Iris

Lessons We Can Learn From Iris Apfel

As she arrives in London to premiere her new documentary, we speak to the world's favourite nonagenarian about practical solutions and modern conformity

Photography by Laura Jane Coulson

“I don’t know what you can learn from me,” declares Iris Apfel as she sits down on the sofa at Annabel's, in a room whose colour palette is strangely (and coincidentally) analogous to her clothing. “Today, I was just told to wear something colourful, and edgy. I was not told this ahead of time so I decided to put this together. I hope it’s okay; I like to improvise."

It is a strange thought that anyone could consider telling the renowned fashion icon anything about her wardrobe selections. Dressed in an outfit that combines vintage leather Ungaro trousers with a fantastic assortment of accessories and & Other Stories shoes (she starred in their campaign last year), she is a formidable presence: unabashedly assertive and delightfully unscripted. “It often sounds like everybody says the same thing, like they’re all a bunch of robots. And plenty of people give the same corny answers,” she proclaims of the magazine cycle she has found herself on in recent years. “They think it’s expected and the journalist interviewing them thinks it’s expected, and they’re all very happy. Maybe that’s why the magazine business has gone to hell. It’s not journalism, it’s draggy. Whatever. I didn’t come here to give an essay on how to be a critical old bitch or anything like that, but that’s the way I see it.”

"I didn’t come here to give an essay on how to be a critical old bitch or anything like that, but that’s the way I see it" – Iris Apfel

And it’s this element of Apfels’ personality, this complete refusal to be anything other than sharply incisive, that has driven her to such media success over recent years. As well as her legendary style, she cuts through the saccharine scripting that so many fashion heroes have been thoroughly trained in; she is unquestionably and brutally honest. Apfel has come to represent a facet of celebrity that is sorely missing in a world that can often survive upon the press release answers of ever-younger starlets: she is a 93-year-old woman who isn't afraid to say what she thinks. And so, in spite of her reluctance to consider herself a beacon of knowledge, we present the lessons we can learn from the one and only Iris Apfel.

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1. It’s better to be happy than well dressed
“When I wake up in the morning, some days I feel a certain way, some days I feel another way. I’ll say I live by the ten commandments if that sounds good for you. But live and let live is my motto; I don’t sit and judge anybody. I always feel it’s better to be happy than well dressed. I go with my gut, I don’t do things intellectually."

"I’m a great believer in common sense, and the older I get I see that common sense is not that common" – Iris Apfel

2. Be practical
“I’m a practical person. Most fashion people live in the clouds, and they’re full of it. I live like a human being – or, I try to – and I have to be intelligent, I have to be practical. I’m a great believer in common sense, and the older I get I see that common sense is not that common. There are few people who have it – they may be intellectual, they may have great degrees, but they don’t know how to operate. It’s just ridiculous. You know, you’re here, you’ve got to improvise; every day is different."

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3. Be technologically cautious
"I’ve never seen anything like the way some young people behave. They go out on a date, and they’re sitting opposite each other at a table, and they’re not looking at each other, and they text each other as though they’re deaf-mutes. It’s insane. Or people go to a bar to make out you know, and then they’re there playing a game, it doesn't make any sense. I try to be a sensible person and I don’t know why young people are like that."

"I don’t give a damn what you had for lunch or who you’re sleeping with – if you are so lucky. It’s nobody’s business what your private parts look like" – Iris Apfel

"Technology is a wonderful thing but I think it’s violently misused. I mean, I don’t give a damn what you had for lunch or who you’re sleeping with – if you are so lucky. It’s nobody’s business what your private parts look like. It’s sick, and it’s narcissistic in a very demented way. Technologically, I live in the 17th century; I don’t have a computer, I don’t have any of that stuff. I don’t look at the internet although I know people tell me I’m all over it. Somebody told me they Googled me and they said I was mentioned two million times, some stupid thing... but who cares? People say ‘but you have a page’ – whatever, maybe people bought the pages in my name or put them in my name. Personally, I wouldn’t waste the money or the time. I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t know why people are so nosy."

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4. Follow your dreams
"I always tell people to follow their dreams, to be true to themselves, and not just be carbon copies of what they think they should be, because then they’ll go through life miserable. And it’s phony. I don’t have a mantra or anything like that, I think you have to try and be yourself, and not a carbon copy, which I think most people today try to do. I think we live in a button-driven society, everybody is always pressing buttons to get the answers. More and more people live without soul, they’re just an empty shell."

"More and more people live without soul, they’re just an empty shell" – Iris Apfel

5. Don't conform
"They say they want to be different and they all wear a uniform. I mean, in New York you can probably tell somebody’s zip code by what they are wearing. I don’t know what it’s like over here, but the worst of America always gets exported. I think there’s more and more talk about individuality but there’s more and more conformity. I mean for the last few years, every young woman wears black, you know? When the season starts, it’s always: high black boots, black tights, black sweater and a short black leather jacket. I don’t know, it would seem to me her butt must freeze in the winter. I don’t know why she doesn’t wear a coat."

IRIS is in cinemas from Friday 31 July. See www.irismovie.co.uk for screening information and more details.

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