Love your posts….
Hello Wondeeful Lady! I hope life is good. Love seeing you here! Yes, Isa would appreciate an IF follow. xoxox, Brenda
Hello, again! Wow, how time flies-which, of course, we know at our age. It’s been over a month since I left a comment on your blog and I was so pleasantly surprised that you responded. Isa is certainly an interesting person and your recent girls trip proposal sounds so fun. Venice is one of my favorite places–so unique. My husband and I are planning our next overseas trip which will be to Portugal and Spain. Our two grown sons may come along which will be so special. Thank you for your reply to my comment. I see that you’ve followed the Stones the way I followed Leon. My girlfriend and I always had front row seats at seated concerts. Remember general admission concerts? At those, I was always able to end up at the very front. About 10 or so years ago Leon was headlining the New West Fest in Fort Collins, Colorado. This was an outdoor event downtown and my adult son agreed to go with me. The street was already packed when we arrived but I just told him, “hang on to me and watch this.” He was pretty impressed when we ended up at the very front. My failproof method: Move so slowly that no one even knows you’re moving and don’t make eye contact. I know we could trade concert stories for hours–Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the list is endless- but this is already long!
Regards, Kathy Howell
Great to see you again, Kathy! Rock and roll “girls” are very impressionable. At least I was: 15 when I first saw the Rolling Stones. It was only their second US Performance, and I was front row center. “Our” long history makes them seem like friends, although they don’t know this, and I refer to them as Mick and Keith, not Mick Jagger or Keith Richards and like a true fan girl, an entire wall in my living room has an almost life-size black and white photograph of Keith in the middle. As I was putting my house together, I referred to it as “Keith’s wall.” I’m sure many would say I’m too old to be a fan, but I could care less. I’m not one of those crazy, diehard fans, but the Stones and their music has played an ongoing role during most of my life. Your technique of moving ever so slowly through the crowd with no eye contact is brilliant. I hope I’m able to try it out in the future. Loved your comment! Please drop by again. xoxox, Brenda
Isa is fabulous! So interesting. I hope to be just as confident and free as she is when I’m her age (not that far off either!).
Thanks for this very fun and inspiring interview.
Hi Heidi, I think we can all take a much needed lesson from Isa in being confident in who we are. Really happy you enjoyed it and got something out of it. Be well. xoxox, Brenda
WELL……….BINGO ON THIS GAL!!
WHAT A WONDERFUL STORY AND INTERVIEW!!!
SHE IS GORGEOUS……..OFF TO FOLLOW HER ON INSTA!!
I knew you’d appreciate her, Elizabeth! Isa and I are looking forward to meeting one another. Perhaps we can come to your house for lunch and a pavlova? We’d have a fabulous time, wouldn’t we? xoxox, Brenda