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Iris Apfel, geriatric starlet

December 3 2016

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This fashion icon of 95 years has never given as many interviews as since she entered the 4ème age. Brand ambassador, collector, interior designer, she will have had a thousand lives and one husband with whom she restored the White House under the reign of 9 presidents. His idiosyncratic style is an infinite source of inspiration. Enchanted meeting. - Isabelle Cerboneschi


There are a few personalities in the world of design and fashion whose look, a detail, is enough to identify them. A catogan, black glasses and a high collar? Karl Lagerfeld. A triangle face and a foamy square of red hair? Sonia Rykiel. A pair of huge round glasses, a red mouth and a purple hair bob: Iris Apfel.

Since the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York dedicated an exhibition in September 2005 titled Rare bird, under the direction of Harold Koda (Head of Costume Institute until 2015, editor's note), Iris Apfel has become a fashion icon adulated worldwide.

"He wanted me to put on an exhibit of props, but presenting them out of context made no sense," she says. He asked me to present some of my outfits that I had to accessorize in my own way.. While she was best known to a certain American public, revealing the secrets of her dressing room, she saw the Areopagus of its admirers multiply.

Iris Apfel was born in Queens, which she kept in focus, of a father who sold mirrors and a selling mother. The celebrity fell on her by accident, she says, like all the important things in her life. Her insights led her to work as a copywriter for the Woman's Wear Daily and to create, in 1950 with her husband Carl, a precious fabrics factory: Old World Weavers. Carl, it was the love of her life: she married him in 1948 and lived with him sixty-seven years of a happy marriage, until this month of August 2015 where he left at the age of 100 years.

Creation of models, reissues of old fabrics, the Apfel couple quickly became the darling of American high society. Together, they participated in White House restoration projects under the presidency of nine presidents. Their clientele consisted of the most flamboyant personalities of the time: Greta Garbo, the rich heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, Estée Lauder, to name a few. The Apfel spouses sold their company in 1992 to Stark Carpet, which continues to publish some of their stuffs.

This frantic collector of clothing has developed an idiosyncratic style, mixing haute couture and pieces found flea, ecclesiastical clothing and Dolce & Gabbana brand lizard trousers, all highlighted by jewelry with excessive proportions, including his famous bracelets stacked on his wrists and his forearms, like the writer Nancy Cunard. A style at the height of his humor. When Iris Apfel recounts, her jewels clash and accompany her speech at the wrong time.

This geriatric starlet of 95 years, as she qualifies, has never given as many interviews, has never lent its image to brands (Citroën, TAG Heuer) than since she entered the 4e age. Last September, she was at the forefront of the Monse fashion show in New York wearing the first model of a new watch collection launched by TAG Heuer on the US market. Link Ladies Collection. This fashion icon had agreed to push its tinkling bracelets to leave a wrist free to accommodate the new watch.

IC: You say that you are a geriatric starlet of 95 years, you are the ambassador of many brands, what returns your image to people?
Iris Apfel: Ask them! I imagine that I send them the image of authenticity. And that also implies a certain sense of style, originality, creativity and longevity (Laughter). People often tell me that I am not wrong and they know that if I associate my name with something, it is because I am sincere.

That's why you associated it with TAG Heuer?
I like their story, I like quality and I am very flattered to be associated with it. I find the design of their new watch very beautiful. She has a big dial and I like everything big: it's much easier to see.

I met you in Paris behind the scenes of the 2016-2017 autumn-winter show of Dries Van Noten in Paris in March 2016. He told me that you were an inspiration to him. It's great to continue to inspire some creators!
I was so excited about this show! Someone had asked Dries to prepare a list of ten objects without which he could not live, and my name was on this list! I met him a few years ago at a party in New York. He had come to open a shop at Bergdorf Goodman and I had been invited to this event. I wondered why, because I did not know him. He came to me, introduced himself and explained to me that he had been asked to invite absolutely who he wanted and he replied that there was only one person he wanted to meet and it was me. I love it! He is so authentic, original, creative, kind and cute. He is not a bogus creator like many people, he is very honest, he likes beautiful fabrics. I loved his show. He makes clothes that people can wear, unlike some crazy.

He makes his own fabrics. You must be sensitive to this fact, right?
He loves fabrics and assembling unusual things. He told me that I inspired him, that he kept my book in his studio and that sometimes when he could not make himself understood by a designer, he showed him one of my photos. It pleased me! (Laughter.)

One of your style lessons is in one sentence: More is more, less is a boron (more is better and less is boring). Do you think more people should apply it?
This applies to me. You must know how to dose the "plus", because otherwise you can quickly look like a Christmas tree! Some have a minimalist style and it suits them very well. I do not tell anyone how to dress. I think everyone should be aware of it for themselves. This is where the problem lies: so many people do not take the time to know each other and what they can wear, what is their comfort zone. They follow blindly what others do. It's easier, but it's neither creative nor very interesting. They all look alike. I observed that these last winters, in New York, all the girls looked alike from behind. They had long straight hair, free or with a ponytail, leather jackets, black tights, and black waders. You could think it was the same person. Why, when there is such a choice of beautiful pieces, want to look like everyone else? I do not understand.

You've been a decorator: did the fabrics used to decorate the interiors have an influence on how you dress?
I think it's part of a whole: we do both things with the same sensitivity. When you're a designer, you decorate your home and when you get dressed, you decorate yourself. It's the same.

Do you have the feeling of being invented through your clothes and accessories?
I invented myself, yes, but I did not do it consciously. I never do anything consciously, by the way, everything is visceral. I can explain things intellectually, but I will do them intuitively. It is said that I claim to be a rebel. This is not true. Simply, I do what I want. No one has to tell me what to do, in the same way that I do not allow myself to tell anyone what he or she should do. Everyone must know what is comfortable for themselves.

How did that happen when, with your husband Carl, you decorated the White House?
You do not decorate the White House, you restore it. This is a real historic restoration: everything must be redone identically, as close as possible to what has been. Even if it's the ugliest thing in the world, it's absolutely impossible to change it. You can not decide to change this horrible color into blue for example, even if the result would be beautiful. So we supplied the fabrics, we made them as close to the models as possible. We were given the originals.

If you had the opportunity to turn the hands of your watch upside down, what time would you choose to relive?
If you offered me such a thing I would tell you to leave! I chose to live in here and now. I want to go forward, I do not want to go back.

Why do you like clothes vintageis there not enough creativity in your eyes in the proposals of the designers and creators of today?
Clothes vintage have more integrity. And then the old clothes make me look younger (Laughs). Those dating from the 1950 years to the 1990 years were much better made. There was more originality, it was the golden age of fashion in the USA, we had admirable designers, the quality of work was superb. Nowadays, the clothes are very badly made, they cost more, but are badly assembled. I think fashion is in a hole and lacks creativity. Fortunately, I kept a lot of my clothes and I can go shopping in my closet!

We live in a world where young people are put forward - we only talk about Millennials and how to interest them - while the elderly are hidden, put away. How to change that?
I hope to be a living example of what can change! People have to realize that at 95 years, you do not have to curl up and wait for death: there is always so much to do! Simply, you have to motivate yourself. When you reach a certain age, when you get up, as my mother said, everything you have double in your body hurts. But if you stay at home, you just think about it. Unless you have pneumonia or a broken hip, you have to get out of bed and start doing something! I do not think about my pain when I work. It's when I stop that they hurt me again. Always stay busy, take care of the mind. Nothing is free, everything has a price.

A version of this interview was published in the Luxury Series of the Time the 3 December 2016

"I chose to live in here and now. I want to go forward, I do not want to go back. "