The Sensational Iris Apfel
The style icon brings color and spunk (natch) to a new line of crystal-ware
Iris Apfel arises each morning, dresses for the day—and it’s a fashion statement. Her cropped, white hair, outsized black glasses and fire-engine-red lips complete whatever colorful and much-accessorized ensemble she has chosen. At 97, Apfel is still wowing the masses with her creative genius, honest-as-punch answers and great wit.
Apfel—born in Queens, New York—spent most of her life as a textile maven, launching and running Old World Weavers with her late husband, Carl. They started the business as newlyweds in 1950 and traveled to Europe twice annually for fabric that wasn’t available in the States. Their specialty: textile reproductions from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The two Manhattanites’ résumé also included work for nine White House administrations, running from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. In 2005 the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute debuted Rara Avis (Rare Bird), an exhibit on Apfel’s style. By that time, Iris and Carl had retired, though they had flourished as a business team for almost five decades. As life partners, they remained devoted for 67 years, until Carl’s death in 2015, when he was just shy of 101.
Portrait: Keith Major, courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
— Iris Apfel
Apfel’s life observations continue to be as unique and interesting as her style. Utterances from her ruby lips are almost always memorable, including her much-touted belief that it’s more important to be interesting than pretty. When questioned about her thoughts on having “work” done, she answered: “I’m very opposed … unless God gave you a nose like Pinocchio or you were in some terrible fire. Some very important people I know have come out looking like a Picasso. And for what?”
If you have yet to watch the Emmy-nominated 2014 documentary Iris, you must. And if you find yourself wanting more, her 2018 book Accidental Icon: Musings of a Geriatric Starlet answers the call. Also on last year’s output list was a Barbie Collector Styled by Iris Apfel Doll with Multi-Hued Vest and (of course!) accessories. Most recently, the feisty mistress of style has inspired and collaborated with the lead-free crystal-glass company Nude on a line of dashing home products, which offered us a perfect excuse (and we’d take any) to glean a few of her thoughts.
Iris Beak Glass
What inspired you to take part in this collection, and what do you love about it?
It sounded interesting. I have never done glassware before, and I liked their product. I like the quality and the design of the company’s pieces. They do many different kinds of design, and the pieces have a contemporary and clean feeling. And they mix with everything. I’ve always been interested in anything that’s fine and beautiful, and I think Nude touches all bases.
"Who doesn’t want to have their own face on their desk?" says Apfel of the paperweight
Which piece will you be using most, and why?
My favorite is the paperweight, because who doesn’t want to have their own face on their desk? I had suggestions about color, that kind of thing. I put my personal touch on it. I’m happy that I’ve inspired Nude to bring out their playful side. It’s a fun, colorful piece that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. There’s no fun in taking life too seriously.
When you entertain, what is your hosting philosophy?
I do like to entertain at home. You have to be relaxed, and of course you have to have good glassware. A good mix of people and good food, but being relaxed is so important. So many people are so uptight—hosts and hostesses are uptight, and it makes their guests uptight. Being relaxed is much better.
— Iris Apfel
You are such an inspiration to so many. Would you be willing to share a bit of advice?
Oh, I don’t know. I just learned as I went along. There are too many rules and too much similarity, too much trending now. I don’t think that young people today undertake apprenticeships as they did years ago. In a business like interior design, you have to start at the bottom and learn all the things that they don’t seem to know about today.
Can you talk about the confluence of your nonminimal style and Nude?
As you can see, I am hardly a minimalist. I love to layer accessories and dress in color, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think simple. Nude is my simplicity, simplicity is a state of mind, and I think simple is beautiful. I like simple objects. But I like to use a lot of them.
How does your fashion style influence your living spaces?
Everything affects everything else. Nothing exists in a vacuum. One thing suggests another.
How would you explain your style?
I don’t like to follow trends. I buy pieces because I like them.
What do you see as the key elements of designing a home?
Your home should mirror your personality, and it’s better to have a few things that are against the decorating rules (which I don’t think there should be any of anyway) than to have everything so perfect.
“I’m not pretty, and I’ll never be pretty—but it doesn’t matter. I have something much better. I have style.”
“My mother knew if you bought a couple of really good architectural outfits and put your money into accessories, you could create a million different looks. She taught that to me, which I think was invaluable.”
"My home makes me happy, because when I come there it feels like I'm being greeted by a lot of old friends.”
“Having a sense of wonder, a sense of humor and a sense of curiosity—these are my tonic. 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.”