At age 96, Iris Apfel continues to top best-dressed lists the world over, both for her originality and flamboyant style. These exclusive excerpts from her new book Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon: Musings of a Geriatric Starlet, give a glimpse into the events that led to her becoming the intrepid shopper and fashion icon she is today.
Iris Apfel’s style and individuality are unlike any other’s.
Iris Apfel lives life by her famous quote: “When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else.”
Iris’ eclectic wardrobe reveals her love for accessorising - “a bug” she inherited from her mother.
Black Belt Beginnings
I started buying my own clothes when I was twelve. In spring 1933, Easter was coming and I had no new finery suitable for walking down Fifth Avenue in the Easter Parade. My mother was too busy working to accompany me – she felt truly sorry about that. But she did give me the magnificent sum of twenty-five [US] dollars to assemble an outfit by myself. I spent my first five cents on the subway ride from Astoria to Manhattan’s S. Klein On The Square, probably the granddaddy of discount shopping and one of my mother’s regular shopping spots. I walked into the store and fell madly in love with the dress on the first rack. I wanted to buy it very badly, but heeding Mama’s advice to never buy the first thing I saw, but to comparison-shop instead, I headed for the department stores uptown, where I saw nothing I liked. Suddenly, it occurred to me that someone else might’ve bought my dress. I panicked and headed back downtown to S. Klein, where i embarked on a breathless search for my prize, which was no longer in its original location. I found it on anther rack fairly quickly. I grabbed it and gave thanks to God and [US]$12.95 to the cashier. I then trucked down Fourteenth Street to A.S. Beck, where I selected a lovely pair of pumps for [US]$3.95. That left enough money for a straw bonnet, a very light lunch, and five cents to get back home to Astoria. My mother approved my fashion sense. My father praised my financial skill. Only my grandpa, who was an old-school master tailor, fussed and carried on about the button holes. All in all, it was a big success and the beginning of my career as a black-belt shopper.
My Mother Worshipped At The Altar Of Accessory
I guess I inherited the bug. She taught me a simple but invaluable lesson. She always said that if you invest in a few well-made classic pieces in good fabrics – like a little black dress – and put your money into accessories, you‘ll have a million different outfits. I’ve always followed that advice, perhaps to what some people might consider an extreme, but I dress for myself so I’ve never given other people’s opinions a second thought.
When you get older, as I often paraphrase an old family friend, if you have two of anything, chances are one of them is going to hurt when you get up in the morning. But you have to get up and move beyond the pain. If you want to stay young, you have to think young. Having a sense of wonder, a sense of humour and a sense of curiosity – these are my tonic. They keep you young, childlike, open to new people and things, and ready for another adventure. I never want to be an old fuddy-duddy; I hold the self-proclaimed record for being the “World’s Oldest Living Teenager” and I intend to keep it that way.
LIFE IN TECHNICOLOUR
Iris’ Instagram account @iris.apfel, though not maintained by her, reflects her personality perfectly.
Her coat and sneakers – a match made in print heaven.
Cruising in style. A young Iris with husband Carl Apfel.
The Iris Apfel-approved fashion pop-up at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman.
One of Iris and Carl’s many romantic dances.
A photographer’s delight, no matter the event.
FROM THE BOOK IRIS APFEL: ACCIDENTAL ICON, © 2018 BY IRIS APFEL. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PUBLISHED BY ARRANGEMENT WITH HARPER DESIGN, AN IMPRINT OF HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS / ADDITIONAL REPORTING: SANDHYA MAHADEVAN / PHOTOS: JOHN HUBA/ART & COMMERCE, INSTAGRAM