A walking billboard for her singular sense of creativity, Beatrix Ost is a transcendental artistic talent.
The 77-year-old visual artist, designer, fashion muse, screenwriter, filmmaker, and producer also possesses one of those rich century-spanning biographies that seem rare nowadays: a childhood spent exploring her creative identity in barren, postwar Germany; formative years in the Studio 54/Andy Warhol epoch of New York City; and an artistic career in the United States that has included major art shows and cemented her reputation as a style icon to the fashion industry.
But there’s no sense that Ost considers this nearly enough. Aging only presents for her an opportunity to evolve further, to get inspired by those younger than her and keep pushing boundaries creatively. But it also presents a lot of uncertainty.
“I’m standing with all that knowledge of quite an interesting and long life,” she says, her German accent still very much present. “But I’m suddenly by myself. And it’s glorious to be myself, but it’s also scary. So I feel like teenager in some way, which is interesting. I’m not so secure marching into that thing that one calls old age. It’s an experiment isn’t it?”
For a woman whose entire life has been guided by a sense of improvisation, experimentation isn’t as frightening as it maybe is for the rest of us. Take her location: Why would a fashion and art maven spend part of her time residing near Charlottesville, Virginia?
There isn’t much documentation about getting older. And [when there is] often it’s about sorrow and losses only. But it isn’t. It’s about gains as well.
Because one day, while swinging a pendulum over a map of the East Coast, she landed on a specific geographic location that she decided to visit. It was there she found a stately, crumbling antebellum mansion (is there any other kind, really?) that she decided to buy and renovate into a sort of re-creation of her childhood (check it out).
She’s documented her early life growing up in postwar Germany and the jazz and art salons of Munich in the wonderfully poetic More Than Everything: My Voyage With the Gods of Love, which was released earlier this year. And in her writing, she also hoped to push out another message.
“There isn’t much documentation about getting older,” she says. “And [when there is] often it’s about sorrow and losses only. But it isn’t. It’s about gains as well.”
Ost feels “available in every direction.” She likens her experience to a beautiful dress, of which she can snip away parts and give it away as lessons and knowledge. And she has no problem feeling relevant — mainly because it’s something that she thinks people are too quick to give up.
“People make themselves not relevant by thinking, ‘I don’t matter’ or ‘What I say nobody wants to see,’ ” she says. “I have teenage grandchildren. Of course they don’t want to hear a word of what I say, but I know that I’m enormously relevant to them.”
It’s part of the reason she doesn’t feel awkward around people younger than her. She spends a lot of time with the friends of her children, who are all in their 30s and 40s. When she meets their parents, she is often at a loss when it comes to conversation.
“They seem very old to me. Many people are into their physical ailments … they talk about how hindered they are,” she says. “I’m not interested in that. It is what it is. You can have an ailment with your legs when you’re 25 — I’m not interested in that. I want to know something about your spirit or what you’re thinking of this or that.”
Being celebrated by contemporary fashion designers including the Olsen twins as well as having her trademark look — turban covering blue or purple hair and ever-present red lipstick — appear in fashion bibles such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue has given Ost that confidence of self. But it’s her daily approach I find makes her most relatable to the rest of us, and gives us lessons to draw upon.
“I’m on a path. And I’m seeing every day as a novelty,” she says. “Just being present, getting out of sleep into the new day…just that alone is so wonderful and I see it as a gift.”