Iris Apfel with Brie Dyas
“It made me a geriatric starlet,” Iris Apfel says of ‘Rara Avis,’ the massive 2005 Metropolitan exhibition of pieces culled from Ms. Apfel’s extensive and enviable wardrobe. Iris is 91 years old, sporting an electric coral hue on her lips and her signature glossy black fishbowl glasses. Since ‘Rara Avis’, Iris has collaborated with MAC Cosmetics on a collection, designed costume jewelry for HSN, and this fall launched a line of eyewear, as well as Extinctions by Iris Apfel, a collection of purses in exotic materials.
Our starlet is also the subject of an upcoming, hotly-anticipated Albert Maysles documentary. On Thursday night she held court with a number of well-dressed women of every age, speaking to Huffington Post Style senior Editor Brie Dyas. Sandwiched between swathes of fabric from Missoni and Bernard Thorpe in one of Stark’s 10th floor showrooms, the two women chatted about everything from social media (per Iris: “I don’t understand why everybody wants everybody knowing their business”), to the idea of personal style. Ms. Dyas asked Iris if—with the ascent of mass market retailers like H&M, etc—she thought creative personal style was as good as dead. Apfel pulled her Extinctions orange Mongolian lambskin wrap/purse closer to her, stacks of bracelets jangling. “I don’t think it’s dead, but I think it’s on life support. You have to do a little work [at style]. It just doesn’t happen.”
In Iris’ case, she’s been working on it for a while. The last time we met the ‘rare bird’, we heard about the ensemble she wore to meet Duke Ellington in in 1940—grey flannel trousers with a matching cashmere sweater and a former beau’s Cornell blazer.
On Thursday she told us of an early shopping victory. At age 11 Iris was sent out on her own, $25 in hand, to buy herself an Easter frock. At now-shuttered department store S. Klein on Manhattan’s Union Square, she tasted sartorial victory.
“I just went bananas over this dress! It was just what I wanted, and the price was right at $12.95. It was pure silk, a poetic version of a shirtmaker dress because it had those big poet sleeves. It was flesh colored silk with a little navy blue gentleman’s tie design, and a tight waist and a full skirt. I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is heaven.”
But, having been taught the importance of comparison shopping, Iris headed up to the department store mecca that was Herald Square, only to be disappointed by the selection. She was gripped by the realization that her dream dress might have been snapped up. “I was absolutely in a frenzy until I got back down to 14th Street, and I flew in like a mad person. I started to comb the racks and I couldn’t find the dress. Finally I located it, so I grabbed it. I gave thanks to God, and $12.95 to the cashier.”
Pressed for her advice to young women, Iris paused. “I think they should open their minds and their eyes, and stop pressing buttons so much.” (It was at this point that we paused, mid-live tweeting) “I think they should learn who they are and not try to fit into a mould that some magazine editor tells them they have to be. The world’s a big place, sniff it all out.”
And, as Iris has been known to remark, “People should put more things in their heads than on their heads.”
Ed. note: For those of you in Manhattan, Iris will be at Henri Bendel tonight, October 12, from 6-8 PM and at Bloomingdale’s on November 7!
Photos: Michael McGraw
Iris with Hilary Knight, illustrator of our beloved Eloise books