Iris Apfel, the 93-year-old “geriatric starlet” of her eponymous documentary, on her incredibly fashionable life.
You have the most amazing wardrobe. What is your favourite piece?
I’m a flea market freak, and years ago, I was very interested in antique fabrics. I went to a place that had some church vestments, and this one was a knockout. It was a tunic of the most beautiful ruby-red Lyonnaise silk velvet. It had a panel in front, a handwoven broché. I put it on and said to my [late] husband, Carl, “Oh, this is wonderful. I’ll make a pair of trousers and a pair of shoes, and I’ll have the most splendid cocktail outfit.” He went crazy. “What are you, nuts? People will think I can’t afford to buy you a proper dress.” The only time in 67 years when we’ve had major differences in the flea market. I went about my business and [fashion critic] Eugenia Sheppard came by. I introduced myself and said, “Could you do me the greatest favour?” I showed her the vestment, and she gasped and swooned and said, “You’ve got to have it.” She went over to my husband, and as soon as he got that stamp of approval, he calmed down. When did you start wearing those glasses? I’ve always been attracted to unusual eyewear. So when it turned out that I really needed glasses, I thought, Well, I might as well wear glasses. People would always ask me, “Why are your frames so large?” And I would say, “The bigger to see you!” And that shut them up. People say it’s a trademark, but I never started out to have a trademark. You always look impeccable. If I met you for coffee at three o’clock on a Wednesday, what would you wear? I live in jeans, from the most classic, basic Levi Strauss to the most fabulous haute couture jeans. I have one pair that is really absolutely extraordinary. They were done by Roberto Cavalli and are for a man. I collect Native American arts and crafts, and these pants are beaded and embroidered with Indian motifs. They were insanely expensive when they first came out. I found them at one of the outlet malls, and even there they were so far out, nobody wanted them. I wear them with a beautiful heavy silk jacket from Ralph Rucci and some interesting jewellery.
How do you feel about dressing for one’s age?
What do you mean, “one’s age”? I know people of 30 who act like they’re 97, and I have a few old-bag friends who are very hip. I don’t think it has anything to do with numbers. Just because you’re in your 90s, you don’t have to wear sackcloth and ashes. You have to observe a few simple rules; it’s just being appropriate. If you’re 70 and want to wear miniskirts, 70-year-old knees ain’t pretty! If you’re over 60, arms are not pretty – even earlier for some women – so I think you should stay covered up. But wear what’s appropriate for what you’re doing, how you live, and what your lifestyle is.
What is your ultimate secret to longevity, in fashion and in life?
When you’re older it’s more difficult, because no matter how good it is, you don’t always feel perky and peppy. If I push myself, I get lost in what I’m doing, and I forget about everything else until I stop doing it. Then I go home and I hurt again. Everything has a price, my dear. Nothing for nothing.
“Caviar used to be my drug of choice, but since my husband was on a no-salt diet, I’ve given up. I still have dreams of sitting down and gorging, though.” – Iris Apfel