Iris Apfel is actually the one person who inspired me to embark upon the Extraordinary Women series. I got the idea after watching her unique documentary on Netflix.
While watching Iris, I realised that there were a lot of unique women out there that people have never heard about and I thought that that was a darn shame.
Iris for me was a breath of fresh air. She was an old woman who wasn’t an old woman.
She is old in age but as young as the next teenager at heart and this really moved me, because ageing is something a lot of us dread in this life. Iris is living proof that ageing doesn’t have to be a death sentence, that ageing can even be celebrated and quite exciting – a unique experience to actually look forward to.
Apfel thinks that dressing for your age is ‘Stupid.’ I mean who makes the rules anyways? We live only once right? We might as well give it our best shot.
Interior designer, Businesswoman, documentary film subject and all-around fashion legend Iris Apfel is ninety five years old and celebrated the launch of Iris Meets INC, her fashion collaboration with Macy’s-owned INC International Concepts just a few years ago!
She’s still kickin’ it!
At age 90 in 2012, Apfel was a visiting professor at University of Texas at Austin.
Apfel consults and lectures about style and other fashion topics. In 2013, she was listed as one of the fifty “Best-Dressed over 50” by The Guardian.
Apfel is the star of a documentary by Albert Maysles, called Iris. It premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 2014, and was subsequently acquired by Magnolia Pictures for US theatrical distribution in 2015.
Apfel was also featured in the documentary If You’re Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast, a television film which premiered in 2017.
Iris Apfel was awarded the Women Together Special Award of the Year at the 12th Annual Women Together Gala at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, June 7, 2016. Iris Apfel was accompanied by other awardees, such as Hollywood actress Rosario Dawson, the Punta Cana Foundation, Loewe Foundation and others. Iris Apfel was handed the award by Malu Edwards Hurley, who is a board of directors of Women Together and who was MC of the gala event, together with Carlos Jimenez, representative of Spain at the United Nations Headquarters in Brussels.
The forever young icon was pretty much the best advertisement for the ’60s-inspired collection that she curated — but don’t mistake her for a fashion person.
“I’m not a fashionista,” she says,”I have another life.” Although, that life is pretty steeped in that exact industry. Just to recap, along with Iris Meets INC, Apfel regularly stars in designer ad campaigns (Kate Spade and Alexis Bittar, to name a couple), has Rara Avis, a jewelry line on HSN and is always prepping for a New York Fashion Week or the other.
She’s full of surprises and delightful contradictions. After all, her likeness appears on quite possibly the best emojis but she never ventures onto Instagram and while she supports WiseWear’s line of luxury smart jewelry, she declares she’s “the most un-technological person in the world.”
She’s every bit the reluctant fashion icon but always frank about a burning topic when it comes to the industry: ageism and that oft-used expression, “dressing for your age.”
“I think that’s stupid,” Apfel says about the phrase. “I think [designers are] all entirely too youth-oriented. I think a lot of designers create very expensive clothes for women [in their] 60s and 70s — people who wear them — and they create them for 16- and 18-year-old bodies. The kids can’t afford to buy them and the women look like a horse’s ass if they put it on. So it’s all out of whack.”
She’d like to see designers and the industry change and to be more attentive to “that whole segment of society that is neglected.” But at the end of the day, women should just dress for themselves.
“I think if a woman has her own style and knows who she is, she doesn’t have to dress for being 60 or 20 or 90,” she says.
“I mean, there are just some certain things that older women shouldn’t do,” Apfel adds. “But otherwise, I don’t think there are any rules. Older women shouldn’t show excess flesh. They should wear sleeves. They shouldn’t wear mini skirts. They shouldn’t wear very high heels. They shouldn’t wear too much makeup. They shouldn’t have long, flowing hair. Things like that which are just common sense.”
“Well, it’s not my place to stop them,” Apfel says. “You’re asking me my opinion. If they want to show it off, be my guest. I want you to be happy. I always say it’s better to be happy than well dressed. Do your own thing. I don’t sit and judge anybody. I don’t like rules and regulations, but these are just some common sense things. I think it’s nice to look in a mirror once in awhile.”
Although her outward crankiness and droll humour might tell you otherwise, Apfel says her twilight career has been a lifeline. “It’s been a godsend, in all honesty, because when I retired my social life was cut to shreds.”
(“It is lovely to be fussed about like this in my dotage”), she doesn’t necessarily believe her success – or rather the way she has been embraced – has anything to do with age. Her appeal, she believes, is a glamour that’s missing in modern life. “I go by the phone calls and the letters I receive from my fans, which are all kinds of people: six-year-old girls, young women, guys. And not just the gay guys, although I am what the gay guys love. But lots of straight guys, too. It’s interesting with the guys, because they tell me that they see things in the way I dress that they don’t see in their wives and girlfriends.”
Like what? “Oh, fantasy,” she waves a hand. “Glamour, fantasy, humour, whimsy,” she says.
But Apfel also thinks a large proportion of her fanbase isn’t even concerned with fashion.
“I think some people like me because I’m different. I don’t think like everybody else. People are so tied up in the worst parts of technology these days. They live a life pressing buttons. They don’t use their imaginations.”
When Apfel was a kid she used to be quite fat, and some wonder if losing the weight might have made her more concerned with her appearance – because by 12 years old she had become interested in clothes and jewellery and took what she describes as “a fancy to New York City”.
Raised in Queens on a farm with her parents and grandparents, Apfel would take every Thursday afternoon off school to go to explore shops all over Manhattan. “At that time you could ride the whole subway system for a nickel, so each week I would take a different section of New York – Chinatown, Yorkville, Harlem, Greenwich Village. And I really fell in love with the Village,” she remembers. “The Village was where I started to poke around antique shops and become enchanted with all this old junk.”
After she’d graduated from university, Apfel got her first job as a copy editor on Women’s Wear Daily, but before long she had taken an apprenticeship of sorts with an interior designer who tarted up apartments to make them marketable during the Second World War. It was then that she realised she had a talent for sourcing rarified pieces.
In 1948 she met Carl Apfel at a resort on Lake George in upstate New York. The following year they were married, and by 1950 the couple had started Old World Weavers, a company specialising in restorational furnishings, Iris being brilliant at sourcing the necessary fabrics. Her greatest talent, it seems, is shopping, and perhaps their greatest contract was the White House, where they served nine presidents. “It was a relatively easy job actually,” she recalls, “because everything had to be as close as humanly possible to the way it was.
The business meant that the Apfels travelled constantly, and it is for this reason, she says, they did not have children. “I don’t believe in a child having a nanny, so it wasn’t what we were going to do, but also having children is like protocol. You’re expected to. And I don’t like to be pigeonholed.”
So why are their apartments (in New York and Palm Beach) brimming with stuffed animals, children’s toys and year-round Christmas decorations?
Apfel laughs. “We just like to have fun.
And I think there’s a difference between being childish and keeping a quality that’s childlike. I’m very grown up in a lot of ways, but I think that’s so sad – it’s good to maintain a sense of wonder.”
In the documentary, you regularly see Apfel and her husband having a ball together, both tickled by the same sense of humour. But now Mr.Apfel is sick. “It’s a coronary issue,” Iris says.
Iris says Carl’s illness is a stark reminder that mortality will face them one day, but for now she can’t think about it. Just before her documentary was released in America, Albert Maysles, the director, died of cancer, and that was a “terrible shock” – Apfel did not even know he was ill. “Shock can kill you. Shock is terrible,” she says with great emphasis,
“But what you’ve got to do is live in the present, which is what I have always done.”
Unfortunately her husband Carl died in 2015.