Most “It” girls fade into obscurity well before their first wrinkle. Not Iris Apfel, the textile maven with the unmistakable owl frames. She found fame in her mid-’80s, when the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art showed her wardrobe in an exhibit called Rara Avid (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel. Apfel has created a handbag collection and a limited-edition makeup line for M.A.C.; she’s designed glasses for Eyebobs and several jewelry collections for HSN and YOOX; she’s acted as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Now 93, she’s the subject of the late Albert Maysles’s documentary Iris, which is in theaters this week. To say she’s remained relevant would be an understatement. Last year, I spoke to Apfel about style in her tenth decade.
Can you remember your first major purchase? “I’ll never forget it. It was a brooch I found in a basement shop in Greenwich Village when I was 11. I didn’t have a penny, so I saved and I saved. I would return to visit it. When I finally had 65 cents, I proudly went over there and haggled over it. I still have it, by the way.”
How did you wear it? “I didn’t! I didn’t have anything to wear with diamond jewelry, so I’d take it out and pet it.”
Do you agree with the adage that before you leave the house, you should look in the mirror and remove one accessory? “No. I say put another one on. Finding the right balance is not an intelligent process—I know it in my gut. Sometimes I need three chains, sometimes four. If it doesn’t feel good, it might look fine to other people, but it isn’t right for me. I like simple, architectural clothes. With accessories, you can make 50 outfits. I learned that from my mother because I was a child of the Depression.”
You’re known for your glasses. How’d you find them? “One day in the flea market, I found these large rims, and I thought, God, they’re chic, and so I bought them. And I used to wear them without any lenses, just for the heck of it, because I thought they were such fun. Everybody admired them, so when the time came that I needed glasses, I put lenses in them. People would ask why they were so large, and I would reply, ‘The bigger to see you with.’ And that was that.”
What’s your everyday makeup look? “I wear only Cetaphil moisturizer and lipstick. When I was younger, I did my eyes up like Miss Piggy. I loved heavy, big lashes, which we got with mustache wax. You put a chunk of it in a spoon and held a flame underneath, then you took a brush and you kept building the lashes layer after layer, and beaded the ends. It was great looking. But as an older woman, too much eye makeup emphasizes wrinkles and makes you look like a turtle.”
But you do love your lipstick.“Red on the orange side or a shocking pink. Sheer lipstick is not tolerable for me, and most matte lipsticks aren’t heavy enough. M.A.C. was very good when I worked with them because they let me make a number of lip colors heavier.”
Is it possible to buy style? “Style has nothing to do with money. It’s a matter of attitude. The most stylish people I ever saw were in Naples right after the Second World War. They were really threadbare but put themselves together with so much dash, like placing a flower in the buttonhole of a tattered suit.”
What’s difference between a rut and a signature style? “A point of view. You should branch out and be experimental, otherwise, no matter how lovely your look is, you get into a rut. You have to keep changing within the framework of you.”
Please tell us the secret to aging gracefully. “Don’t show your décolletage or wear low backs or spike heels that you can’t balance on. If you’re 80, I don’t care what you do with yourself, you’re never going to look 20. Worrying about getting old is the kiss of death; you have to be busy and stay engaged. I can feel lousy until someone says, ‘Let’s go to the flea market.’ Once I set foot in there, it’s like I’m a teenager—no one can keep up with me. You cannot be interesting if you’re not interested.”
*This post original ran in the *Daily Beauty Reporter on April 11, 2014.
For more on celebrity style, check out:
• Blake Lively Gets Nostalgic About Her First Red Carpet With Ryan Reynolds
• Julianne Moore’s Amazing Red-Carpet Style Evolution
• Reese Witherspoon’s Red-Carpet Style Evolution