Iris Apfel Opens Up About Her Ageless Style

The 96-year-old style maven muses on her new book, the state of fashion, and her Bergdorf Goodman pop-up shop with her old friend Linda Fargo.

Apfel in her New York apartment, 2014
From Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon by Iris Apfel; photograph of Iris Apfel by Roger Davies. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; © 2018 by Iris Apfel.

 

While working on my new book, Iris Apfel: Accidental IconI learned that I have more than 750,000 Instagram followers, which is quite amazing, as I’ve never even gotten an e-mail address. “My” account is run by a woman named Paris who lives in Vienna, and I’m not quite sure where she gets the photos she posts of me. But I’m very happy if I can be of some help, because I think young people today need direction. They have to learn to be themselves, to develop a sense of curiosity, and not to live vicariously through these characters with no personality who they follow on social media.

You have a good pair of eyes; I’m sure you see the same things I do, Linda. Do you like it? Most people today don’t look very put-together or very pretty. They look like they fell out of bed or jumped out of a rag pile. I think athleisure is just ridiculous. It has its place if you’re at leisure or at a gym, but I think you owe it to your fellow man to look as pleasant as possible. It’s nice to feast your eyes upon something beautiful, not something that’s a mess. Recently I was at Le Cirque, and in walked this beautiful young lady, obviously from out of town. It was a Saturday evening, and she was all gussied up in a long dress. Her escort was nicely dressed too. But they were seated just across from two slobs, which spoiled the whole effect. If you want to lounge around, then don’t go out. And those who do look nice all seem to be walking around in a uniform. Why would you want to look like everyone else when there’s such a big choice of things today? It’s hard to give blanket advice, but I just think that if everybody tries to be as self-respecting and interesting as they can, it would be a better world. Use your head and think about other people and look in a mirror once in a while!

“I think young people today need to learn to be themselves, to develop a sense of curiosity, and not to live vicariously through these characters with no personality who they follow on social media.”

I think style is in your DNA, but it requires work. You can’t just sit there. If you have the possibility of a great operatic voice and you don’t train it, nothing will come of it. So if you’re lucky enough to have potential, you should work at cultivating it. I began when I was 11 years old. In those days, you had a lot of good fashion magazines and you could study them and really learn. Thank God we have Harper’s Bazaar left. It’s nice to know there’s someone older and wiser than me! Cultivating your style is a process of trial and error: You find out who you are and what looks best on you and what to avoid. For example, the Chanel suit is a great fashion staple, but it’s just not for me. I prefer the Balenciaga balloon jacket. I like extreme cuts, but I don’t like a lot of embellishment. I like to embellish beauti- ful, well-cut fabrics with my own accessories. If you haven’t noticed, I’m an accessories freak.

I think jewelry is the most transformative of all accessories. By just changing the kind of jewelry you wear with a little black dress, you can go from day to night. My mother taught me that if funds are limited, get a few well-cut basics and add personality with jewelry. Through your choice of accessories, you make them individual and make them your own. That’s advice from the depths of the Depression, but it still applies today. You can find bangles in flea markets that look wonderful with an haute couture dress. People will tell you that you can’t just go out and buy a piece of junk and put it together with something so precious. But I love to do that.
From Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon by Iris Apfel; photograph of Iris Apfel by Roger Davies. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; © 2018 by Iris Apfel.

I see women today who don’t want to tell how old they are. That’s silly. At 96, I think that you should give thanks for every extra year you get. I’m not saying you should go around looking like an old hag, but I think it was Coco Chanel who said that nothing makes a woman look so old as trying desperately to look young. There are no rules for what to wear when you’re old or young; it’s just a thing called being appropriate, which unfortunately has gone out of the lexicon. If you’re 75, you shouldn’t wear a miniskirt or a deep décolletage. If I can carry it off, I still wear the same clothes I once did. I still wear the Norman Norell dress I wore on my first date with my husband, and that was 70 years ago. It’s a simple—and stunning—black dress, and luckily I’m more or less the same size as I was then.

I’m a great believer in investment pieces, however it’s not just about price. You can look like a fashion victim and spend a fortune. I love the idea of working for the Home Shopping Network and Bergdorf Goodman at the same time. The selection I’ve curated for Bergdorf’s includes some fabulous Ralph Rucci eveningwear, as well as fun Alice + Olivia furs, woven slippers and necklaces, and, of course, my signature glasses. I also believe that fast fashion is a blessing for young people today. If I wanted to experiment, it was a big, big decision. Back then, $35 for a dress was a lot of money, as I made $15 a week at my first job at Women’s Wear Daily, so sometimes I had to work more than two weeks to pay for it. Now you can go to H&M, Zara, any of those places and try things. There’s nothing like being able to buy it and wear it and see how you feel in it. Nothing takes the place of experience.

IRIS’S ESSENTIALS

Studio D

Bergdorf Goodman x Alice + Olivia for Iris Apfel jacket, $1,595, Bergdorf Goodman x Iris Apfel shoe, $375, Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon, $35, Bergdorf Goodman x Iris Apfel necklace, Bergdorf Goodman x Alain Mikli for Iris Apfel sunglasses, $390, all available at Bergdorf Goodman.

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