While researching and learning more about Bakelite, that brilliant material, which emerged during the age of Art Deco era of the 20th century, taking the world by storm, I discovered an image of Iris Apfel, a formidable figure; a serious style leader from Manhattan, Iris was decked out in some serious turquoise and a bevvy of beads and bangles that perfectly offset the sensational colourful top she was wearing, complete with wild west fringing.
Iris Apfel now in her ninth decade it seems, has had a very rich and full life, enjoying success in both the interior design and fashion worlds. When she was growing up her family was involved in the glazing industry run by her father, and her mother owned a fashion boutique.
They lived in Astoria, which was across the east river from Manhattan and encouraged by her mother she used to seek out and find beauty accessories in antique shops, fleamarket and discount stores. She developed an eye for aesthetics while she began refining what her own personal style statement would be.
Some of the wonderful outfits she has been photographed wearing by countless tabloids and magazines have been cobbled together from her many bargain finds, which she has worn to many a grand occasion for New York society where she is always on show.
Iris and her husband Carl Apfel ran a textile firm and travelled extensively together over their years together in the near and far east and throughout Europe, where she extended both her knowledge of art and art history, which she had studied in her university days. Their firm ‘Old World Weavers‘ manufactured handcrafted archival fabrics for the carriage trade.
Photographed for many magazines, including Architectural Digest, in her sensational Manhattan home, during her own career as an interior designer Iris Apfel took part in some serious design restoration projects.
These included working on projects at the White House for nine Presidents from Truman to Clinton.
She is living proof that the ageing process should not be a hindrance to the enjoyment of life, but rather should accelerate it.
Iris Apfel wears fashion that can only be described as not for those who are feint of heart, although certainly all about having fun.
She wears what she likes, with what she has found and what has been handed down by others and hopes that other people will like it.
She said in one interview I read ‘if they don’t, I figure it’s their problem, not mine. And for me that’s been very successful.’ Iris said.
My favourite anecdote that I learned about Iris when researching the reams that have been written about her, is that she doesn’t believe in opening windows; she doesn’t want her furnishings to fade and likes keeping her apartment looking as if it is the ‘cocktail hour all day long’. Love it!
Interestingly the Art Deco style of the 20’s and 30’s that Iris so loves was based on ideas that were at first simple, restrained, but always fashionable and elegant or otherwise manifesting themselves emotionally with zest and playfulness.
The fun element was all about our humanity and seems to describe her philosophy to a tee.
Iris is certainly no shrinking violet, far from it. She’s confident and determined to enjoy life and live it to the full. Although officially retired, she is certainly not down or out and surrounds herself constantly with colour, beauty and wonderful art.
In the process she has also turned herself into an icon of sorts, a geriatric pop star one paper called her.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was so impressed by her accomplishments in life they felt compelled in 2005 present an exhibition about her this ‘rare bird’ entitled “Rara Avis’ – The Irreverent Iris Apfel.
It was so popular it became a travelling show, visiting places like Florida and Massachusetts, extending her fame.
In 2008 Iris made Vanity Fair’s International best dressed list and in 2013 she made the ‘Guardian’s’ list of the fifty best dressed people over fifty, proving the point you don’t have to be young to look fabulous.
She was in illustrious company including President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, David Bowie, Anna Wintour, actor Bill Nighy and actress Dame Helen Mirren
50 over 50 is all about proving that projecting your depth of character and a great sense of savoir-faire and style is important to the process of ageing.
Iris has become such a recognised fixture on the Florida scene. One report I read said that The Museum of Lifestyle and Fashion History in Boynton Beach announced recently it is in the design phase to create a building to house her collection of clothes, accessories and furnishings in the future
Iris Apfel is busy proving ageing is no barrier to feeling or looking beautiful. Her spectacles are enormous; all the better to see us with. They certainly make sure she stands out in any crowd.
While many may not agree with Iris Apfel’s philosophy of life, she would seem to prove American author Regina Brett’s points, which includes such as; friends are the family we choose, the most important organ is the brain, life isn’t tied up with a bow but it’s still a gift and, everything can change in the blink of an eye, but don’t worry, God never blinks.
And, if he did well then, Iris has enough eye wear so that she can always see clearly around her, as well as what lies ahead. Go Iris!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013