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87-Year-Old 'Queen of Williamsburg' Tells Young Women How to Dress

By Meredith Hoffman | July 16, 2012 7:02am | Updated on July 20, 2012 3:00pm

WILLIAMSBURG — In her white Dior sunglasses, thick silver beads, and matching red lipstick and floor-length frock, Leonora Russo eyed the arm of her new style apprentice.

"Don't get more tattoos," the 87-year-old fashionista instructed Cadence Clarke, 29, whose bare shoulder was dotted with ink flowers. "I don't like tattoos or nose piercings. Cannibals wear those kind of things, you should be civilized."

Russo — a neighborhood icon whose daily presence on Bedford Avenue's hip young strip has inspired a mini-documentary, blog posts and magazine articles — told Clarke within minutes of their meeting that today's summer trends have lost their class.

Leonora Russo chatted with Justin Silver, star of CBS reality show
Leonora Russo chatted with Justin Silver, star of CBS reality show "Dogs in the City," on a bench outside the restaurant Radish on Bedford Avenue.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

"When you're too exposed, it's not fashionable," said Russo, dubbed the "Queen of Williamsburg" for her 65 years living in the area. "What are you trying to prove, that you have a breast?"

But Clarke — who had just met Russo and offered to aid her with her walker down the block — was charmed by the woman's assertiveness, just as are the many who regularly encounter the longtime resident.

"She's cool. I like it when people grow old and keep their style," said Clarke, a Brooklyn visitor from London. "She's still rockin' it."

At the certain age, Clarke claimed, when "you can become invisible" — espcially in trendy locales like Bedford Avenue — Russo still maintained a dynamic presence.

"I can imagine she's good to party with," Clarke said.

Russo may have her criticisms of current apparel — like shorts that are "so exposed" — but she indeed remains young of heart, performing renditions of the classic tune "Sitting on Top of the World" for anyone who will stop to listen.

"If you don't like my peaches, why do you shake my tree?" she sang, touching her chest in a way she said other senior citizens might gasp at as too risqué.

"I love young kids better than I do the old," she said. "If I go like this" — she smirked, shimmying — "they might gossip."

For Russo, who said she lives alone following the death of her husband and son, her daily encounters on Bedford Avenue keep her stimulated both by the current state of the neighborhood and her connection to its past.

"This was a two-way street, with trolley cars...things were so much cheaper," she recalled, images seeming to reel behind her eyes.

And though she never wore short-shorts or tattoos, Russo recalled a daring, thrilling youth.

"When I was young I went to all the nightclubs and hotels...I owned a Cadillac El Dorado, powder blue and white," she reminisced.

"I went to Texas, to Mexico. I did everything when I was young."