You don’t come across a woman like Iris Apfel every day. While women are often encouraged to shrink, Apfel has never been afraid to be bold. It’s her fearlessness with fashion that has led her to become an inspiration to millions across the globe, star in her very own film and sign to a modelling agency at the age of 97. It’s clear theres a lot to be learned from Iris.
The 99-year-old icon was born in New York and went onto study Art History at New York University, before attending art school at the University of Wisconsin. Later on, she worked as an interior designer with her husband Carl Apfel. This saw her work with wives of nine presidents in the White House, until she and Carl retired in 1992.
It wasn’t until 2005, when The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York premiered an exhibition about her style entitled Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel, that she became a fashion figure. Since then, she’s won countless awards, had a Barbie doll created of her image, and racked up 1.6million followers on Instagram at the time of writing.
So what can we learn from Iris? Read on.
Don’t be afraid to be different
It’s fair to say that Iris is unique. Speaking to The Guardian in 2015, she said, ‘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.’
Some may disagree (especially in a pandemic), but Iris isn’t a fan of loungewear.
‘I think athleisure is just ridiculous,’ she told Harpers Bazaar in 2018. ‘It’s nice to feast your eyes upon something beautiful, not something that’s a mess. If you want to lounge around, then don’t go out.’
We’d love to see what she wore in lockdown!
Style takes work
It doesn’t necessarily come naturally, according to Iris. She told the magazine, ‘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.
‘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.’
Pretty is boring
In her 2015 documentary film, she said, ‘I’m not pretty, and I’ll never be pretty, but it doesn’t matter. I have something much better. I have style.
‘I never felt pretty, I don’t feel pretty now; I’m not a pretty person. I don’t like pretty, so I don’t feel badly. And I think it worked out well, because… when you’re somebody like myself, in order to get around and be attractive, you have to develop something, you have to learn something, and have to do something, so you become a bit more interesting. And when you get older, you get by on that. Anyway, I don’t happen to like pretty. Most of the world is not with me, but I don’t care.’
Be fearless with colour
It’s easy to see that Iris adores colour, texture, print. One thing she’s not interested in is wearing head-to-toe black. She criticised the look in her documentary, saying, ‘Downtown, they think they’re stylish, but they all wear black. That’s not really style. That’s a uniform.’
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