The Rebel

Iris Apfel

Icon. Individualist. Accessories alchemist

With her signature owlish frames and multitude of bangles and beads, Iris Apfel dresses like an extraplanetary diva – but she has the fearless attitude of a punk. Infinitely wise on the subjects of love and life, she is the nonagenarian New Yorker whose iconoclastic style has earned her her own Metropolitan Museum exhibition, an Albert Maysles lensed-documentary (in 2014’s Iris), and too many fashion shoots, collaborations and sartorial adventures to count. As at home in the world as she is in Park Avenue, her flair for mingling haute couture with flea-market finds was established well before her elevation to cult-icon status, thanks to decades of globetrotting with her late husband in the name of the textile firm they co-founded. Equal parts disarming and enchanting, brilliant and brilliantly abrupt (“Well, that’s a stupid question!” she says dismissively at one point), Apfel breaks all the fashion rules. But how does she maintain a sense of wonder? “I think in my cradle I was given two great gifts – one was curiosity and the other was a sense of humour,” she says. Besides, she exclaims with a wink, “How many 95-year-old cover girls do you know?”

I don't like rules because I think they're there to be broken

Iris, The Rebel

On putting an outfit together…
“I can’t describe it, I don’t give any road maps. I just have to feel it. Sometimes it starts with an accessory, sometimes it starts with a shoe or a dress, it just depends! And then it’s kind of like playing jazz – I improvise. I think, ‘These will go together,’ like certain notes, and I try them and they’re flat, so I have to take it off and try again. It’s fun, it’s a creative process and there’s no rule for it, otherwise it would be dry and very unattractive. I don’t obsess about it but you can usually tell when I’m in a good mood or a bad mood: when I don’t care, I don’t look as well as when I do care. Naturally – when you project better, you feel better!”

On breaking fashion rules…
“I think all the fashion rules are stupid, because it depends upon who’s wearing it and how they handle it! And I don’t like rules because I think they’re there to be broken. People should be original, and try. I mean, I think pink and red and orange are gorgeous together. And just because you’re heavy doesn’t mean you can’t wear horizontal stripes if they’re cut properly. It would be nice if people got out of the rut and everybody didn’t want so badly to look alike.”

On seeing the world through spectacles…
“I’ve always been fascinated by spectacles. As a child, I always used to collect things, and I used to go to flea markets and wander around. Every time I saw an interesting pair of spectacles, I bought them and threw them in a box. And periodically I’d take them out and try them on. And sometimes, I’d put them on and­ I thought they were great accessories and I wore them without any lenses when I didn’t need them. Then, when I had to wear glasses, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll wear glasses!’ – I like them oversized. So I would wear them and people would always say to me, ‘Why are your spectacles so large?’ I thought it was a useless question and would answer with, ‘The bigger to see you!’ That usually shut them up.”