STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In Berlin, street fashion's most trendy figure is an octogenarian named Ali. The dapper 85-year-old's colorful attire is the focus of a blog called What Ali Wore. That blog went viral last year. And its creator, a 31-year-old waitress, won Germany's biggest design prize for it. But now that the online fame has faded, the blog is more about a friendship than about fashion. Esme Nicholson has the story from Berlin.
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ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Ali Akdeniz and Zoe Spawton are outside the cafe where they first met in 2012. Ali strikes a pose, one hand on hip, the other holding out his prayer beads.
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ALI AKDENIZ: (Speaking German).
NICHOLSON: Zoe, who's taking his picture, used to waitress here. She'd see Ali walk by every morning on his way to work as she was setting up tables and chairs out front. He caught her eye because of his put-together, plucky apparel. And despite their age difference, they were soon on first name terms. Today, Ali has turned out in an immaculately tailored beige suit, pork-pie hat and sheepskin coat.
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AKDENIZ: (Speaking German).
ZOE SPAWTON: (Speaking German).
NICHOLSON: We head into the warmth of the cafe. The 85-year-old snappy dresser came to Berlin 45 years ago from his native Turkey. He says he's always made an effort with his wardrobe.
AKDENIZ: (Through interpreter) I've always loved fashion, particularly my own fashion. But at my age, you have to go that extra mile to look good. I'm an upright citizen. I had a respectable career. So that is how I dress.
NICHOLSON: Zoe, who arrived from Melbourne, Australia three years ago, was so taken by his du jour ensembles, she asked to take a photo. It became a daily ritual, and the pictures form the blog, What Ali Wore.
SPAWTON: His staple is a classic suit. But when I say staple, he's got suits in every color - electric blue, red, pale pink, green, everything. But then, he also has these outfits which are quite unexpected. But he wears them with such style and panache. So for example, the full army camouflage, which is army pants, army shirt, army jacket, army hat.
NICHOLSON: Ali says he was happy to oblige.
AKDENIZ: (Through interpreter). I knew when Zoe greeted me for the first time that she was a good one. But then, I tip generously for my coffee, right boss?
NICHOLSON: The twinkle in Ali's eye has produced fifteen sons, three daughters and he thinks eighty grandchildren, although he says he's never counted. But none of them are in Berlin, and Ali lives alone. So Zoe has fast become part of his informal family.
SPAWTON: It's not like any friendship I've had before because there is a language barrier with this. Our conversations are pretty simple.
NICHOLSON: Ali and Zoe communicate in broken but ever-improving German.
SPAWTON: In a way, that's what kind of makes it exciting, when I find out these little snippets about him.
NICHOLSON: Zoe only recently found out that Ali had once been a circus performer.
SPAWTON: Of course he was in the circus. I think he was a - like a clown, comedic. Yeah, yeah (laughter).
NICHOLSON: Ali is a jack of all trades. He just retired last month as a tailor. Before that, he says he was a shoemaker, a hairdresser and even a doctor. Self reinvention is part of the immigrant experience Ali and Zoe both share.
SPAWTON: It is quite interesting because we both represent two quite distinct waves of immigrants to Berlin. So I guess, yeah, maybe that is sort of an unspoken understanding that we have, yeah.
SPAWTON: (Speaking German).
NICHOLSON: In this city, punks perfect their mohawks and hipsters curate their look. But the average Berliner wouldn't bat an eyelid. It took an outsider's eye to spot Ali's unorthodox street style.
NICHOLSON: For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.
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