For those that think getting old is something to fear – in other words, everyone in this day and age – press play on this video and you may be inspired to embrace what we can do nothing about. Ilona is a happy-go-lucky, profound, gorgeous ninety-one year old with two-inch red eyelashes that she makes herself and a wealth of warmth and insight that she is bursting to share. Illona boasts a good relationship with her body and hair, sees things more crystal clear than she ever has before and is finally able to appreciate what she has accomplished. When it comes to subject matter in movies and books that may get her down, Ilona confesses that age has given her the license to not participate. “I have to be up because it’s difficult enough to deal with the fact that you only have a matter of time and you learn to expect that and make the most out of life.” Instead, she paints, dances and sings her way through life, including a stint of theatrical nudity.
Mixing colors is Ilona’s forte and one of her many joies de vivre, both with clothes and painting. She throws on a royal blue scarf with a celadon green print dress and orange shoes effortlessly. “I love to combine colors because they compliment each other. It’s like a friendship between two people… so I put on these colors and I feel, ‘Here I am.’” Ilona is a highly accomplished painter who has done Bobby Short’s album cover for ‘Nobody Else But Me’ and portraits of Ayn Rand – she remembers admiring how the author always asked why – and Tennessee Williams, who she once shared an almost same day birthday. He made her hamburgers for the celebration. I had the privlege to be a quick study when Illona drew my eye while explaining my personality to the tee and the image looks as if it is going to blink.
Ilona feels that with dressing, you can become the person you want to become “when you dress up accordingly.” She shops in her own closet, using scarves to dress up or dress down: “I can be Victorian and I can be modern.” And she reworks tribal vests, wearing two at a time to enhance their richness. The subtleties of style do not elude her. She remembers once “feeling like a mouse” in a dress until she turned it around and made the pattern asymmetrical and her bold piles of silver jewelry expresses her freedom and self confidence within. When she had a TV show called Ilona’s Palette, the viewers were as much into her fine art skills as her DIY caftans.
A love for life is something that Ilona has grown into. She was born in Poland and raised as a young child in Nazi Germany, during which she developed a nervous shake – she feared the doorbell would ring and someone would come in and kill her family for no reason – that has lasted a lifetime. When her family came to the US in ’38, Ilona was a teenager and recalls not knowing how to laugh. “I came here and looked at people, and they laughed at lunchtime and I said ‘How can they laugh? What is there to laugh about?’ It was that bad. It’s hard to believe now that I am so up, but that is really true.”